HSS News – July 2020

HSS Council Supports Statements Condemning Racism

The Society’s Council voted on two measures this past June that addressed the chronic and painful problems of racism. It first agreed to sign onto the American Historical Association’s statement on racist violence in the United States. Additionally, the HSS Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and the HSS Women’s Caucus organized a collaborative effort by the membership on a statement that underscores the impact of racism in and on the history of science, which Council also voted to endorse. It states that “We know from our historical work how thoroughly entangled science is with racism. Our histories have demonstrated this across medicine, science, and technology, including, among many others, the use of the bodies of unwilling enslaved women in the creation of gynecology techniques, the collection of blood from indigenous communities in Cold War preservation programs, the development of racist database surveillance practices in policing, or in the deployment of anthropology to legitimate racist public policies.” The full statement can be found on the HSS website

HSS Election Results

The Newsletter wishes to congratulate our members who were elected to positions in the Society. We are grateful to them—and to all of those who stood for election—for their willingness to serve. A special thank you for the Nominating Committee: Elena Aronova, Chair; Anna Maerker; Hannah Marcus; Ahmed Ragab (Council Delegate); and Marie Thébaud-Sorger.

Council: 2021-2023

  • Florence Hsia
  • Projit Mukharji
  • Christine von Oertzen
  • Irina Podgorny
  • Dora Vargha

Nominating Committee: 2020-2022

  • Charlotte Bigg
  • Myrna Sheldon

Council Delegate: 2020-2021

  • Elaine Leong

Secretary: 2021-2022

  • Luis Campos

Treasurer: 2021-2022

  • Gwen Kay

Sarton Lecture at AAAS

Alison Wylie, President of the Philosophy of Science Association, delivered the 2020 George Sarton Memorial Lecture in the History and Philosophy of Science at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting this past February. Her title, “The Indigenous/Science Project: Collaborative Practice as Witnessing,” described how her work on an archeology dig in British Columbia helped her understand the power of science embedded in humanity. 

Dr. Wylie’s lecture will be featured in a future issue of the Newsletter. Meanwhile, here are the links to the slides and an audio recording of her lecture.

Osiris Editor Opening for 2021

The History of Science Society solicits applications and nominations for the Editorship of Osiris. Published annually, Osiris compliments its quarterly twin sister Isis and is one of the five publications of the History of Science Society (the other three being the Isis Current Bibliography, the HSS Newsletter and the online HSS Portal). Each volume of Osiris comprises approximately fifteen essays on a specific theme and is printed on c. 350 pages (see also http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/journals/journal/osiris.html). 

The editor’s duties include soliciting, reviewing (with the assistance of the Osiris Editorial Board), and selecting proposals for each volume; working with guest editors to define the scope and content of the volume; overseeing the outside referee process; and working with the University of Chicago Press, a copy editor, proofreader, and graphic designer to coordinate the production of each volume. The total time required may vary but is expected to be roughly 150-200 hours per year. The appointment is for five years, starting July 1, 2021. As a rule, HSS supplies funding for copyediting, proofreading, referees, and an Osiris Board breakfast at the annual meeting. It is hoped that the HSS can help reimburse editor travel to the HSS annual meeting. The Osiris Editor’s home institution is expected to cover staff and secretarial work, mailing costs, a dedicated e-mail address, phone costs and preferably also the costs of hiring a graduate student to take on the role of Managing Editor. Proposals for co-editorships are welcome, but such applications should include a brief outline of the co-editors’ anticipated workflow.

More detailed information may be obtained from the current Co-Editors of Osiris, Patrick McCray (pmccray@ucsb.edu) and Suman Seth (ss536@cornell.edu). Interested individuals should submit three documents: a curriculum vitae; a letter indicating their reasons and qualifications for applying to the position, and a letter of commitment by the supporting institution; each to be sent to the Co-Editors of the History of Science Society, Alexandra Hui (ahui@history.msstate.edu) and Matthew Lavine (mlavine@history.msstate.edu). Alternatively, nominations may also be submitted with the permission of the nominated individual. The deadline for nominations is August 1, 2020.

HSS Council Endorses AHA Statements on Unionization

Thanks to the efforts of the early career and graduate students in our community, the following statements issued by the American Historical Association were brought before the HSS Council at their meeting of June 18, where members voted in favor of endorsing  the statements. Although the statement on the US National Labor Board is specific to the United States, the HSS endorses the sentiment of these statements as they apply to historians of science everywhere. 

Statement on Right to Engage in Collective Bargaining (2019), approved by AHA Council, January 5, 2017; Updated June 8, 2019. 

The AHA endorses the right of all historians to organize and join unions or other collective bargaining units and engage in collective bargaining if they choose to do so. We affirm the democratic right of employees to decide whether to organize and how to negotiate their salaries and working conditions. All institutions are required by law to honor the results of employee votes taken by secret ballot on collective bargaining and union representation.

The AHA issued another statement as regards organizing in a response to a proposed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rule change. This rule change would diminish the right of graduate students at private universities to organize unions. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education: “rather than looking at the facts in any case before it, the National Labor Relations Board is aiming to create an overarching rule that would exclude teaching and research assistants from being covered by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.” 

The AHA opposed the proposed rule change with the following statement: Our association supports the right of all historians, including graduate students, to organize and join unions or other collective bargaining units and engage in collective bargaining if they choose to do so. We affirm the democratic right of employees to decide whether to organize and how to negotiate their salaries and working conditions. As historians, we are especially aware that the spirit of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act had, at its center, the imperative of guaranteeing to all employees the right to collective bargaining and union representation. We believe that the current ruling, which affirms the right of graduate students at private universities to unionize, should remain in place.

A fuller discussion of the issues surrounding graduate student unionization by various members of the HSS community, is forthcoming in a future issue of the HSS Newsletter.  

Jay Goes to Washington

A report from our Executive Director about his efforts on behalf of HSS to keep the humanities funded.

Jay with Jon Parrish Peede (right) the Chairman of the NEH (both born and raised in Mississippi), in Washington D.C., March 2020

Jay with Jon Parrish Peede (right) the Chairman of the NEH (both born and raised in Mississippi), in Washington D.C., March 2020

Every March I travel to Washington DC to attend the annual meeting of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), a non-profit (aka NGO) formed in the 1980s to battle the defunding of the humanities in the United States. The meeting itself features university administrators, the directors of academic societies, and many more from all walks of the humanities. We spend a day hearing about superb projects in the humanities and thus fortified, travel the next day to Capitol Hill to try and convince legislators to support the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Library of Congress, and other federally funded humanities programs. It is one of the more important things that I do on behalf of the history of science in the U.S.

I have been attending these meetings for over 20 years, and there was always a bit of Groundhog Day about them, where each year we would bemoan the lack of respect for the humanities, see wonderful examples of the humanities in action, and then find it difficult to transmit their import to those who control the budget in the U.S. Part of the challenge is that everything is data driven; the “monetization of services” is what non-profits are taught to preach, but the humanities are difficult to quantify. To put it in John Keating’s words: “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it.” This year was different. This year, we were able to bring data to Congress. 

NHA, led by Steve Kidd, and with support from the Mellon Foundation, has been working hard to deliver us data to show how the humanities can change lives. For example, Rob Townsend of the American Academy of Arts and Science (where HSS was founded) gave a preliminary report on a survey of 5,000 Americans, asking them about their views of the humanities. Rob was careful to point out that they did not actually ask people to define the “humanities” because few people could do so, but they can respond to questions such as how many times did you visit a library, museum, or art exhibit this past year; how many books did you read; how much reading and writing do you use in your work; do you watch history episodes on electronic devices etc.; the answer to the last question, incidentally, is “a lot.” We learned that there are more public libraries in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s—which gives me hope for humanity—and that over 79% of veterans who attended the NEH program “Dialogues on the Experience of War” report that they are more likely to ask for help than before the program. 

Equally important, the NHA staff gave us a preview of a toolkit for measuring the impact of the humanities. We will now be able to move beyond giving Byron a 42 and show the meaningful influences of the humanities on society. The toolkit includes information about why to survey, about how to construct and administer a survey, and advice for interpreting and using your data. A fuller description of the toolkit can be found in the NHA’s quarterly report for scholarly societies reprinted in the “News of the Profession” section of this issue.

So, with colleagues from the Society for Ethnomusicology and the Organization of American Historians (both based at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington), we visited the staff of Indiana’s senators and five of the nine representatives in the House. Our reception was uniformly positive. Not only were many of the staff members with whom we met humanities majors, they understood the importance of the humanities in our lives. I was able to draw on some of the arguments for the importance of the history of science that some members sent in response to my appeal and also cited Hannah Marcus’s op-ed in the New York Times (reprinted in the April 2020 issue of this Newsletter) about how plagues are not unprecedented and that we can learn from past episodes. 

The representatives’ staff must field multiple meetings each day and so we had to perfect our elevator speeches before we made our brief visits. We asked for increased support of the National Archives and Records Administration, which includes the National Historical Publications and Records Commission that oversees the papers of the Founding Fathers (a collection I use in my own research); Title VI programs, which focus on different areas of the world, such as African Studies, Latin America, and Inner Asia; and the Institute for Library and Museum Studies. We received special encouragement regarding libraries from Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who is from Indiana’s 9th district, which is renowned for being home to the fictional town of Pawnee (from the television show “Parks & Recreation”) as well as Indiana University (IU). My colleagues from IU were fond of pointing out that their school has more Title VI programs (10) and teaches more foreign languages (72), than any other university in the country. Not to be outdone, I mentioned that the University of Notre Dame, which hosts the HSS Executive Office, received more fellowships (62) from the NEH than any other university in the U.S. from 1999 to 2018 (Harvard came in second with 31 fellowships). 

The NEH is considered a crown jewel for the humanities in the U.S. and since the president’s budget called for zero funding for the NEH, it was important that we argue for its continued support. This is an easy argument to make since much of the support goes to state humanities councils, which then supplement those funds, usually at a 5:1 ratio, to support humanities programs throughout the state. In one example, I served as a reviewer for Indiana Humanities Council’s Quantum Leap Grants, which seek to wed the humanities and the sciences. The Council recently completed its One State/One Book program which featured statewide activities on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Since NEH has received increased funding over the past three years, even though each presidential budget has called for zero funding, we can be proud of our efforts, none of which would be possible without the support of our membership. Thank you!

HSS@Work Update

Two new officers have joined the HSS@Work caucus chair Matthew Shindell (Space History Curator, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum) in response to Jay’s recent appeal for new volunteers: Mohandas Towne (Research Scholar, Ronin Institute, History of Security Technologies) and Jamie Brannon (Independent Scholar, History of Astronomy).  The new team has been meeting to hash out details regarding membership, how HSS@Work will differ/overlap with other HSS Caucuses, and how it can fulfill its primary purpose, which is to assist the HSS with alternative and non-academic career development.

The caucus is considering a roundtable at the next HSS meeting, with the aim of gathering together a panel of speakers and interested participants to help further define the aim and purpose of HSS@Work, and to solicit input from the community about what resources would be most helpful to those pursuing alt- or non-academic work. Details about the event will be available in an upcoming Newsletter. In the meantime, interested members can reach out to the caucus via email: hssatworkofficial@gmail.com

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