🏆 Prize Winners
The History of Science Society's 2019 prize and award winners.
Fellowships in Aerospace History are offered annually by the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) to support significant scholarly research projects in aerospace history. Learn more about the HSS/NASA Fellowship
Claire Isabel Webb
Massachusets Institute of Technology
Claire Isabel Webb is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program at MIT. Her dissertation, “Technologies of Perception: The Search for Life and Intelligence Beyond Earth” uses both historical and ethnographic methods to analyze how radio and optical astronomers call upon familiar modes of sensing to make meaning about as-yet-undiscovered objects: the alien and extraterrestrial life. “Technologies of Perception” asks: How did scientists construct experimental systems to imagine, relate to, and investigate unknown objects—ET and exotic microbes—through Earthly models of life and intelligence? Using historical material dating from 1950s-2000s, she contends that scientists imagined potential Others—extraterrestrial microbes and beings—through Earth- and body-bound metaphors of seeing (exobiologists) and listening (SETI scientists). Scientists created technologies of perception using optical and radio techniques by which they bridged the space between definitions of Earthly life and human intelligence and as-yet-unknown, but potentially commensurable, forms of Other life and Other intelligence. At stake were new formulations of perceptibility and sensibility; clues to the origin of (intelligent) life on Earth; and, a transformed connection to the cosmos through technology in the post-War II era.
Omar Nasim, HSS Representative for the Fellowship Committee
Established in 1955 by Ida and Henry Schuman of New York City to recognize an original graduate student essay on the history of science and its cultural influences. Learn more about the Reingold Prize
In “Pig Mentations: Race and Face in Radiobiology and Beyond,” Brad Bolman traces the emergence of the pig as an experimental animal in post-war North America, and particularly the white pig as a product and producer of that era’s ideas of race. In radiobiological studies of the effects of flash burns after nuclear detonations the “white pig” was putatively chosen because pig skin was deemed closest to human skin, and because whiteness revealed burn effects most clearly. Yet the white pig embodied cultural assumptions, prejudices and privileges as white pigs were identified with the skin of some universal “Man,” assumed to be self-evidently white. In lively and insightful prose, Bolman tracks these developments in the process of creating test pigs at the Experimental Animal Farm in Hanford, Washington, in the 1950s and 60s. The essay is a fascinating exploration of “species projection,” rehearsing human difference in research organisms, made visible by bringing together analyses from race studies, the history of science, and animal studies.
Simon Werrett (Chair), Dániel Margócsy, Alisha Rankin
Awarded for the best first book on the history of science in the Americas and written in English. Learn more about the Pauly Prize
The University of Texas at Austin
Megan Raby’s book American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science stands as a thought-provoking, archivally-robust work of immense value to historians working at the intersection of science, professionalization, epistemology, empire, and the environment. Raby focuses on an influential cluster of U.S.-sponsored ecological research stations that took root in the circum-Caribbean neocolonies of Jamaica, Panama, Cuba, and other locales rendered accessible by imperial transportation and patronage networks during the early twentieth century. American Tropics traces the role of U.S. scientists in shaping tropical biology, first as a venue for basic biological research, and later as a much more applied arena for biodiversity studies, tropical conservation, and sustainable global development.
Juxtaposed against this set of shifting paradigms and scientific challenges—including that of extending specific place-based investigations into general knowledge—is the political legacy of colonialism. Even today, tropical biology remains a discipline dominated by outsiders. As Raby persuasively concludes, “Tropical stations must become sites for creating not only knowledge of biodiversity but also new, equitable local and international scientific relations. The future of research in the tropics demands a full recognition of its history.”
We applaud Megan Raby’s historical analysis, and are very pleased to recognize American Tropics with the second annual Philip J. Pauly Prize for the best first book on the history of American science.
Ronald Rainger Prize
Awarded for the best early career work on the history of the earth and environmental sciences. Learn more about the Rainger Prize
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The 2019 Ronald Rainger Prize for early-career scholarship in the history of the earth and environmental sciences is awarded to Leah Aronowsky for her essay, “Of Astronauts and Algae: NASA and the Dream of Multispecies Spaceflight,” recently published in Environmental Humanities (97:2/November 2017). Dr. Aronowsky completed her Ph.D. in the History of Science at Harvard University in 2018. Her beautifully-written paper illuminates an under-explored subject of the shifting thinking about interspecies interactions in space. Through an examination of two cases of unrealized spaceflight technologies — algae-based life support systems and Howard and Eugene Odum’s work of complexity and stability at the Pacific Proving Grounds — Aronowsky shows how NASA’s standards of control limited the possibility of a space cabin that embraced and showcased multispecies interdependency. What if, Aronowsky asks, the space cabin was not understood to be “the ultimate expression of humans’ supremacy over their environment but instead as a space that foregrounds their vital reliance on it”? The implication is, if we consider the cultural and political reach of the Space Race, a vastly different concept of humans’ place in the world. Instead, spaceflight remained emblematic of technoscientific supremacy and strictly minimized human risk. Aronowsky’s remarkably productive analysis of NASA’s road(s) not taken is imaginative and stimulating, and makes this essay a worthy winner of the Rainger Prize.
Price Webster Prize
Awarded for the best article in Isis. Learn more about the Price/Webster Prize
Marta Hanson and Gianna Pomata
“Medicinal Formulas and Experiential Knowledge in the Seventeenth-Century Epistemic Exchange between China and Europe,” Isis 108, 1 (2017), 1-25.
Recipes should be considered an essential and nearly universal epistemic genre, Gianna Pomata and Marta Hanson contend in their erudite, methodologically ingenious, and vigorously argued essay, an exemplar of collaborative research and writing. The authors take as their premise the seldom-explored fact that recipes are among the earliest and most abiding forms of recording, transmitting, and circulating empirically-based knowledge, particularly in medicine and pharmacology, across numerous languages and traditions. Challenging scholarship on knowledge exchange dominated by accounts of chauvinistic appropriation of non-Western practices or the failures at mutual understanding, the authors’ research in original early sources of a stupendous linguistic range (evident in their translations of texts from Chinese, Latin, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese into English), points to medicinal recipes as artifacts of ongoing, relatively unprejudiced dialogues between Chinese and European scholars. By the early modern period, the written texts of most recipes were similar in layout and content. They typically began with a standard formula specifying ingredients in an itemized column, followed by a prescription offering directions for their processing, dosage, use, and modification for particular situations such as geographical differences or for individual cases (for example, according to the age, gender, or social status of the patient). Recognizing these shared characteristics allowed Hanson and Pomata to identify, through a close comparative analysis, the original 16th-century Chinese source and its likely transcriber-translator, the Jesuit Michael Boym, of the first medicinal recipes intentionally published in Latin in 1682 in order to be disseminated among missionaries and other European travelers in the East.
But the essay is not merely aimed at authenticating Boym’s work. In their extraordinarily sensitive consideration of irregularities and changes to these texts over time, the authors offer several new, if avowedly provisional, conclusions. First, they show that Boym’s recipes contained transcriptions, translations, and mistranslations from Chinese to Latin, which reflects recipes’ liminal status between oral and written mediums of communication. Second, they speculate that Boym and some of his successors expressed a concern to convey the practice of Chinese medicine as faithfully as possible by relying on the global visual conventions of recipes. Although the Chinese recipes rendered in Latin had titles and listed plants that were exotic to European readers, preserving their vertical format in printed editions signaled a familiar and authoritative type of information. This rich, provocative piece is considerably more than the sum of its parts. It is poised to be agenda setting for specialists but its insights should attract the interest of a broad range of scholars, both within and beyond the history of medicine and science.
Hazen Education Prize
Awarded for excellence in teaching the history of science. Learn more about the Hazen Education Prize
Oregon State University
The 2019 Hazen Prize is awarded to Professor Mike Osborne. Throughout his long career, Dr. Osborne has made valuable contributions to history of science programs around the world, most notably at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Oregon State University. He has been an innovator in the classroom at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and he has made significant educational contributions outside of the classroom on the international level. From teaching about the history of the microscope and stem cells to a bilingual (Spanish-English) class of primary school students in Goleta, California, to serving on doctoral committees or co-leading dissertations for students in Australia, Brazil, China, France, and La Réunion, he has advanced the history of science around the globe. He has helped train and place graduate students across numerous disciplines, from marine studies, to history, to public health, to religious studies, and to geography. He has served in the public sphere by giving presentations at museums; by preparing biographies of French scientists for the website of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie; by founding a list serve on the theme of science and empire; by assisting doctoral students in securing NSF dissertation improvement awards; by serving as the principal investigator for community outreach events in California, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands; and by developing pedagogical tools for educators of all levels on six continents in local languages, stressing how both social and scientific perspectives can be used to engage students in climate change studies. In short, he has embodied the History of Science 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.
Awarded for the best book on the role of women in science. Learn more about the Rossiter Prize
University College London
Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is a scrupulously researched book that opens up new pathways for thinking about women’s engagement with the natural world in the 17th century. Elaine Leong has studied over a hundred recipe books, containing information both medicinal and culinary as well as the vast, important spaces in between. She presents this “everyday knowledge” as a program of careful observation and testing, more extensive if less celebrated than the better-known activities of the Royal Society.
Women were at the center of this enterprise of compiling, testing, and circulating recipes. They appear on every page of Leong’s work. By uncovering, in meticulous detail, the extent of this activity, Leong has shown us a new way to incorporate women into the history of science: not by recovering individual biographies but by making visible entire domains of unheralded scientific activity.
Awarded for the best book for a general audience. Learn more about the Davis Prize
Michael F Robinson
University of Hartford
The Davis Prize for 2019 goes to Michael Robinson’s The Lost White Tribe: Scientists, Explorers, and a Theory that Changed Africa. In clear and engaging prose, Robinson narrates the long and checkered history of the Hamitic hypothesis, a theory of human origins and migrations linked to European imperial ambitions in Africa as well as to scientific racism. This theory justified the superiority of whiteness through claims about the dominance and spread of a light-skinned people (the “Caucasian” race), supposedly the first humans, outward from Central Asia. These views were supported by some anthropologists and archaeologists, as well as by explorers like Henry Stanley, who claimed to have seen a tribe of light-skinned Africans in remote mountain regions. Robinson charts the exploits of late-nineteenth-century British explorers and shows how their adventures and misadventures opened the way for the archaeologists and physical anthropologists of the early twentieth century. In doing so, he integrates narratives of exploration and discovery with the human sciences, race theory and colonialism.
Although the story is primarily told from the point of view of Europeans, using mostly British and American sources, it also points to the complex ways that Africans understood and used these highly problematic theories of human origins to frame their understandings of their neighbors as well as of their colonizers. Exploration was inevitably a culturally bound activity, with repercussions well beyond the adventures of the explorers themselves. The Lost White Tribe contributes to the current trend to expose the ideological underpinnings and uses of the exploits of imperial adventurers – whether they are traveling to the North Pole or to the interior of the African continent. In attending particularly to the scientific aspects of these expeditions, Robinson shows convincingly how the development of the human sciences was closely tied to imperial expansion and the articulation of various forms of racist discourse. The Hamitic hypothesis, in various guises, underpinned genocide – in Europe through the Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy and later in Rwanda – and The Lost White Tribe takes the story up to recent struggles over cultural appropriation in the United State, including the controversy over Kennewick man in the Pacific Northwest. Robinson has told this history, rife with resonances for our times, in a fluid and accessible style that speaks to the general reader as well as to the scholarly community.
Awarded for the best scholarly book. Learn more about the Pfizer Prize
Climate has always been with us, but the sciences for assessing it developed partly in Europe’s East. With brilliance, patience, and zest, Deborah R. Coen in Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale (University of Chicago Press, 2018) provides a gripping narrative of how the Habsburgian attempts to unify a culturally and politically turbulent empire relate to measuring and assessing the dynamics of wind, water and plant life in the nineteenth century. Faced with governing a motley realm of kingdoms, principalities and duchies and a multilingual society divided by several mountain ranges, flooding rivers, parched plains and rocky coasts, elite botanists and natural philosophers, and the civil servants of Europe’s Eastern empire developed a pioneering need for explaining atmospheric circulation and disturbances.
This is a truly atmospheric study of a century of scientific and political change. It deserves major praise, not only for embracing a longue durée view on a science dedicated to long terms. Its author also masterfully wields the tools of the history of science to engage with two concepts, central for both the history and contemporary approaches to environment: Scale and dimension. Scientists had to converge and diverge when studying the small, dynamic and physical of meteorological phenomena, moving from Aristotle’s static model to a concept of a multi-responsive dynamic interplay of forces that fed from the local into the Empire. The communication of climate news was from its inception both pushed forward and plagued by political and economic forces, divided loyalties and the inherent difficulty in defining where weather stopped and climate started. In a gripping language, Coen places local details in appropriate relation to a synthetic overview and convincingly brings to our minds that climate initially was already inextricably linked to politics.
Awarded for lifetime scholarly achievement. Learn more about the Sarton Medal
M. Norton Wise
University of California, Los Angeles
As the highest award bestowed by the History of Science Society, the Sarton Medal honors a historian for a lifetime of scholarship and labor in service of expanding our knowledge of the past. M. Norton Wise, Distinguished Research Professor of History (emeritus) at the University of California, Los Angeles, amply exemplifies these high standards.
Wise first trained as an experimental nuclear physicist (Ph.D. from Washington State University, Pullman, WA in 1968) and was working as an assistant professor when — by his own account — he became frustrated with the repetitiveness and seeming superficiality of the questions of his chosen subfield, coupled with severe budget cuts following the collapse of the grand physics boom of the 1950s and 1960s. As it happened, at precisely this moment he found himself reading Thomas S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, updated 1970), and recognized the predicament that surrounded him within this depiction of science. Stimulated by a fresh perspective on the puzzles of science, he enrolled in 1971 in doctoral study at Princeton University to study the history of physics under Kuhn himself. Both the date and the rationale for his change of specialization are significant, for Wise’s entire career has been dedicated to conceptualizing what it would mean to produce a coherent, post-Kuhnian history of science, as well as a history of science “after physics.”
The first two decades of Wise’s scholarship, and the primary source of his tremendous contribution to our field, focuses on the history of physics in the long nineteenth century (dating from, roughly, the work of Lavoisier of the 1780s to the quantum revolution of the 1920s). The cornerstone is, of course, the massive Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (Cambridge University Press, 1989, co-authored with Crosbie Smith), which won the 1990 Pfizer Prize. Even if this work only functioned as the authoritative biography of William Thomson (1824-1907), it would constitute a scholarly achievement of the highest order. Thomson was instrumental in erecting the foundations of the two central subfields that constituted classical physics: electromagnetism (typically associated with James Clerk Maxwell, Thomson’s contemporary who is much in evidence in this study) and thermodynamics. The technical intricacies of these two devilishly difficult fields are beautifully mapped out in Wise and Smith’s analysis, demonstrating how the various resources which Thomson could draw upon — the otherworldly rigors of the Cambridge Tripos exam, the this-worldly strictures of Scottish latitudinarianism, and the essential esoterica of gutta-percha in the expanding British Empire — were all incorporated into what might at first seem like the arid differential equations of what would later come to be called theoretical physics. It is this conception of “resources” that differentiates Energy and Empire from many other excellent scientific biographies and distinguishes it as an essential contribution to scholarship. The book frames a conception of historical agency where subjects assemble tools from the disparate contexts in which they are embedded. Thomson is not in the grip of a Kuhnian paradigm or under external “influences” that batted him around like a ping-pong ball, but rather an active agent whose life-course enables us to articulate the places of science in a dynamic culture. In Wise’s three companion articles to Energy and Empire, “Work and Waste: Political Economy and Natural Philosophy in Nineteenth Century Britain,” published in History of Science in 1989 and 1990 and filling almost 150 closely-typeset pages, Wise worked out more explicitly this new way of understanding science as not just embedded in culture but as part of culture, drawing its resources from the specificity of a particular time and place. Wise’s emphasis has consistently been on the generation of new ways of knowing out of local circumstances.
Wise’s range of topics has throughout his career been impressively broad: he has written memorably on the physics of energy in the nineteenth century, the political economy of work in the eighteenth century, and, most recently, on the use of narrative in contemporary physical chemistry. For decades, he has also explored the peculiarities of nineteenth-century German science and technology, from the holistic statistics that contrasted so starkly with more individualistic French and British counterparts, to the remarkable conjunction of physics, industry, architecture, and aesthetics in Berlin in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. His most recent book, Aesthetics, Industry, and Science: Hermann von Helmholtz and the Berlin Physical Society (University of Chicago Press, 2018), is a tour de force three times over: first, for its remarkable scope, covering innovations in mechanics, physiology, and steam technology; second for its imaginative interweaving of sources, from equations to paintings to buildings; and third, for its powerful evocation of the role of aesthetics in the flowering of mid-nineteenth-century German science. This book is a microcosm of its subject matter: a seamless tapestry of the history of science, art, industry, politics, and philosophy; and a beauty to behold, enriched by images that are as much part of the argument as the text.
Part of the reason why Wise’s contributions have resonated so far beyond the history of modern physics lies in his unrelenting engagement with questions of methodology. Almost alone among historians of science of his generation, Wise has continued to wrestle consciously and persistently with foundational questions of the relationship of culture to science that retain the high stakes and refreshing clarity of vision characteristic of the methodological knife-fights over the sociology of scientific knowledge of the 1970s and 1980s. His work, more than that of perhaps anyone else, made the internal/external distinction obsolete. Recall when Wise entered the history of science — 1971 — the year of publication of a bold article by Paul Forman, “Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-27: Adaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment,” in Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences. Forman’s controversial thesis, arguing that German physicists had capitulated to indeterminacy in the face of public hostility to causality after the loss of the Great War, was one articulation of a post-Kuhnian history of science. Wise found it problematic not only on factual grounds (as did many) but also on conceptual ones, and his “Forman Reformed” (which circulated for years in samizdat before publication) remains the most important riposte to Forman’s thesis. Likewise, countless members of our field have cut their teeth on “Mediating Machines,” “Materialized Epistemology,” or any of a dozen other pieces. Last but certainly not least, consider the analysis of “under the influence” in Wise’s important review of Gross and Levitt’s Higher Superstition, which advances beyond a problematic formulation of “X influenced Y,” a trope Wise saw as centrally implicated in the Science Wars of the 1990s. (A pleasantly frustrating feature of this citation is attempting to craft an adequate tribute to Wise’s work in the field without resorting to “influencetalk.”)
Three other points bear mention here. First, Wise has excelled at a form of scholarship that is often not considered as such: editing volumes. Wise’s Values of Precision (Princeton University Press, 1995) is the paragon of the conceptually-unified edited volume, integrated not only at the level of the individual contributions (which are in conversation with each other), but at the level of Wise’s synthetic essay, “Precision: Agent of Unity, Product of Agreement,” divided into four installments throughout the book. This work remains a staple, defining how we collectively discuss the important topics of precision and standardization. It was but the first in a series, followed by his 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, Exemplary Narratives (Duke University Press, 2007). Wise has pushed his colleagues to reevaluate the importance of narrative as indispensable not just for us historians, but for the scientists that we study. These projects demonstrate his continuing interest in how other fields are not like physics, how the conceptual categories set out in Kuhn’s day centered on the physical sciences are no longer adequate for our much richer field.
The second is Wise’s energetic promotion of “genetics and society” at UCLA and in the field at large. He was founding co-director of the Institute for Society and Genetics, a brave initiative to bring together the modern biomedical sciences, history of science, legal scholarship, and ethics. Although biology was never his field, he went at the intellectual program of non-reductionist genetics with characteristic enthusiasm, and worked to assemble an interdisciplinary faculty that could bring history, social science, and biology into constructive engagement.
Finally, it bears emphasis that our most respected scholars are not defined just by the words they put on the page, but by the communities they foster within the discipline. Wise nourished flourishing programs in the history of science not once but three times, first at UCLA, next at Princeton University, and then again at UCLA. Dozens of Wise’s students walk the halls of our conferences, teach the history of science to new generations, and continue to enrich the field with their own research. Each of them carries what might be called a “Nortonian” stamp in their way of thinking, one that pushes for the highest intellectual and methodological standards. As one of those students put it in a fitting recent tweet (where else?), in reference to Wise’s pedagogy: “His resource is very very strong.” Some lessons stay learned.
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