Sean O'Neil, Ph.D.

Assistant Director and Teaching Assistant Professor of Core Humanities
Sean O'Neil


Sean O’Neil is a historian of science and of early modern Europe with a broad interest in visual techniques of knowledge production. His research merges the history of science with the history of information to explore how interest in what would now be called “information visualization” emerged in medieval and early modern Europe. His current book project, The Art of Signs: Symbolic Notation and Visual Thinking in Early Modern Europe, cuts across contemporary disciplinary boundaries to explain why early modern practitioners working in fields as various as chemistry, music, mathematics, and dance converged on the belief that developing new forms of symbolic notation would help them solve problems of information management. Prior to joining UNR, O’Neil was a postdoctoral fellow at both the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, NYU and Hong Kong Baptist University. He earned a PhD in history and a certificate in comparative literature and society from Columbia University, and he also holds degrees in linguistics, English literature, and folklore. His research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Science History Institute, and the American Council of Learned Societies.

O’Neil’s teaching, like his research, cuts across disciplinary, national, and chronological boundaries to help students connect their own wide-ranging interests to historical questions about knowledge production in the premodern world. He has taught or facilitated courses that examine subjects including Ancient Egyptian hymns, Inkan khipu, the Scientific Revolution, and European colonialism. In the Core Humanities Program at UNR, he brings the full range of his interests to bear in the design and implementation of the Program’s interdisciplinary curriculum. 

Research interests

  • History of Science
  • Cultural History of Early Modern Europe
  • Information Visualization
  • History of Education


  • “Good Names but Better Symbols: The Establishment of Chemical Notation as a Nomenclatural Corrective at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.” Ambix 68, no. 4 (November, 2021): 331–64.
  • “Early Modern Europe’s Other Real Characters” (forthcoming, 2024)
  • “Playing up Spelling in an Age of Enlightenment,” The Center & Clark Newsletter, no. 65, Spring 2017.


  • Ph.D., History, Columbia University, 2019
  • Certificate in Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University, 2019
  • M.A., Folklore, University of California, Berkeley, 2009
  • B.S., Linguistics, and B.A., Literature, Truman State University, 2004