Ishkabibble

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I just got back from a week in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I spent about five days at the archives, in addition to attending talks at this year's ISHPSSB conference.  (For the uninitiated, that's: International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology).  I then spent a long weekend hiking in the Uinta mountains, which is a pretty spectacular place to go!

ISH is unique and different from other conferences insofar as it tries to bring together an interdisciplinary bunch of people, all of whom share an object of study in common: the life sciences.  That's the idea, anyway.  But, in recent years, it has become increasingly dominated by philosophy.  This is not a bad thing per se -- philosophers have a lot to offer those of us who are interested in writing critical intellectual history.  But why aren't the historians showing up?

If indeed we are seeing a resurgence in philosophical issues among young historians of science, this seems like an excellent place for us to get to know each other, share ideas, criticize one another's methods and assumptions, and so on.

I gave a talk about 3 dimensional representations of dinosaurs at US Natural History museums around the turn of the 20th century.  The discussion afterwards was really great.  Not only did several biologists show up, but I also met people working on the history of invertebrate paleontology, a practitioner in museology, and several philosophers who are interested in paleontology.  I don't think you could ever expect to get such a diverse audience at a conference like HSS or 4S.

Consider it a plug if you will, but I'd like to see more historians of science at these events.

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I was similarly surprised at how few historians were at the ISH meeting in Australia two years ago and agree with you that it's a meeting that more of us should make an effort to attend for no other reason than to make friends and intellectual allies.

One highlight for me was the chance to meet scientists whose interests overlapped with my own. Also, I'm embarrassed to admit that it took a trip to Brisbane to meet a philosopher of biology whose office is the same building as my own at UPenn. For a variety of reasons, and though we were both vaguely aware of each others' existence, neither of us had previously made the effort to meet. Since Brisbane, I've become an informal member of his working group and have learned a lot from him and his students. Maybe they have even learned something from me!

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