Friday, May 30, 2014

Call for Papers: Lost Museums Colloquium

In conjunction with the year-long exhibition project examining Brown University’s lost Jenks Museum, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and the John Carter Brown Library invite paper proposals for a colloquium on lost artifacts, collections and museums. (Other formats—conceptual, poetic, and artistic—are also invited.) The colloquium will be held at Brown University, Providence, RI,  May 7 and 8, 2015.
Museums, perhaps more than any other institutions, think in the very long term: collections are forever. But the history of museums is more complicated than that. Museums disappear for many reasons, from changing ideas about what’s worth saving to the devastation of war. Museum collections disappear: deaccessioned, traded away, repatriated, lost to changing interests and the ravages of time.
We are interested in this process of decline and decay, the taphonomy of institutions and collections, as a way of shedding light not only on the history of museums and libraries, but also on the ways in which material things reflect and shape the practices of science and the humanities, and also to help museums think about current and future practices of collections and collections use.
We invite presentations from historians, curators, registrars, and collections managers, as well as from artists and activists, on topics including:
  • Histories of museums and types of museums: We welcome case studies of museums and categories of museums that are no more. What can we learn from museums that are no more? Cast museums, commercial museums, and dime museums have mostly disappeared. Cabinets of curiosity went out of and back into fashion. Why? What is their legacy?
  • Artifacts: How do specimens degrade? How have museums come to think of permanence and ephemerality? How do museums use, and “use up” collections, either for research (e.g., destructive sampling), or for education and display; how have they thought about the balance of preservation and use? How can they collect the ephemeral?
  • Museum collection history: How long does art and artifact really remain in the museum? Might the analysis of museum databases cast new light on the long-term history and use of collections?
  • “Lost and found” in the museum: How are art and artifacts “rediscovered” in museums? How do old collections regain their importance, both in artistic revivals and in new practices of “mining” the museum as artists finding new uses for old objects?
  • Museum collections policy: How have ideas about deaccessioning changed? How should they change? How do new laws, policies, and ethics about the repatriation of collections shape ideas about collections?
  • Museums going out of business: When a museum needs to close for financial or other reasons, what’s the best way to do that? Are there good case studies and legal and financial models?
  • The future of museum collections: How might museums think about collecting the ephemeral, or collecting for “impermanent” collections. What new strategies should museums consider for short-term collecting? How might digitization and scanning shape ideas about the permanence of collections?

Papers from the Colloquium may be published as a special issue of the Museum History Journal.
If you’d like to present at the conference, please send an abstract of about 250 words and a brief CV to Steven Lubar, Deadline for submission of paper proposals is September 15, 2014.
Steven Lubar
Department of American Studies
John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage

Friday, April 25, 2014

Scientific Orthodoxy: Michael Gordin – Orthodoxy on the Fringe

Worlds in collision via Doug for creative commons flickr
by Michael Gordin 

 In 1960, Immanuel Velikovsky looked around and found himself ignored by the scientific establishment. A decade earlier, he had completed Worlds in Collision, which appeared in 1950 under the imprimatur of Macmillan Press, the most prestigious scientific publisher in the United States. It rocketed to the top of the non-fiction bestseller lists and provoked a backlash from influential astronomers and physicists, who threatened to boycott Macmillan unless what they perceived as their press dissociated itself from Velikovsky’s masterwork. Two months later, Macmillan transferred rights to the publishing smash of the year to their competitor Doubleday and washed their hands of Velikovsky forever. As far as voluble opponents of Velikovsky were concerned, they had heard the last of the delusional pseudoscience propounded in Worlds in Collision.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Scientific Orthodoxy: John Durant – Authorized Belief

Image by C.F. Payne via The Weekly Standard
By John Durant

On February 4, 2014, a much discussed live exchange took place between Bill Nye, a science educator and comedian best known for his long-running TV show Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, the President/Founder of the leading Young-Earth-Creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis (AIG), in Ham’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. As of 12 Noon on April 5, 2014, the 2 hour 45 minute YouTube video of the debate – around the question “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” – had been accessed 2,717,985 times. The debate took place as a result of an invitation issued to Bill Nye by Ken Ham, in response to an interview Nye gave about creationism in August 2012, in which he argued for the importance of not allowing the nation’s children to be indoctrinated with creationist ideas. From the moment that the Creation Museum announced it, this was a high profile, highly polarizing event. The evangelical Christian News heralded what they called “The Debate of the Decade”: “The highly-anticipated debate next month...has generated so much interest that tickets for the event sold out in two minutes.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Scientific Orthodoxy: Mary-Jane Rubenstein – How to Avoid the G-Word

 Image from Flickr via theqspeaks

By Mary-Jane Rubenstein

For many physicists and philosophers, one of the most attractive features of “multiverse” cosmologies is that they render “God” unnecessary. If there is only one universe, then we have to ask why it has the specific properties it has—especially insofar as these values seem “fine-tuned” to condition the existence of planets, stars and eventually, life. In the face of such a single, biophilic cosmos, one might say the only satisfying explanation is that there is an intelligent, benevolent creator outside the universe who sets the controls “just right” so that life might emerge within it. If, on the other hand, there are an infinite number of worlds that take on all possible parameters throughout infinite time (a rough sketch of the most popular multiverse scenario), then like Shakespeare tumbling from monkeys at typewriters, our elegant universe was bound to emerge eventually.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scientific Orthodoxy: Stephanie Dick – The Pirate Bay

By Stephanie Dick

On April 17, 2009, four men were found guilty in a Swedish court of law for aiding and abetting violation of the Swedish Copyright Act. They were charged because, in 2003, they set up a BitTorrent tracking website called The Pirate Bay which is currently employed by millions of users around the world to share digital files, many of which contain copyrighted materials. This case is an example of how the character of mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty act) – the orthodox underpinning of western legal traditions – is at stake in the context of large-scale computer-networked activities.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Scientific Orthodoxy: Introduction

This week and next, we are partnering with a newly launched blog Science and Religion, from the Program for Science, Religion and Culture at Harvard Divinity School for a series called "Scientific Orthodoxy." The editor-in-chief of the blog, Myrna Perez Sheldon introduces us to the series: 

The phrase “scientific orthodoxy” sounds like an oxymoron. Many don’t think that the words science and orthodoxy make any kind of sense together. Orthodoxy is “right knowledge”—knowledge that is authorized, allowable, and stable. In contrast, the popular image of science is that it is open to new facts, always looking to the next horizon, and pushing forward towards novel discoveries.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What-I-Will-Call-ics Anonymous: Some Current Trends in Science and, Especially, Technology Studies, Part 3

This is the third in a series of three posts, which examine some current trends in science and technology studies, focusing especially on the latter.

In the last post, I described what I see as some of the key current trends in technology studies. These trends fit a general pattern I described in the first post, where younger scholars are moving away from a certain mode of theorizing focused on jargon-creation and moving both towards a different notion of theory, a more traditional one perhaps, and towards valuing deep empirical research. In this final post, I will do two things. First, I will show that shift I have described holds for other locales in science and technology studies as well and is not simply an idiosyncratic phenomenon in the study of technology. Second, I will conclude by suggesting both that we have to pitch a certain mental model of what constitutes exciting thought and that we must more actively foster the development of this new intellectual movement. 

I should have said this earlier, but I want to emphasize that the views in these posts are solely my own and do not represent the thoughts of my blog teammates. In fact, if experience holds, Hank and Lukas will be swooping in at any moment to give me a good beating. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What-I-Will-Call-ics Anonymous: Some Current Trends in Science and, Especially, Technology Studies, Part 2

This is the second of three posts on current trends in science and technology studies, focusing especially on the latter. 

In the last post, I tried to describe a shift currently underway in science and technology studies. Part of my claim there was that, if the shift is happening, then some people might be looking in the wrong direction for exciting developments. This misdirection of perception—and outmoded criteria of excellence—could lead one to worry about "intellectual vitality." But our fretful colleagues should chill. There is great and exciting work being done today; it's just not being done where the worried ones are looking. In this post, I outline what I see as the most promising trends in technology studies today. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What-I-Will-Call-ics Anonymous: Some Current Trends in Science and, Especially, Technology Studies

In the spirit of New Year's Day, as people are setting resolutions, pondering the fresh and the new, thinking about what this year will bring (and fighting off hangovers), I wanted to put up this series of posts, which consider some current trends in science and technology studies and even suggest some paths for the future. I will be publishing three posts over the next three days. 

First, I should probably give some context for what I've written here. And I should also give a warning. The posts in this series are long, as my posts usually are, but in this case, I feel less ashamed. This series is really an essay on the state of a field, and its form fits that ambition. So, as for the context . . . 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Problem of the One and the Many in Gun Control

Over the past several months, I've become obsessed by what you might describe as the problem of the one and the many. It surfaces for any collective in which the interests of individuals diverge from those of the whole. I'm currently writing an essay about the way this problem manifested itself in debates at the turn of the 20th century about the evolution of multi-cellularity or super-organisms like insect societies. I also wrote a post on this blog recently arguing that people's misgivings about the Affordable Care Act ought to be seen as a manifestation of the same problem. Today, on the one-year anniversary of the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting, I would like to suggest that current debates about gun control can be seen in the same light.