HSS News – October 2020

HSS 2020: The Virtual Forum

For the first time in its 97-year existence, the HSS is hosting a virtual meeting: 8-11 October. We will recognize on the meeting website the many volunteers who helped create this forum, but we want to call special attention to the tri-chairs: Karen Scholthof, Chair of the Committee on Meetings and Programs; Christine von Oertzen, 2020 Program Co-Chair; and Soraya de Chadarevian, 2020 Program Co-Chair. We are particularly indebted to Christine and Soraya—the creators of the regular program had we been able to meet in New Orleans this year—for fashioning a second virtual program, which involved much more labor than the first effort. We are fortunate to have volunteers like Christine, Soraya, and Karen. Thank you!

Thank you Dr. Feigenbaum!

Dr. Ryan Feigenbaum

Just over three years ago, Ryan Feigenbaum began work in the HSS Executive Office (see the Newsletter article welcoming him here). His predecessor, Greg Macklem, had served as Society Coordinator for seven years, a remarkable record of endurance, and Ryan not only had to follow that feat of stability but also had to face the challenges of preparing for the Toronto meeting. Ryan not only proved a quick study by masterfully handling a meeting that involved international borders and the attendant paperwork—he also presented a paper on 18th century German biology. He quickly grew into the role, introducing efficiencies into the office that can only be described as transformative, all while finishing his PhD in the philosophy of science.

While it is difficult to measure the total impact he has had on the Society, one area where his influence has been profound is the Website: hssonline.org. This is the main window through which the world sees the Society, and he improved the site in countless ways: appearance, load time, accessibility, interesting content, reliability, and so much more. He revamped the Isis Books Received section so that the books appear in a much more appealing format; introduced Formstack into our lives (the Swiss Army Knife of online forms) and thus standardized the mountain of forms that we must process; helped us all learn SLACK (short for Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge); created a Twitterdex for historians of science who use Twitter; and generally did the work of three people.

But most importantly, Ryan is a kind person. I would frequently hear him talking to our undergraduate students and hear their laughter tinkling down the hall. He was such a good boss that they gladly came to the annual meeting to help, a remarkable thing for students whose schedules are typically filled to the minute. I will miss him more than I can say.

—Jay Malone, HSS Executive Director

HSS/NASA Fellow for 2020-2021

Megan Eardley

The 2020/2021 HSS/NASA fellow is Megan Eardley, a PhD Candidate in the School of Architecture at Princeton University. Her dissertation, “Ultra/Deep Space: Planetary Planning from South Africa’s Mines to NASA’s Skylab,” examines how architects, engineers, and scientists concerned with the limits of human physiology and environmental design began to test their theories on South Africa’s ultra-deep mines. Emphasizing corporate archives and experimental records produced between 1950 and 1980, she asks how the extractive industry, in turn, has shaped models and concepts of life in deep space. Working at the intersection of Science & Technology Studies and African History, Megan analyzes the development of deep shaft mines in Apartheid South Africa. While exceptionally deep gold and uranium deposits drove the development of mines more than two miles below the Earth’s surface, mining companies invested in scientific research and design solutions that would send Black miners into parts of the planet that are dangerously hot, radioactive, and structurally unstable. As Megan tracks NASA’s interests in deep mining research, she foregrounds questions about scientific racism, resource management, and the future of ‘the human’ in environments that are hostile to biological life.

An HSS@Work Career Profile: Jamie Brannon, Independent Scholar

Editor’s note: This profile is the first of a series on non-academic HSS members to be presented by the HSS@Work team. It was only fair that they began this task in-house so to speak, and so kicking off the series is a piece by a volunteer member of this group, Jamie Brannon, reflecting on his own career as an independent scholar.

Jamie Brannon

My pathway to the history of science and HSS was not what I would call usual. If someone would have told me in 1975 that forty-five years in the future I would be an active independent scholar in the history of astronomy, I would have expressed strong skepticism. Yet, here I am in 2020 actively engaged in that field.

How did this happen? During my college years I knew I had an interest in the humanities, but for reasons that are not entirely clear, I studied chemistry and physics. Even in graduate school (PhD in Chemical Physics, UCSD, 1979) an ember of interest in the humanities still glowed within me. During that time, I often read many of the world’s classics instead of the latest scientific journals. I took employment first as a research scientist, then later as an engineer, where I used my skills in lasers and optics to investigate surface physics and chemistry. Yet as my scientific career advanced, so did my awareness of my interest in humanities. During the 1990s, I started taking adult education classes in the humanities at universities near my Bay Area home—Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara University. I did not realize then that these classes, which I greatly enjoyed, would later serve as a catalyst for a new career. As some difficult life events tore at me, two eventful things happened in 2008: first I quit my job, and then, I enrolled in Stanford’s Masters of Liberal Arts program. While these moves were socially and economically fearful, the latter would open up many new doors and I never looked back!

At Stanford I became a humanist, improved my writing, and the research introduced me to the historical world of medieval astronomy. I felt I had finally found my element in life, and was so enthralled that I decided I wanted more graduate school. So in the fall of 2014—at age 62—I enrolled in the History of Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a rigorous couple of years, sometimes socially challenging, but I learned a great deal about the history of astronomy and its cultural ramifications. I left Madison in 2016 with another MA, a network of like-minded colleagues upon which to draw, and once again took up residence in the Bay Area. Since that time I have been an independent scholar, in control of my own time and happily spending the hours doing research, reading, writing, publishing papers, and presenting at conferences. Now in my late sixties, I feel my career is just getting started. A pretty good life, but one I hardly imagined in my twenties.

Archival Resources in the Time of COVID-19

Creativity, collaboration, and resource-sharing have become imperatives of our research in this time, when travel restrictions and institutional closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented many of us from visiting archives and special collections. Happily, many archives are expanding their digital and online access and offerings.

In an effort to support members, HSS is launching a collaborative initiative among the Committee on Membership (CoM), the Collections, Archives, Libraries, and Museums Caucus (CALM), and the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (CHSTM) to consolidate those resources.

Links to online research resources will be made available in a new “Archives” page on our website, the link to which we will provide as soon as the page goes live. We would like to draw particular attention to the “Research Hub” developed by the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), of which HSS is a member, for accessing digital materials from participating collections. Some collections are also adopting new policies about access and circulation to accommodate researchers during this difficult time. Our new site will gather archival resources, information, and initiatives for easy access and exploration.

In order to improve and expand this initiative, we would like to hear from you! To this end we will be sending out a questionnaire in a separate email. We want to know what your research needs are at this time so that we can communicate them to archival institutions and organize accordingly. We also ask that you point our attention to any online resources you think would be of interest to our community so that we can add them to the site. We are grateful for your support of this collective project.

More From Our October 2020 Newsletter