Statement on Shared Governance

HSS Council has endorsed a statement issued by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) on the importance of shared governance during the pandemic: 

Changes to curriculum and instruction, radical shifts in labor and employment conditions (including declarations of financial exigency, furloughs, and terminations), and concerns relating to health protocols for in-person instruction during the pandemic are all issues that involve shared governance. These issues are directly impacting many of our members in their professional capacities as instructors and scholars employed in a wide range of universities and colleges. 

The HSS leadership recognizes the challenges many of our members are facing as a result of the pandemic and wishes to support all of those who must contend with uncertainty, irrespective of their institutional setting.  

July 2020 Newsletter

Pages from July 2020 Newsletter

We hope that all our members continue to keep safe and sane as our trying times continue. Certainly this longer-than-usual issue provides good evidence that our community has been busy and active.  We have a few treats in store, with two meaty interviews of distinguished, prizewinning scholars from our ranks, and we have more than one contribution attesting to the creativity of educators in times of crisis. Our regular sections are brimming over, as well, with more news than ever of individual members, the community, and the Society as a whole. Keep safe everyone.

Read the Newsletter. Download the PDF.

History of Science Society Awards Sarton Medal to James Bennett

2020 Sarton Medalist, James A. Bennett

Prof. James (Jim) A. Bennett’s work as a historian of scientific instruments, curator of world-class collections, museum leader, and teacher has had a remarkable impact in the field of history of science and beyond. Jim was one the earliest historians of science to foster the “material turn,” i.e., to argue that historical scientific instruments and apparatus not only serve as historical sources, but also provide insights not gained from paper documents. The relevance of scientific instruments and material culture is now almost undisputed, and Jim’s work was crucial for this shift of attention from ideas and paradigms to everyday practice and artisanal cultures.

His fundamental 1986 article on “The mechanics’ philosophy and mechanical philosophy” (History of Science 24, 1-28) made it clear that major changes associated with the Scientific Revolution emerged from the domain of instrument-making and practical mathematics. This article lifted the veil on the 16th-century practitioners who, by engaging with the practical problems posed by artillery, navigation, and surveying, had recorded and addressed several inconsistencies of Aristotelian physics. This lesson has been so deeply absorbed in the decades following the publication of Jim’s seminal article that it is now easy to forget where it originated.

The Divided Circle: A History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation and Surveying (Phaidon-Christie’s, 1987)

His early book The Divided Circle: A History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation and Surveying (Phaidon-Christie’s, 1987), which surveys European instruments for measuring angles made from the 16th through the 19th centuries, showed the profound importance of the circle and its measure for the history of science, highlighting how instruments provide valuable and unique insights into the worlds of theory and practice.

Jim’s sharp historiographical approach to science and its material culture was aptly summarized and illustrated in his influential 2002 presidential address to the British Society of the History of Science (BSHS), “Knowing and doing in the sixteenth century: What were instruments for?” (BJHS 36, 129-150). The latter remains a compelling invitation to use instruments as resources for research, constituting an obligatory passage point to all those who engage with this line of inquiry.

As the curator of world-class collections such as those at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, the Whipple Museum of the University of Cambridge, and the History of Science Museum in Oxford, Jim cultivated innovative dynamics of object-based teaching and research, while seeking to mediate among the worlds of the museum, the instrument collector, and the professional historian of science/technology. He has overseen and supported a substantial number of carefully curated and thought-provoking exhibitions such as “Empires of Physics” (1993, Whipple Museum, Cambridge), “Geometry of War, 1500-1750” (1996, History of Science Museum, Oxford) and “Steampunk” (2010, idem), just to mention a few examples. These exhibits have inspired students, researchers, curators, and the general public alike, bringing fresh perspectives from artifact-based research into the public sphere while setting a benchmark for other exhibit projects and permanent displays in institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Throughout his career, Jim has always stood out as an active, influential, and generous member of the museum and scholarly communities. He has held many distinguished leadership positions, including those of President of the BSHS, President of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Vice-President of the International Academy of the History of Science, and more recently, President of the Hakluyt Society. He has also acted as an associate editor of leading academic journals and served on the advisory boards of the Nobel Museum and the Science Museum.

For his pioneering scholarship and curation in the field of instrument studies, his leadership in the history of science on an international stage, and his attention to the needs of faculty, students, and the public, the HSS is pleased to bestow its most distinguished award, the Sarton Medal, on Prof. Jim Bennett. 


The History of Science Society (est. 1924) is the world’s largest society devoted to the study of the history of science. The HSS’s mission is to foster interest in the history of science, promote discussion of science’s social and cultural relations, and bring this understanding to others worldwide. For further information, please contact Robert J Malone at jay@hssonline.org.

Statement on the Death of George Floyd and Racism in the United States

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020 has sparked days of protests in every state in the United States and in nations across the world. These protests are not an isolated response but emerge from decades of struggle against the violence of white supremacy. We continue to witness with horror as militarized police forces are deployed against protestors and bystanders across the United States. The use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and military medical helicopters to intimidate protestors breaks with international codes of humanitarian conduct and undermines the rule of law. The History of Science Society condemns the ongoing racism that structures the American policing, criminal, and legal systems. We unequivocally affirm that Black lives matter. 

We know from our historical work how thoroughly entangled science is with racism. Our histories have demonstrated this across medicine, science, and technology, including, among many others, the use of the bodies of unwilling enslaved women in the creation of gynecology techniques, the collection of blood from indigenous communities in Cold War preservation programs, the development of racist database surveillance practices in policing, or in the deployment of anthropology to legitimate racist public policies. 

We grieve the devastating impact of Euroamerican race science that divided humans into separate and unequal categories. We denounce the historic and ongoing exclusion of Black scientists from professional scientific networks, resources, and credit for their work. And we call out the role that science and medicine have played—and continue to play—in creating and sanctifying racism, particularly in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting Black, brown, and indigenous communities in the United States.

Acknowledging the ways that science and medicine have been complicit in anti-Blackness, colonial violence, slavery, and white supremacy is only the first step. We must also recognize how racism has shaped our own histories. Thus, our commitment to end white supremacy begins with our research, our teaching, and how we conduct the business of the Society. We pledge to actively elevate the work of Black scholars and dismantle racism in the fabric of our discipline and our institutions. We call ourselves to a harder, better understanding of our Society’s mission that draws on our unique insights into the history of science, medicine, and technology for the urgent and necessary task of combating racism, everywhere.

-The History of Science Society

Resources

The Open Conversations section in the June 2020 issue of Isis, the flagship journal of the History of Science Society, examines how diversity in the history of science can be a force for justice. It discusses the need to diversify the profession and to address the causes underlying white-centrism in the historical study of science. We urge you to read the discussion: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/709484

The HSS Graduate and Early Career Caucus have compiled a list of resources and opportunities for donation: https://hssgecc.wordpress.com/

HSS Publications during the Pandemic

To our friends and colleagues in the history of science community:

Like all of you over the last several weeks, we at the HSS Editorial office have resigned ourselves to the fact that we do indeed live in interesting times. We are reasonably certain that, as you adjusted to the new realities of teaching, working, and living through this pandemic, you did not devote much time wondering when you would hear from us. Nevertheless, we’d like to take a moment to address how these extraordinary circumstances will affect the Society’s publications and those of you who make them possible, through your writing, editing, reviewing, and patronage.

As historians, we naturally look to our present circumstances with an eye towards what elements of them will survive into subsequent generations’ retelling of them. Will the articles in Volume 211, Issue 3 of Isis—which we note for the benefit of our distant successors should be reserved for the centennial of these events—be able to appreciate the emotional range many of us are now experiencing on a daily basis? The absurdities of ten teleconference neophytes on a Zoom call coexist from moment to moment with desperate fears for our loved ones and our students and our professional futures. We are lonely, and then we are grateful, and then we are cynical, and then we are bored. We grant ourselves imaginary degrees in epidemiology. We cautiously revise our estimates of when it might all be behind us.

But we don’t, for the most part, rush to finish our book reviews.

Perhaps, like us, you very briefly entertained the idea that working from home—away from the distractions of your normal routine, whether it be in a classroom or a library or an administrative setting—would be invigorating in some way. Perhaps under other circumstances it might have been. Suffice it to say that most of us are finding no such silver lining. To that end, we’d like to be clear about a few points.

First and foremost—and this is true in all times—our publications exist solely because of a thousand acts of individual generosity on the part of you, our colleagues. This is, of course, not a secret, but it is a debt that we freely acknowledge. A career’s worth of person-hours, very few of them ours, go into every issue of Isis. We will continue to publish, and we have no reason to think any of our publications will be delayed. But if you are one of our anonymous referees, or Advisory Editors, or contributors, or book reviewers, or if you play any of the other contributory roles that our publications rely on, we recognize that your ability to perform those tasks may be affected. 

As usual, we will send e-mail reminders when those tasks are due. If you know that you will no longer be able to fulfill an assignment you’d previously accepted, we understand, and ask only that you let us know that as soon as possible. Similarly, if you need more time than you otherwise would, please let us know. If you can identify a point in the future when you expect you’ll be able to complete it, that too is useful. We may reassign reviews based on that information. Please be assured that no judgment is implied if we do. Our obligation is to our authors and readers, but your own well-being, and that of your communities, must always come first for you.

That said, we would be professionally remiss as editors if we did not use this space to beg other favors. First of all, if ever there were a time when volunteers to serve as article referees, or book review authors, or contributors to our Newsletter were especially wanted, it’s now. We’re not particularly worried that scholarship in the history of science will somehow grind to a halt and leave us with nothing to publish (though we have noticed a sudden downtick in article submissions for Isis) but we are keenly aware of how many people besides an author it takes to turn a submission into a finished article. We are careful always to match articles and books with qualified reviewers, a standard we are confident we can continue to uphold. But we’re always looking for volunteers who are eager to be a part of the process. It’s work, but it’s the work we’ve collectively chosen. Please reach out, if you can.

We are genuinely grateful to be a part of such a generous and collegial community of scholars. Until we can express our gratitude for your work in a less socially distant fashion, please accept our best wishes for your health. Stay in touch.

Sincerely,

Matthew Lavine
Editor, History of Science Society

Alexandra Hui
Editor, History of Science Society

Jan – March 2020

Previous Isis
Books Received Lists

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By arrangement with Amazon.com, Web users can benefit the Society while purchasing titles currently listed in the Amazon catalog. Each book (or any other kind of merchandise) bought from Amazon using an HSS link or the HSS search box will earn the Society up to 5% of the purchase price. We offer this opportunity as a service to our many Web users, and to help support the costs of our growing Web presence.

HSS Newsletter (April 2020)

We hope everyone is keeping well, safe and calm in our strange and uncertain time of the coronavirus. The April HSS Newsletter leads with two articles on the scientific and the historical perspectives of the pandemic. Other articles offer historical perspectives on more issues of global concern–food and our environment–and bibliographies take a double bow in this issue, both in a tribute to a deceased former colleague and in our “Innovations in Education” column. And of course, there is news as usual about the doings of our members, of HSS and of the profession. Thank you for your membership!

Read the newsletter or download the PDF

 

Message to members of the History of Science Society, April 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

We will keep this short, since you don’t need us to tell you about the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on all aspects of our lives at present. We simply want to assure you that the HSS is functioning and continuing our activities even as circumstances change.

As many colleagues manage the transition to an online environment, we look with admiration at those who have used their training to address the history of epidemics and other emergencies. We have been pleased to hear of members who have contributed to webcasts, who have published op-ed pieces and blogs, and who have converted exhibits, teach-ins, and public lectures to a remote audience. In these activities, we draw on our scholarly expertise to provide accurate information and historical perspectives—precious resources at a time of uncertainty and distress.

The Society continues to make plans for our annual meeting in New Orleans, 8-11 October. We are working toward a conference that brings us together—as colleagues, friends, and members of a unique society—after months of isolation. Ideally, this gathering will be in person and we will be joined by SHOT, but we are also looking at multiple scenarios. We will provide you updates as this special challenge unfolds.

At a time like this, we are reminded that the Society is a community and a network for mutual support. We are exploring ways to assist members affected by the present crisis, such as graduate students and early-career scholars whose funding and employment prospects have diminished.

In the meantime, the Executive Office of the Society remains open, albeit with the staff working from home. The Executive Committee and the Council will hold online meetings this spring. Elections to these bodies and other posts will go ahead next month. And the Newsletter and the Society’s other publications will continue to appear.

We thank you for your membership and support of the History of Science Society. We cannot yet determine the impact of the crisis on our financial well-being, but we are sure that we will continue to thrive with members like you.

With sincere best wishes for your good health, and that of your families and communities.

Jan Golinski
President

Jay Malone
Executive Director