News From the Profession – October 2021

2021 AIP Helleman Fellows to Study Intercellular Communication, History of String Theory, Dark Matter

The American Institute of Physics’ Center for History of Physics has selected Robert van Leeuwen, a graduate student at the University of Amsterdam, Pepijn Moerman, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, and Jaco de Swart, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, as the recipients of the 2021 AIP Robert H.G. Helleman Memorial Fellowships. The fellowships are made possible by a gift from Robert H.G. Helleman to establish an endowment for supporting young scholars with Dutch citizenship in their pursuit of research activities in physics and the history of physics in the United States. Read more about the fellowship and current recipients.

Newberry Library Fellowships are Open!

The Newberry is now accepting fellowship applications for the 2022-23 academic year!

Get details and Apply Now!

CFP Eikón-Imago Journal 2023. Imago, ius, religio. Religious Iconographies in Illustrated Legal Manuscripts and Printed Books (Ninth to Twentieth Centuries)

The journal Eikón-Imago, alongside the research team IUS ILLUMINATUM of Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM) of the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at the Universidade NOVA in Lisbon, has decided to devote a special issue in 2023 issue to the study and examination of religious iconographies in legal manuscripts and printed books. Coordinated by special guest editors, Maria Alessandra Bilotta (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and Gianluca del Monaco (Università di Bologna), the special issue aims to create a place for discussion and exchange on the diverse artistic, historical, and social aspects of these iconographies. For complete details about the list of topics, please visit the journal webpage. The deadline for accepting submission is 01/02/2022.

The Consortium at 14

by Babak Ashrafi

An example of how different versions of the essay, bibliographies and peer reviews will continue to be made available online.

In the April 2007 HSS Newsletter (see p. 15), Michal Meyer interviewed me about a new organization we were starting, then called the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science. The name was cumbersome, and we mostly used the acronym PACHS, which we pronounced “Pax.” The folks at UPenn pronounced it “patches,” which was perhaps more descriptive. This note is a brief update on how the organization has fared since that interview.

PACHS was started by Martin Levitt, the Librarian of the American Philosophical Society (APS). Levitt recruited many local scholars, including Ruth Schwartz Cowan and Angela Creager, as well as ten other organizations between Wilmington, DE, and Princeton, NJ, to help establish a regional consortium for the history of science, technology, and medicine. We offered fellowships for conducting research in Philadelphia collections, held a roving regional colloquium, and produced occasional public events.

The original idea was to emulate the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, a highly successful organization at the University of Pennsylvania. At first, we tried to mimic the programs of the McNeil Center, and the APS, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute), as well as other academic programs and cultural organizations. Those initial efforts were not entirely successful. We learned that there were important differences between the community of early American scholars and historians of ST&M. We learned the consequences of not having an established community of students and faculty, a public audience, or a donor base. As we were trying to sort through these issues, the economy crashed in 2008. By 2010, funds were running out, and it was not clear that PACHS could continue. It was also not clear that it should continue. What, after all, was the value in difficult times of yet another fellowship program, yet more colloquia, and a few more public events with doubtful impact?

But there were hints that PACHS might be able to make distinctive contributions, and was worth saving. The fellowships had developed in ways that did not just mimic other programs. Our early fellows were vocal in their appreciation of the opportunities they found here. A nascent program of a few working groups seemed to foster interactions that went beyond just replicating other seminars. And there were hints of a public audience: some events were very well attended; sometimes the audience would not leave, complaining the event was too short; and attendees would often pepper speakers with more questions over email. Perhaps in response to such favorable reactions, the leadership of the APS and several other consortium members decided to lend their formidable experience and expertise to help PACHS raise funds.

At about this time, I received a call from an organization in New York City asking if they might join PACHS. My memory of my initial reaction was something like, “No, of course not, how does that make any sense for a Philadelphia organization?” I hope I did not actually reply that way. Later, we heard from scholars and administrators in Los Angeles, Chicago, and a group in Canada, as well as more New Yorkers. They asked for advice about starting their own consortia, or about joining PACHS.

So, responding to such interest from outside the local area, we started an experiment in 2014. We pretended that Philadelphia was just really, really, big and that I could not just get on a bus and talk with someone face-to-face at a member institution, nor have lunch with all the fellows when they arrived, nor personally hand them their stipend checks. How would we run a consortium and a fellowship program then? Although we found lots of logistical and procedural problems, we did our best to solve them.

In 2015, we changed our name to the as-cumbersome-as-before Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine to reflect our broadening membership and scope. Today, the Consortium comprises 28 member institutions—including universities, research libraries, and museums—in North America and the United Kingdom. The NYC organization mentioned above is an integral part of the Consortium, as is the History of Science Society, which joined us in 2015.

Since our founding, more than 230 scholars at all levels have received Consortium fellowships. Most fellows are from North America, but also come from South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. They employ a broad variety of interdisciplinary perspectives in their research, including, but not limited to: history of science, history of art, architecture, a variety of area studies, English, comparative literature, history, philosophy, sociology, library and information science, psychology, and STS.

Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed how scholarship is done, and the Consortium, already a distributed-online organization, was able to continue much of its activity for our community. Participation in the Consortium’s online working groups has grown exponentially, as evidenced by more than 3,300 attendees from six continents at more than 170 meetings held last year. We now have thirty-two online working groups, led by nearly one hundred prominent scholars from around the world. The groups are conducted in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Sanskrit. Topics range from the esoteric (such as translating ancient Sanskrit medical texts) to the urgent (such as race, the environment, and health in America).

The Consortium website now offers a wide variety of resources for teaching, learning, and research, including an online search hub with more than six million catalog records and 5,000 finding aids for the rare books and manuscripts held at member institutions. We produce audio and video podcasts for the non-specialist public. One series presents international perspectives on COVID-19 (12 episodes), and another explores the history of “race science” (8 episodes, with more in production). Other episodes examine Black maternal health, energy infrastructures, and black holes. Most episodes feature the work of Consortium fellows and scholars at member institutions, as well as highlights from members’ collections.

The Consortium has generated some of the features that PACHS lacked in the early years: a community of scholars who not only participate, but create and lead programs; a small donor base, which keeps us afloat; and a distinctive set of programs for both specialists and non-specialists. Nonetheless, we still live on the edge and continue to work to make the Consortium sustainable for the long term. With a little luck, we will not only survive but thrive. Watch this space for the second update in 2035.

More from the October 2021 Newsletter