Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Southern Science

In a post last month for the "Southern Roundtable" blog, Jay Malone (HSS executive director) makes a few noteworthy claims. For instance: historians of science and southern historians share peculiar senses of isolation in most history departments. Or:someone like William Dunbar (a Scot who came to North America in 1772 and became a planter) matters most to the history of science because he welcomed and supported visiting naturalists, like William Bartram or Alexander Wilson. (Also: tell me more about these visits. What they bring to mind most readily are the stops that Darwin made and recounted with Spanish officials on the Beagle voyage.)

But the most striking claim came in the title of the post. (And I know, I'm probably just showing my ignorance here.) What does "Southern Science" look like? Please, internet community, tell me more. (And, I know, you had the same question about "American Science." My question is: does a literature on "Southern Science" exist that parallels the larger American version?)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Looking Outward

In case you missed it, HSS president Lynn Nyhart used her column in the last newsletter to ask the history of science community of scholars to think expansively about the profession:
Here's a thought: we could become "them." Instead of noticing (and complaining about) science writers who take our best material and get it not-quite right, we could sometimes choose–and then learn–to write the way they do. Instead of sighing over science textbooks that compress history into brief sidebars, we could work with their writers to show why history of science deserves not only more space but integration into the overall presentation of science. We could further encourage history of science students to become K–12 teachers, museum professionals, and film-makers, and seek out active means to funnel people headed for these futures into history of science courses. Instead of bemoaning the lack of science-cultural literacy among our politicians and government bureaucrats, we could prepare our students for non-academic jobs that engage with science-related public policy.
I would add that we can and should push for integration of history of science into other branches of history. For us, that means making HOS a part of standard US history narratives.

Nyhart also mentions our little experiment here and that HSS has opened up an on-line forum that---err, um---has not exactly caught on yet. I like this spirit of experimentation. I think the question for Google Group is: what does an HSS Forum do that H-Net can't? Any ideas?

Psychology of Color

A fascinating CFP for a conference on "Color, Commerce, and Consumption in Global Historical Perspective" went up a while back. The due date has passed, so that is old news. But I finally got around to looking over this 2007 Chemical Heritage Foundation piece by the conference's convener --- on the history of DuPont's work with car colors. I expected it to be all about chemical dye production, so I was surprised and fascinated by this:


In January 1925 two DuPont managers discussed the company’s need for practical advice on the psychology of colors as a means to anticipate major color fads. DuPont took a chromatic leap in October 1925 when it hired Towle and created the Duco Color Advisory Service to design the latest and most desirable color combinations for the auto industry. Born in Brooklyn, Towle had studied painting at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League. During World War I he put his art training to good use as a member of the U.S. Army’s celebrated Camouflage Corps. Afterward he adapted to the burgeoning world of advertising, working sequentially as art director for three New York agencies: H. K. McCann, Frank Seaman, and Campbell-Ewald. At Seaman he also served as the executive in charge of the DuPont account and as copy executive for Cadillac, Oldsmobile, La Salle, and Pontiac—all GM divisions.

The entire article is worth a read if you're interested in role of corporate scientists at the intersection of advertising, manufacturing, and business statistics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Darwin vs. Lincoln: The Case of Pragmatism

This past weekend saw an interesting anniversary: the double birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, who were born across the Atlantic from one another on 12 February 1809. When I thought about how to mark it here on the blog, my mind turned where it so often does: to pragmatism.

Why? These two figures (in the form of their involvement with evolutionary theory and the Civil War) buttress what is now perhaps the most famous account of pragmatism and its origins: Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2002.


It's a captivating quadruple-biography and a compelling synthesis of lively philosophical ideas, in which Menand frames the development of "classical pragmatism" in the Cambridge of the 1870s as stemming from the joint impact of Darwin's theory of natural selection and various figures' relationship to the Civil War.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shoot the rats, don't eat them

Margaret Humphreys will give a talk on the history of Civil War medicine on Feb. 29 at 6pm at the New York Academy of Medicine (details below).

My favorite part of her talk description is this:
In the northern hospitals men shot rats as a target practice game; in the south they roasted them for lunch. Important aspects of the best care were nutritious food, medicines such as chloroform, quinine, and opium, and sufficient staff to ensure cleanliness and care of the weakened or wounded body.
Humphreys posits that the differences in medical care might have played a role in the war's outcome. I just love any framing that makes Civil War hospitals look good. Of course, I love to point to the Civil War as a good moment for American statistics too: draft and volunteer medical examinations created a data-set that was unprecedented at its time for its inclusion of so many normal or average Americans. Plus the Civil War made political space for the creation of the Land Grant Colleges, and thus paved the way for federal funding of science in the US.

Anyhow, keep reading to see Humphrey's full talk description. Via h-net.

Monday, February 6, 2012

CFP: George Perkins Marsh Conference

For your consideration---
A conference celebrating (physical geographer and other things) George Perkins Marsh: An American for all Seasons -- proposals due 15 March 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What is the best (first) book on HOS in America right now?

Know the answer? Let us know! FHSA wants to recognize a great work. Here's the official call:

The Forum for the History of Science in America has begun gathering books for its 2012 Publication Prize.

Here are the eligibility criteria:
- any book published in the English language with a publication year 2009, 2010 or 2011,
- authored by a Scholar(s) for whom this consititutes a "first book",
- on a topic in American science ("American" loosely defined to include the western hemisphere, "science" conservatively defined to exclude books focusing on either the "clinical and social history of medicine" or the "history of technology").
Authors are encouraged to self-nominate.

Please submit titles and publisher information to David Spanagel [spanagel@wpi.edu] between now and June 30, 2012.  Examination copies of each nominated book must be delivered to the three (3) prize committee members by July 31, 2012 for that book to receive full consideration.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Science & US Intellectual History

The Society for US Intellectual History (S-USIH, or "sushi") runs both a blog and an annual conference in New York City. The theme of last year's – at which I presented – was "Narratives," and they've just announced that next fall's will be "Communities of Discourse."

According to the CFP, proposals are due 1 June and the event itself will be 1-2 November 2012. Besides the obvious attraction of Manhattan, they've got a great keynote speaker (David Hollinger) lined up – and at least the potential for interesting dialogue with history of science.

Why "potential"? Well, it was my impression last year that the focus skews strongly to twentieth-century political thought. Whether true or not of the field overall, it left the interface with the history of science mainly in the form of the social sciences relevant to that history of political ideas.

But it strikes me that there are way more ways to skin this cat, and that those who work on everything from dinosaur bones to the bomb could add to the conversation in a lot of ways – from new actors and institutions to new theoretical insights about "communities of discourse."

I talk too much about the need to get historians of science and intellectual historians thinking together, but this year's USIH conference seems like a good opportunity to collapse these two "communities of discourse" in a new way. Let's make science a bigger part of the program.