The Contemporary History Seminar Presents James Fleming’s “First Woman: Joanne Simpson and the Tropical Atmosphere”

Thursday, September 17, 4:00 pm


The 2020-2021 Contemporary History Seminar will begin on Thursday, September 17th on Zoom. The speaker will be:

James R. Fleming

Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, Colby College

Visiting Scholar, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, 2020-21

First Woman:

Joanne Simpson and the Tropical Atmosphere

Clouds are the spark plugs in the heat engine of the tropical atmosphere, and heat from the tropics drives the planet’s general circulation. Atmospheric scientists didn’t know this in the 1950s, but Joanne Simpson, the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in meteorology, did. Most histories of meteorology focus on polar and temperate regions and the accomplishments of male scientists. They marginalize or erase completely the contributions of female researchers. Joanne Simpson’s work on the tropical atmosphere did not fit this pattern. James Fleming’s new book, published by Oxford University Press, examines Simpson’s personal and professional life, her career prospects as a woman in science, and her relationship to the tropical atmosphere. These multifaceted and interacting textual streams constitute a braided narrative and form a complex dynamic system that displays surprising emergent properties. Is Joanne Simpson best remembered as a pioneer woman scientist who mentored a generation of meteorologists, and blazed a trail for other women to follow? Or was she simply the best tropical scientist of her generation? She was both.

For further information, please contact: Matt Shindell at 202-633-5897;

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