October 2017 – In Memoriam

John Chynoweth Burnham

John Chynoweth Burnham14 July 1929 — 12 May 2017

John Burnham was best known for his work in the history of medicine, the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and sociocultural history, particularly in the United States. He published ten books and edited four more. Two of the books won prizes. He also greatly influenced scholarship with more than eighty articles, many of which were reprinted in other places—some more than once.

His education spanned the US. He graduated from West Seattle High School, a big-city public school where he obtained an extraordinary education, and then went on to Stanford University on a scholarship, took a master’s degree in history at the University of Wisconsin, and then returned to Stanford, where he took a PhD in history in 1958. Meanwhile, he began his full-time teaching at Stanford and at Claremont Men’s College. He then spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow of the Foundations’ Fund for Research in Psychiatry. Following study at Johns Hopkins and Chicago as a postdoctoral fellow, he spent more than two years attached to the research unit of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA. After two years as assistant professor of history at San Francisco State University, he moved to The Ohio State University, where he served on the faculty from 1963 to 2002. Over the years, he taught thousands of students at Ohio State at every level, from first-year to graduate. He also taught postdoctoral resident physicians in the Department of Psychiatry. Awarded the honorary title of Research Professor of History when he became emeritus, he spent 2002-2003 as Bye-Fellow in Robinson College at the University of Cambridge in England. Thereafter he was associated with the Medical Heritage Center at Ohio State. He also served as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in Australia in 1967 at the University of Melbourne and in 1973 at the Universities of Tasmania and New England. In 1999 he taught for a term as a distinguished foreign visiting professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. Over the years, he gave invited lectures not only in North America and Australia but in Japan and all over Europe. At Ohio State, he was recognized with a Distinguished Scholar Award, and a library purchase fund and an endowed lecture series were named in his honor. He was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Division 26 of the American Psychological Association presented him with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership in the history of psychology. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association for the History of Medicine in 2014. He held committee appointments in many national and international organizations and was president of the Midwest Junto of the History of Science and, in 1990-1992, president of the American Association for the History of Medicine. Beyond the formal record, John served as a powerful influence among his colleagues to uphold disciplinary standards in history writing, especially in the difficult areas of the history of science and medicine and cultural history. He was an informal mentor to many graduate students and young historians from all over the United States and many other countries, some briefly, some for a lifetime, and many just through his unacknowledged peer reviewing and editing. He formally served as editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences from 1997 to 2000.

His publications tended to have one consistent theme: he pioneered many new fields and lines of inquiry and revised old ones. His most striking finding was that, contrary to what propagandists and journalists had written, American Prohibition on the whole was not a failure but was successful in diminishing the bad social effects of alcoholic beverages. One of his early papers was reprinted several times because it showed how cultural change influenced scientific change in psychiatry and psychology. He wrote the first history of the gasoline tax in the United States, an article that helped set off the field of the history of the automobile. Later he ventured again into the field of history of technology with a masterful history of accident proneness. He was one of the very first to bring the history of sexuality into mainstream history. And he was the first professional historian to work full time on the history of psychiatry. He was particularly effective in discerning eras in the history of medicine of the twentieth century, most recently in a master narrative and probably his most influential book was a history of popularizing science and health care in the United States, Healthcare in America: A History, in which he used social science as well as other sources to explain the role of science in broader American history. The book which had the largest circulation was a heavily revisionist account of Bad Habit: Drinking, Smoking, Gambling, Taking Drugs, Sexual Misbehavior, and Swearing in American History. At the end of his career, he wrote a synthesis that established a new narrative and reconceptualization of the entire field of the history of American health care.

John Burnham was a historian’s historian. His last major paper, “The Death of the Sick Role,” re-set the chronology of the field of the recent history of medicine. And just before that, he had named a new phase in the scholarship in another field, “The New Freud Studies.” He continued to publish after his retirement and to mentor younger scholars. His work inspired the HSS’s Forum for History of Human Science to establish the John C. Burnham Early Career Award, which recognizes outstanding manuscripts written by early-career scholars. See http://fhhs.org/awards/.

Excerpts taken from The Columbus Dispatch from May 14 to May 15, 2017.

Frederick B. ChurchillFrederick B. Churchill

14 December 1932 — 22 July 2017

We were sorry to learn of Fred Churchill’s death. An In Memoriam piece will appear in the January Newsletter.





Robert S. CohenRobert S. Cohen

18 February 1932 — 19 June 2017

Although not a historian of science, Robert (Bob) Cohen exerted enormous influence in HPS. A beautiful remembrance of him was penned by Don Howard and Alisa Bokulich.


Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson28 May 1965 — 11 December 2016

(By an Ann Johnson Community*)

Ann Johnson, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University, passed away in Ithaca on December 11, 2016. She was 51. I had known Ann through chance meetings at annual conferences for years and we had overlapped in graduate school at Princeton, although she had already taken up an instructorship at Fordham University when I arrived. We had bonded via Facebook, where both of us spent far too much time, and where Ann would mix jokes and updates with her sister, Katie Lewandowski, with ongoing discussions concerning German soccer and questions both deep and frivolous about the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. She became my colleague at Cornell in July 2015, and we continued to trade comments via Messenger, even as our offices were only yards apart. I have re-read those threads over the past few months, realizing that I had come to imagine a future in our department that had Ann at its center. I told her once that my favorite people took their work, but not themselves, seriously. Ann fit that description perfectly, and the months since her death have only confirmed how profound her loss—as a colleague and a friend—has been and continues to be.

Ann’s path to the history of science and technology was more circuitous than many. She’d been a scholar-athlete in high-school, holding state titles in New Jersey in discus and shot put. That fact would surprise no one who had seen Ann powering up hills on her bicycle in Ithaca or Columbia in all kinds of weather. She completed a Bachelor’s degree at the College of William and Mary in 1986, with departmental honors in history and theatre and continued with the latter with an MFA in the Department of Technical Design and Production at Yale’s School of Drama in 1990. Ann had done some scenic design as an undergraduate, and her masters’ work concentrated on structural engineering and the construction of scenic designs for the stage. One can see the seeds of her later work in these early studies. In her third year, she taught a class that introduced students to a piece of engineering software, named Algor, for finite element analysis. Students tended to want to simply plug numbers in to get a result, but the real task, of course, was identifying and then choosing among a myriad of possible options, given the restrictions of time, materials, and cost. From 1990 to 1995 she was an Assistant Professor of Theatre Technology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Having explored one half of her undergraduate interests, Ann turned back to the second—history—for her PhD, which she completed at Princeton in 2000. In reply to a question about his memories with Ann in graduate school, David Brock observed that coming up with a single story seemed impossible. “Slowly,” he wrote, “it has dawned on me that maybe this problem is actually the thing. For me, Ann’s real mode was making and working in communities, small and larger. Ann was truly curious, and was seriously into, but not overly serious in manner, getting at problems that interested her. And she was easily interested. Things far and wide caught her attention, and she would dig into them. Often for years. And the way she would dig into them was gathering with others by joining groups what were already out there, or helping to build new groups.… I guess it isn’t surprising she thought a lot about ‘knowledge communities.’” Those communities were the subject of her thesis, “Engineering Culture and the Production of Knowledge: An Intellectual History of Anti-Lock Braking Systems,” completed under Michael Mahoney.

That technology constitutes a form of knowledge was among the ideas that shaped the very foundation of Ann’s work on engineering. Heidi Voskuhl remembered that both her first conversation with Ann (sometime in the winter of 2004) and their last one (in 2016, in a restaurant near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia) revolved around this, as did everyone in between. Ann, Heidi, and others liked to refer to the set of themes and questions they were struggling with as “HPT,” in facetious reference to the tried-and-tested tradition of HPS. In fact, a great deal of Ann’s reflections (such as in her widely-read review essay in Perspectives on Science from 2005) was to find ways of making explicit how historians and philosophers of technology handle problems of engineering knowledge vis-à-vis the ways that historians of science handle scientific knowledge.

In her dissertation and the book that came out of it, Ann picked up ideas from the 1970s in the social history of American engineering by Edward Layton and others and merged them with ideas from Science Studies from the 80s and 90s, advancing the notion of knowledge communities and giving it concrete and specific contours in the study of anti-lock braking technologies. Together with Gary Downey and others, Ann subsequently re-founded and revitalized the sub-discipline engineering studies and served as founding associate editor of the periodical Engineering Studies, which published its first issue in 2009.

Ann had been an instructor in the History Department at Fordham from 1997 to 1999 and a visiting Instructor at the Yale School of Drama from 1999-2000 as she worked on her dissertation. In 2000 she became an Assistant Professor at Fordham, a position she held until 2004, with a year in that period spent as a Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History at Harvard University. Eclectic in her interests before taking up the history of science and technology, that eclecticism and breadth of interest became a mark of Ann’s research. During her years at Fordham she published material deriving from her dissertation on Anti-Lock Brakes, on the Cold-War history of finite element analysis (the method at the core of her engineering class at Yale), and on the history of nanotechnology. Ann’s interest in the science of small, Patrick McCray noted, was fueled with some sizable research grants. Between 2002 and 2005, Ann helped raise over $2.5 million to start a host of research and education programs that explored the history and societal dimensions of nanoscience at the University of South Carolina. In addition to producing more than a score of research articles and conference papers, Ann’s initiative helped create an interdisciplinary team of researchers at USC and connected these people with other scholars like Patrick and Cyrus Mody who led similar efforts at other schools. Ann’s interest in topics such as molecular modeling and nano-manufacturing was linked to her interest in the broader topic of “emerging technologies.”

This culminated in an international workshop she organized in 2013 with Cyrus and Patrick. Patrick recalled that Ann was adamant about two things: a “no jerks” policy when it came to extending invitations to senior scholars and a commitment to creating a welcoming environment for students and junior researchers. A position paper she wrote helped establish the intellectual agenda of the workshop, which some 40 people attended. Although Ann did not have the opportunity to publish it, this short essay displayed the keen sorts of insights her friends and colleagues came to expect. For example, drawing on classic STS literature, Ann asked “what happens when emerging technologies achieve closure?” Do they stop “emerging?” And what about a technology that seems to emerge more than once? Like the other areas that Ann worked on, her engagement with nanoscience and emerging technologies combined her knowledge about the history of engineering communities with her expertise in ethics and policy making.

In 2004, Ann moved to the University of South Carolina, where she held joint appointments in history and philosophy. She was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2009. That same year saw the publication of an issue of Osiris that she co-edited with Carol E. Harrison on National Identity: The Role of Science and Technology. Ann also served on the editorial board of Osiris and as an associate editor of Technology and Culture, yet another symbol of her systematic blending of the history of science and technology. At the memorial held for Ann in Columbia in May 2017 it became clear what a force she had been in her almost dozen years at USC. Both graduate and undergraduate students spoke of her close and careful mentorship and guidance. As Leah McClimans noted, at first meeting, Ann’s deadpan humor could be somewhat terrifying, and Ann did not tolerate the pompous or self-aggrandizing well. Yet the flipside of this—as everyone who I spoke to remarked—was that Ann was a fierce advocate for those less confident and less politically savvy than herself. An array of younger faculty spoke of Ann’s support during the early, and often later, years of their careers. Conscious of the hurdles that class, race, or gender could impose, Ann lived her politics unostentatiously, both arguing for and working towards parity in faculty meetings and interpersonal interactions. In Heidi’s memory, if there was one theme that she and Ann had more discussions about than about the epistemology of engineering, it was about soccer, in particular women’s soccer and the feminist politics attached to it. In turn, they would discuss the feminist politics attached to philosophy, and everything would come full circle. Ann was a philosopher, Heidi writes, but always someone who saw knowledge attached to people, to class, race, gender, to marginalization. Philosophy was for her a way of coming to terms with—and one way of combatting—discrimination.

Ann came to Cornell in 2015 and quickly made her mark on her new department. It became something of a running joke that she knew about—and could potentially teach—almost anything. The year before her arrival, she had published a volume co-edited with James Rodger Fleming titled Toxic Airs: Body, Place, Planet in Historical Perspective (2014), a work at the intersection of the history of science, technology, and the environment, Envirotech, and environmental studies more broadly. She continued to collaborate with engineers to identify affordable, environmentally-suitable building materials in Mexico that could better withstand hurricanes and climate change. In her last semester, our “historian of technology” taught a course on the life sciences and society and one on the philosophy of medicine.

Ann was forthright with both her students and her colleagues about her diagnosis, and insisted on teaching right until the end of term, even as treatments and the disease itself took their toll. It still seems impossible, as I walk past her office, that she’s not there for another conversation. Leo Slater, who was a graduate student with Ann at Princeton put it simply: “we are all a little dumber without her around.” Perhaps even that might be mitigated by her memory. This year sees the foundation of the Ann Johnson Institute for Science, Technology, and Society at the University of South Carolina, endowed by Ann’s parents, Elaine and Jim Johnson, and co-directed by Allison Marsh and Leah McClimans.

Ann is survived by her parents, her sister Katie, her husband, Mark Stevens, and her son, Evan.

*Doing justice to the breadth of Ann’s work requires a range of intellectual capacities that few individuals possess. We hope Ann likes the fact that one more community was called into being to remember her properly. Suman Seth, Patrick McCray, and Heidi Voskuhl wrote the text, with the help of Mark Stevens, David Brock, Allison Marsh, Leah McClimans, Sara Pritchard, and Leo Slater.

Silvan “Sam” Schweber

10 April 1928 — 14 May 2017

We were saddened by the death of Sam Schweber earlier this year. An In Memoriam piece is underway. Those who knew Sam may be interested in a special gathering to honor his memory, to be held at the HSS meeting in Toronto, on Saturday evening, 11 November 2017. Details will be available in the meeting program.