Vol. 43, No. 2, April 2014
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Response to Rodolfo John Alaniz’s “Diversity in the History of Science Profession: Recent Doctoral Recipient Statistics,”Newsletter of the History of Science Society, Vol. 43, no. 1, January 2014.
by Evelynn M. Hammonds
February 5, 2014
Rodolfo Alaniz’s article in the January 2014 History of Science Society Newsletter provides some sobering statistics for our field with respect to diversity. I was most struck by the data on the last page, which showed that in the fields of History, Science and Technology and Society there was only one Black, one Hispanic, no Asian, and no American Indian scholars out of a total of forty-seven doctorate recipients in 2011. This is a significantly lower percentage than the field of History (the aggregated number for all sub-fields totaled 111). This should be cause for concern, as Alaniz rightfully notes.
However, I disagree with his explanations for the causes of the low numbers of racial/ethnic minorities in the history of science. I do not believe that the absence of recruiting from community colleges or our field’s lack of connection to pipeline programs that provide mentors and other support to this population of students are the most important factors. Rather, I would assert that our field’s lack of scholarship and research on the history of the participation and contributions ethnic/racial minorities to the scientific and technical enterprise in the United States signals that such contributions are not valued or worthy of analysis. Most of the minority undergraduates I have taught have gravitated toward topics in the history of medicine precisely because within the history of medicine they will have the opportunity to work on topics that illuminate the origins of health problems in minority communities. There is no work on the history of racial/ethnic minorities comparable to the scholarship on women and gender in science such as Margaret Rossiter’s outstanding trilogy on the history of women’s participation in U.S. science. As a result, there is little we can explain to our students about the persistent homogeneity of U.S. scientific fields. This is an important historical question for all scholars of U.S. science not just scholars who are racial/ethnic minorities. Until there is a more active and visible commitment to the important questions that the diversity of scientific fields raises about U.S. science we will continue to lose talented students to other fields of history.
Evelynn M. Hammonds, PhD
Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African American Studies
Rodolfo John Alaniz Replies
Evelynn Hammonds identifies the same statistics that prompted me to write my article. That we produced two history of science doctoral recipients from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds for the entire nation in 2011 is, indeed, a sobering fact. The statistics for previous years have been worse.
I agree completely with Hammonds’ observation regarding a lack of diverse narratives within the history of science. However, unlike the other history fields, the history of science has not conducted research on the retention of its scholars to explore this effect. To be clear, I do not believe that a lack of community college recruitment and adequate pipelines are the only factors affecting the lack of diversity in our profession. I am not sure whether they are even the most important. As Hammonds points out, retaining diverse scholars—as other academic disciplines are achieving—is a complex process. However, both recruitment and retention are essential. The recruitment and retention statistics I provided represent the only statistically-supported potential causes for our unusual constituency. More than anything, I wish to show that there are institutional differences that science historians of color face in the academy and that those differences warrant more investigation.
Rodolfo John Alaniz
University of California, San Diego