Sunday, July 31, 2011

Biology and the Public: Ischia (1 of 3)

A few weeks ago, three of the four of us (Hank, Joanna, Lukas) spent a week together on Ischia, an island off of Naples.

We were there for the The Twelfth Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences, sponsored by the Wellcome, the MPIWG, and the Stazione Zoologica.

Lukas, Helen, Joanna, and Hank (poolside)
Here's a description of the event. This year's theme was "Biology and the Public: Participation and Exclusion from the Renaissance to the Present Day," which was relevant to each of our projects in different ways.

We had a great time–inside and outside the seminar room–and decided to do a three-part report for the blog. Each of us will pick an interesting theme from the week's conversation and run with it (briefly).

I'm kicking things off, so here goes:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


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.