Each year, the History of Science Society honors the best scholarship in the history of science. This year was no different, and we are pleased to share our prize winners and their contributions below.
Nathan Reingold Prize for best essay by a graduate student
Patrick Anthony (Vanderbilt University)
In “Natural History and Vertical Thinking in Germany’s Underground Enlightenment: Mining as the Working World of Humboldt’s Science,” Patrick Anthony offers a striking new account of Alexander von Humboldt, persuasively demonstrating the deep influence of Humboldt’s formative experiences in the Prussian mining industry on his scientific ideas and endeavors.
Through careful and creative readings of Humboldt’s early writings, Patrick Anthony excavates the narrative of a zealous young mining official whose developing ideas about patterns of plants and people and apparently novel methods of mapping geographic features can be traced to his subterranean training and experiences. This fascinating exploration of the “vertical thinking” engendered through work in and on mines not only revises traditional accounts of both Humboldt and “Humboldtian science” but also offers a powerful reflection on the influence of commerce on scientific theory and practice.
Helen Curry (chair), Karl Hall, Simon Werret
Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in education
Marvin Bolt (Corning Museum of Glass)
The Joseph H. Hazen Prize Committee of the History of Science Society is proud to award the 2017 Prize to Dr. Marvin Bolt, Curator of Science and Technology at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. Dr. Bolt’s educational efforts in the history of science have included everything from his very public work giving lectures and curating exhibits of scientific apparatus and displays to hosting personal tours for historians of science at the Adler Planetarium as part of Notre Dame’s biennial History of Astronomy workshops.
His innovative exhibits, ranging from “Evening Amusements: Popular Astronomy, 1750-1930” to more recently “Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass,” have drawn tens of thousands of visitors and introduced them to the inspiration of astronomy, its history, and its instruments.
As one of his nominators remarked, “Marv has a gift for seeing the larger cultural implications of research in the history of science” and has shared this gift in his work. It was the sense of the committee that Marv’s work in museums at the interface between the academy and the public is truly accomplished and impactful and embodies all the ideals of the Hazen Prize for excellence in education in the history of science.
John Rudolph (chair), Mark Waddell, JB Shank
Derek Price/Rod Webster Prize for best article in Isis
Albert G. Way (Kennesaw State University)
In his well-crafted article, Albert Way reconstructs the story of the Emory University Field Station in Georgia, which operated from 1939 to 1958 with university, federal, and private philanthropic funding. Director Melvin Goodwin led a program at the forefront of research on malaria control and eradication, pioneering what is now called disease ecology—an integrative approach to epidemiology that drew on agriculture, biology,chemistry, geology,hydrology, and medicine.Way’s keen-eyed narrative emphasizes the local specificities of scientific life. The science made in this part of the rural American South was inevitably shaped by local racial discrimination and environmental manipulation.At the same time,Way traces the transnational flows of expertise and knowledge about tropical diseases, which connected Eugene Odum’s post sanitarian work on malaria and his better-known establishment of ecosystem ecology.
The station approached malaria as a disease of place, one that focused on the landscape rather the human body. This left its researchers skeptical of reliance on DDT. Groundbreaking science could not shield the station from the changing funding priorities as malaria receded. The station’s doors closed quietly in 1958, as nationally the embrace of DDT continued apace. Way draws upon a wide range of historiography,including the history of medicine and race; environmental history andthe field sciences; place-based analysis; and colonial and postcolonial knowledge production. This deeply satisfying narrative moves deftly from the local to the global and back—very much like the science Way is describing.
Richard Bellon (chair), Massimo Mazzotti, Anya Zilberstein
Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize for best book on the role of women in science
Laura Micheletti Puaca (Christopher Newport University)
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In Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940–1980, Laura Micheletti Puaca reminds us that before there was a second wave of feminism in the United States there was a first wave, and that feminists of the first wave also tried to improve the position of women in the scientific disciplines.She demonstrates, with analytic wit and expository skill, that even in the apparently quiescent years from 1940 to 1970, there were strong-minded women who continued to protest discriminatory practices in scientific education and employment.
Deftly utilizing excellent primary sources, Puaca tells us about several extraordinary women who led the charge–for example,Virginia Gildersleeve, dean of Barnard and Mary Ingraham Bunting, dean of Douglass and then president of Radcliffe—as well as several previously uncelebrated reform organizations that kept the battle going–for example,Sigma Delta Epsilon for Graduate Women in Science (founded in 1921) and the Society of Women Engineers (founded in 1950).Puaca calls this first wave of reformers technocratic feminists because, as much as they may have wanted equal rights for women in science, they responded to the times in which they were living by using a technocratic argument: namely that since military supremacy depended on science, the nation needed to do more to educate and employ half its potential scientific workforce: that is, the female half.This argument, Puaca concludes, set the stage both for the rise of the equal rights argument and, crucially, for the enforcement of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, without which, the improvements that we are witness to today would not have occurred.
Ruth Schwartz Cowan (chair), Rusty Shteir, Theresa Levitt
Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for best book for a general audience
Tania Munz (National Humanities Center)
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The Dancing Bees is an insightful and accessible biography of Karl von Frisch that draws deeply on archival sources that have not been previously consulted. It is also a well-researched analysis of von Frisch’s work on how bees communicate the location of their food sources and of the debates surrounding von Frisch’s famous interpretation of the bees’ dances. At the same time, this is a book about living a scientific life under Nazi rule, a life made even more complicated when the Nazis determined that von Frisch was “a Quarter Jew.” Tania Munz’s greatest accomplishment is that she has successfully woven the three main threads of her exceptionally rich book together into a captivating narrative, written in a graceful and engaging style, that will be enjoyed by professional and lay audiences alike. Scientists will appreciate the expert, even-handed way that the author presents von Frisch’s experiments and the debates they engendered. Historians will value Munz’s sophisticated contextual approach to von Frisch’s work and her nuanced treatment of von Frisch’s dealings with the Nazis. And both von Frisch’s compelling biography and the fascinating story of his discovery of the bees’ language will undoubtedly capture the imagination of the general reader. Thus, Tania Munz’s book is an outstanding example of exactly the kind of book for which the Davis Prize was intended.
Bert Theunnisen (chair), Mark Barrow, Mary Terrall
Pfizer Award for best scholarly book
Tiago Saraiva (Drexel University)
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With fine-grained detail and stunning breadth, Tiago Saraiva’s excellent book, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism reveals the vital role played by the knowledge and remaking of life in the twentieth century’s most deadly political regimes. In 1941 George Orwell wrote that H.G. Wells’s assumption of an inevitable link among science, common sense, and progressive ideals was no longer self-evident: “Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there— but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age.” Likewise, Tiago Saraiva shows that pigs, sheep, wheat, coffee, cotton and rubber had become scientific building blocks for fascist governments. The medical, biological, and genocidal arms of the Nazi’s systematic state racism are only part of the picture; in Germany, Italy, and Portugal, plant and animal genetics, developmental physiology, agronomy, soil science, and industrial logistics were coordinated across vast territories to feed, clothe, and equip populations. For these authoritarian regimes, appeals to organic nature, soil, and holism were not just rhetoric but deliberate scientific, administrative, and economic programs to produce standardized organisms on a mass scale. Once brought into being, Saraiva shows, these things took on a life of their own: in their specific forms of agency, drafted into economic and government plans, they performed fascism and its new political forms. Deeply sourced in both primary and secondary literatures, Fascist Pigs abounds in technical detail and evocative facts, while offering novel approaches, informed by STS, sociology, and anthropology, to the study of science, technology, bureaucracy, industry, agriculture, and statecraft. Its focus on fascism gives it an important place in debates about “political epistemology” and “political ontology,” inviting more nuanced examination of specific political orders and the things they rely on to cement their rule.
Exploring intersections of environmental, imperial, and global histories, Saraiva makes clear the necessity of history of science for any account of the modern world; with its comparative approach to fascism in three different nations, it brings out important distinctions as well as commonalities, and opens tremendous vistas for future investigation. One of the book’s major strengths is its construction of a geographical and spatial “big picture” which shows how the development of new organisms went along with the seizing of the territories in Eastern Europe and Africa in which to transplant them; examining the supply chains that bound European states to their imperial settlements, Saraiva provides decisive evidence for the conceptual, organizational, and technical continuities between fascism and imperialism— with significant implications for our understanding of liberal and communist states as well. Tracing the unexpected and often troubling links between scientific objects and technological processes, between political ideas and the programs which attempted (and, fortunately, sometimes failed) to realize them, Tiago Saraiva’s Fascist Pigs is an outstanding achievement of research, synthesis, and argument, and a major contribution to the history of science.
John Tresch (chair), Crosbie Smith, Dagmar Schäfer
Sarton Medal for lifetime scholarly achievement
Garland E. Allen (Washington University, St. Louis, emeritus)
The Sarton medal “honors a scholar for lifetime scholarly achievement.” Garland Allen’s scholarship is wide-ranging. He has written a number of influential books and articles, including textbooks and scholarly monographs, and he has three more books underway since he has retired. In addition to the influence of his own research, he has promoted the work of others through his many other administrative and editorial contributions to the profession. Gar received his PhD from Harvard in 1966, directed by Everett Mendelsohn, while also receiving a Master’s in Teaching and while teaching introductory biology. Gar likes to explain that he grew up in Kentucky, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville, and only at Harvard began to understand what original scholarship could mean. Everett Mendelsohn and Ernst Mayr, with whom Gar also studied, encouraged his exploration of the life and work or another Kentucky man – Thomas Hunt Morgan. Gar’s dissertation became an excellent study and eventually a well-received monograph of this Nobel Prize winning geneticist. While completing that work, Gar also wrote his Life Science in the Twentieth Century survey that served as a textbook for the next generations of historians of biology. We read the book and dissected it, amazed at the richness of detail and range of topics covered even while taking issue with some of the claims. When some of us challenged Gar and suggested that he was wrong, he put on his wonderful smile and gave a Marxist response: “excellent. I put forth a thesis, you offer an antithesis, now we can work toward synthesis. The dialectic prevails.” The book was written over 40 years ago, and a new generation of students can read it and discuss what they would do differently today. Currently, Gar has three more books. Science and Social Process with Jeffrey Baker just appeared from Springer. From Little Science to Big Science: A History of Genetics in the Twentieth Century should be completed this year for Harvard University Press. The third is a volume he has been working on since graduate school: on Darwin, Marx and Wagner. He reports that he plans to complete it—eventually. And among his many articles, just to pick one, his study of the striking overlap between those who advocated for eugenics as population control and those who promoted conservation of the environment is one of the most cited articles in the 50 year run of the JHB. Gar has also had a very teaching-intensive career, starting with teaching biology at Mt. Hermann School and then introducing biology to probably tens of thousands of undergraduates at Washington University over many decades. He relies on history, with his own textbooks co-authored with Jeffrey Baker, and more recently using selected readings to complement standard textbooks to teach biology. His undergraduates report enjoying Dr. Allen’s “history stories” and learning about the people behind the ideas. As he noted in a 2014 interview, “I thoroughly enjoy teaching biology as a process of inquiry using examples from the history of science to show earlier investigators had thought about a problem, and found ways to approach it experimentally.”
This is a model kind of scholarship. Beyond the traditional academic contributions of publication and teaching, Gar has also played diverse leadership roles for the profession. As president of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Gar helped make the informal organization more international and more scholarly. He worked closely with the program chairs to add discussion- oriented workshops, book-discussion sessions, and sessions focused on driving questions to bring together competing ideas. Younger scholars often try out their ideas at an ISH meeting and then bring a session to HSS, so we all benefit. For the HSS, Gar has also served in a number of leadership roles, including serving as Isis Book Review editor and on CORP, the subcommittee on Diversity, and the Suzanne J. Levinson Prize Committee, as well as presenting the George Sarton Lecture at the AAAS meeting in 1988. In 1987, the Marine Biological Sciences Director Paul Gross asked Gar if he would organize something for the upcoming MBL centennial. Gar talked Jane Maienschein into helping, and they started an MBL “special topics” course in History of Biology. The MBL supported the course for two years, then the Dibner Institute at MIT supported it for about twenty years, and now Arizona State supports it. Gar made this seminar possible, and he poured his energies into it. The seminar has completed 30 years and is still going, and Gar is there every year, intently listening and participating in discussions on whatever the topic of the year may be. He inspires others be being so completely engaged and engaging himself. At the MBL, Gar also served as a Trustee and chairman of the history committee. Everett Mendelsohn built the JHB and served as editor for 31 years (!). When he decided to pass on the journal, he turned to Gar. Again, Gar turned to Jane Maienschein as co-editor, but Gar served as the senior editor. For every manuscript received, he spent a great deal of time reading it carefully, making extensive editorial suggestions, and always helping junior scholars learn to present their ideas in the most effective possible ways. We tend to undervalue this kind of scholarship, which is engagement with ideas and a major contribution to scholarship overall. Gar deserves tremendous credit for this work. Gar is the preeminent historian of biology today. He retired from teaching in 2014 and continues to work with students informally, and he is intellectually more active than ever. His work at the intersections of genetics, embryology, and evolution has always been original and has followed his own understanding of biology rather than following the patterns set by others. And he always continues to learn and to revise his own ideas, as he did recently in rethinking some of Morgan’s early work on development. In studying the history of ideas and scientific work, he has also always explored economic and social factors. This approach has served him well. His articles from 50 years ago still have traction and are cited even more frequently today. As those of us writing letters of support put it, scarcely do any of us publish an article today that does not include at least one reference to Gar’s work. In short, his influence on the history of 20th century biology has been – and remains – immense. All of these contributions are very real and significant.
They represent a career of creativity and dedication across all the domains of scholarship. Yet there is more. Gar has a special infectious enthusiasm for life and learning. Even at age 80, the wide-eyed Kentucky boy excited by the world, by people, by ideas, and by discovery comes through. Gar’s contributions to our social-intellectual lives and to the community of scholarship is profound and enduring. On any given day, Gar can be found interacting with others – at the beach, in the library, in a classroom: his eyes bright, smile broad, enthusiasm palpable. He has time and energy for every young scholar, to listen and to learn with and from each one. George Sarton would have been impressed by Gar’s breadth of interests and scholarship, even though Sarton himself never really made it close to the 20th century in his own work.
Jane Maienschein, Marsha Richmond, Mike Dietrich, Richard Creath, & John Beatty