News From the HSS – July 2019

HSS Election Results

After a great voter turnout and close races, we are pleased to announce that the following members were elected to HSS offices. We are grateful for all of those who consented to put their names forward and for our Nominating Committee and their hard work.

Vice President

Karen Rader, HSS VP Elect

Karen Rader

Council Delegate

Ahmed Ragab

Nominating Committee

Hannah Marcus
Marie Thébaud-Sorger

Council

Helen Anne Curry
Elaine Leong
Simon Werrett
Pablo Gómez
Maria Portuondo

HSS/NASA Fellow for 2019-2020

Claire Isabel Webb, 2019-2020 HSS/NASA FellowClaire Isabel Webb, a fifth-year PhD candidate in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been selected as the 2019-2020 fellow for the history of space science. 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. Through her interdisciplinary program, Webb incorporates post-colonial theory and feminist philosophy to investigate modes of sensing and perception as they pertain to other forms of life and intelligence.

Claire’s dissertation begins with the creation of NASA in 1958, when biologists began to imagine how nearby planets and the moon might reveal “biosignatures,” or signs of life beyond Earth. A year later, astronomer Frank Drake searched for “technosignatures,” radio signals from an intelligent alien. Two entangled fields emerged and developed together throughout the last half of the 20th century: the search for life beyond Earth, exobiology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, SETI. Exobiologists proposed universal standards of life based on chemistry and biology, and culture even as they imagined exotic, non-Earthlike microbes on Mars and Venus. SETI scientists, among them Jill Tarter and Carl Sagan, developed radio experiments through government and private funding to both send and receive messages from extraterrestrials (ET) that were based on anthropocentric criteria, while trading on imagined superhuman characteristics of the alien: more benevolent, intelligent, and technologically advanced.

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.

Webb works closely with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) research group Breakthrough Listen and is an affiliate of U.C. Berkeley. She is a recipient of the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fellowship and the American Philosophical Society Library Resident Research Fellowship. Claire will take up residency at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress this September as the History of Science Society / NASA Fellow. Through this generous fellowship, Webb will review archives at NASA Headquarters; the National Academies of Science; the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum; and, the American Institute of Physics.

2019 Osiris Call for Proposals

The Editorial Board of Osiris solicits proposals for Volume 38 which will appear in 2022 or 2023. Osiris is an international research journal devoted to the history of science and its cultural influences and is a publication of the History of Science Society and the University of Chicago Press.

Osiris aims to connect the history of science with other areas of historical scholarship. Volumes of the journal are designed to explore how, where, and why science draws upon and contributes to society, culture, and politics. The journal’s editors and board members strongly encourage proposals that engage with and examine broad themes while aiming for diversity across time and space. The journal is also very interested in receiving proposals that assess the state of the history of science as a field, broadly construed, in both established and emerging areas of scholarship. Forthcoming volumes are concerned with the history of science and science fiction; science, technology, and food; and global medical cultures and laws.

Proposals should include the following items:

  1. A description of the topic and its significance (approximately 1500 words), especially highlighting the significance of the proposed volume to the history of science, broadly construed. For an example of a successful proposal, see https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/pb-assets/docs/journals/Osiris-30-Sample-Proposal.pdf
  2. A list of 12 to 15 contributors and essay title + succinct description (~ 150 words) of each contributor’s individual essay
  3. A one-page c.v. of the guest editor(s)

The guest editor(s) and their contributors must be prepared to meet the Osiris publication schedule. Volume 38 (2023) will go to press – after refereeing, authors’ revisions, and copy-editing – in 2021. The guest editor(s) must therefore choose contributors who are able to submit their completed essays by early 2021.

Proposals are typically reviewed by the Osiris Editorial Board at the annual meeting of the History of Science Society. The announcement of the next volume of Osiris will be made in January 2020.

Proposals and all supporting material should be sent in paper or electronic copy by 15 October 2019 to both:

Patrick McCray
Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9410
pmccray@history.ucsb.edu

Suman Seth
321 Morrill Hall
Department of Science and Technology Studies
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
ss536@cornell.edu

Kate is Hard to Talk To

By Jay Malone

I have never been good at recognizing people or at remembering their names. These gaps extend even to family members, forcing me to stop and think before addressing my sisters-in-law. I suspect that I have a mild case of “face blindness,” or prosopagnosia, and although it can be an inconvenience, I try to remember the bright side of these blank moments. The failure to recognize people or remember their names has inoculated me from a life in politics. But even more beneficial is knowing that this forgetfulness may allow me to remain in my home during my dotage, since, at some point in my twilight, my children will come together and one will say, “I think Dad is losing his memory.” And the others will ask “How can you tell?”

Remembering names and faces is particularly difficult at HSS when I’m surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom I haven’t seen in a year or longer. (HSS member, Virginia Trimble, has a good strategy—if you’re standing next to someone you think you know, ask the person what they are working on, which may provide you enough clues for recalling a name.) This is why I particularly like the Midwest Junto, a small regional conference that met this year for the 62nd time (hosted at the fabulous Linda Hall Library), making it the longest running regional group in the history of science in the US. The Junto usually has around 50 attendees, making face recognition much more manageable than HSS. But even this relatively intimate gathering has its pitfalls.

Shortly after reaching the conference hotel, while in the elevator, I saw long-time Junto member Kathleen (Kate) Sheppard standing with a boy of about 5 years old. I had never met Kate’s son but I do remember that she attended the Junto some 5 years ago while she was pregnant. I quickly deduced that this must be her son and gave them an enthusiastic “Hi.” She said to her son, “Can you say hi back?” I then said something that, if I ever had the chance to live my life over, I would put in a different way. What I essentially blurted out was, “When I last saw you, you were inside your mother.” The elevator door opened and they scurried out, and I thought, “Kate is kind of hard to talk to.”

The next morning, when I saw Kate at the conference registration desk, I said “I hope I did not embarrass you in front of your son.” She looked at me blankly. “In the elevator?” I said uneasily. “No,” she said, “I wasn’t in the elevator and I didn’t bring my son.” I then told her that she had a doppleganger, one who happened to have a son the same age as hers, and then I thought about the thing that I had said.

I vowed to be more careful so early the next morning, when I went to the hotel fitness center, I saw Kate running on a treadmill. I happen to know that Kate is an avid runner and when she saw me she waved. I finished my workout and while waiting for the elevator she joined me. I asked her if she preferred to run outside, and she said yes but it was too cold this morning. I then reminded her about an earlier conversation, where I told her that my left foot would go numb when I ran and that I had to give it (running) up. She looked at me curiously, the door opened, and she got off. I thought, again, Kate is really hard to talk to.

Later that morning, when I saw Kate at the Junto, I said “Please tell me that was you in the exercise room this morning.” “No,” she said, “I’m not staying at that hotel” (which is information I wish she had shared earlier). I had to confess that I had again met her twin, who shared her love of running, and that this poor woman was probably just being friendly because that is what kind people do for those who appear to be missing a couple of circuits. Kate then promised that when she saw me in Utrecht for HSS, she would say “Hi Jay, it’s Kate.”

So here’s a personal appeal. If you see me (and recognize me) in Utrecht, please say hi and tell me your name. But don’t do this for just when you see me. Do this with everyone so that I don’t feel too special. At the very least, it will help the doppelgangers.