M. Norton Wise, Distinguished Research Professor of History (emeritus) at the University of California, Los Angeles, has won the History of Science Society’s 2019 Sarton Medal for lifetime scholarly achievement.
Wise is best known for his fundamental work in the history of physics. His Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (Cambridge University Press, 1989, co-authored with Crosbie Smith) won the 1990 Pfizer Prize, and he followed this book with three companion articles, “Work and Waste: Political Economy and Natural Philosophy in Nineteenth Century Britain,” published in History of Science in 1989 and 1990. Together, these works set out a new way of understanding science. He showed that science is not just embedded in culture, but is also a part of it, drawing its resources from the specificity of a particular time and place.
Wise’s contributions to the history of physics have been very substantial, but his most recent book, Aesthetics, Industry, and Science: Hermann von Helmholtz and the Berlin Physical Society (University of Chicago Press, 2018), demonstrates how adept he is at traversing a variety of domains. He covers innovations in mechanics, physiology, and steam technology; adduces a wide range of sources including equations, paintings, and buildings; and keenly captures the role of aesthetics in mid-nineteenth-century German science.
And he is as excellent an editor as he is an author, producing several exemplary edited volumes, including Values of Precision (Princeton University Press, 1995), Growing Explanations: Historical Perspectives on Recent Science (Duke University Press, 2004), and (with Angela N. H. Creager and Elizabeth Lunbeck) Science without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, and Exemplary Narratives (Duke University Press, 2007).
Wise’s contribution to the history of science extends beyond his research. At UCLA, he was a founding co-director of the Institute for Society and Genetics, an initiative to bring together modern biomedical science, history of science, legal scholarship, and ethics. He also cultivated rich history of science communities, not once, but three times: first at UCLA, next at Princeton University, and then again at UCLA.
Dozens of Wise’s students continue to enrich the field with their research and teaching.
The History of Science Society (est. 1924) is the world’s largest society dedicated to understanding science, technology, medicine, and their interactions with society in historical context. Over 3,000 individual and institutional members across the world support the Society’s mission to foster interest in the history of science, promote discussion of science’s social and cultural relations, and bring this understanding to others worldwide.