Posts from the ‘Academia’ Category
April 23rd, 2013
At last weekend’s STS workshop I facilitated a discussion that explored the relations between STS and the sciences. Here are some summary thoughts from that discussion.
We began thinking about the relationship between faculty in the different disciplines—STS/History of science and the various sciences—but quickly shifted focus to students. For many of us, the relationship between STS and the sciences seems to be mediated through students who take classes in both areas. Consequently, we talked about some teaching practices—such as team teaching or peer teaching—and important curricular differences—such as requiring more science coursework.
In general we agreed that one of the goals of STS in the undergraduate program was to get students in the sciences to question what they are doing and why, to disrupt easy notions of fact and reality, and to make the familiar and comfortable both strange and uncomfortable. May of us also thought that STS students should not be separated from the sciences. An STS curriculum without a grounding in science risks losing something important.
Some of the key themes:
- how are we seen by departmental colleagues differs from how we are seen by science colleagues;
- students majoring in one of the sciences often take our classes for validation;
- science faculty rely on us as “story tellers” and the STS as source of stories;
- courses like “Physics for poets” indicate a broad interest in STS by faculty in the sciences;
- courses like “Physics for poets” and looking at STS faculty as story tellers was considered problematic by some;
- we need convince our colleagues to recognize and take seriously our expertise in STS.
The participants represented various departments: anthropology, biology, history, philosophy, and STS. While many of us have appointments in particular departments and teach in STS programs, a few have positions in STS programs. As such, the particularities at our different institutions shaped our discussion. Faculty from institutions with strong STS programs seemed more comfortable with the relationship between STS and the sciences. Faculty at colleges with no STS program or with a particularly strong tradition in the sciences seemed to want to defend STS as on par with the sciences.
April 23rd, 2013
In the middle part of the 20th century the American Historical Association engaged in a concerted outreach program. I don’t know if the discipline and the profession were experiencing one of those perennial anxiety attacks, but the association seemed to feel that it needed to bolster the image of history as a profession and the quality of instruction provided in secondary and undergraduate classrooms. Predictably, committees were formed and propaganda was produced (because nobody actually forms a committee or produces propaganda). As always, a favorite vehicle was the cheap pamphlet. Some of these celebrated history as a professional career. Other pamphlets sought to provide high school and undergraduate teachers the expertise and knowledge of established scholars in various historical areas. As one pamphlet declared:
Prompted by an awareness of the fact that the average secondary school teacher has neither the time nor the opportunity to keep up with monographic literature, these pamphlets are specifically designed to make available to the classroom instructor a summary of pertinent trends and developments in historical study.
In the late 1950s, one of the “pertinent trends and developments in historical study” was the history of science. To address this trend, the “Committee on Teaching” convinced Marie Boas to write a pamphlet for high school teachers introducing the history of science to them.
Marie Boas opens bluntly, connecting the history of science to modernity and Western Civilization:
In an age when high school students regard space travel as an eminently attainable and desirable practicality, it is hardly necessary to emphasize that we live in a civilization infused by and dependent upon applied science. It has indeed been plausibly argued that what distinguishes the most recent period of history, and particularly the history of Western Civilization, from other ages and from the whole history of other civilizations, is precisely the triumphant justification by results of that scientific method which first clearly emerged in the seventeenth century. If this is true—and there are cogent arguments to support it—then to study the history of our culture without studying the development of science within that culture is clearly to render any historical appraisal both incomplete and distorted.
Further, she suggests, the history of science appeals to “curiosity about the world around them which is so natural to most boys and girls.” The history of science engages those students whose interest lies in the sciences by offering a “valid and useful point of contact with history.” At the same time, history of science offers students baffled by science “some insight into the scientific point of view“ so common in the late 1950s.
She considers the history of science to be part intellectual history—concerned with the “internal development of science”—and part social or economic history—primarily how “science has influenced society through its application to technology.”
In one passage, Boas laments the struggles of past and present scientists: “One of the perennial problems of the scientist has been how to earn his livelihood.” Despite the increasing demand for scientists in universities and industry, “scientists have often grievously felt the lack of adequate funds and facilities … and the attempts of scientists to gain funds from governments, especially from democratic governments, presents a fascinating study of the relation of the scientist to the society in which he lives.” While some individual scientists today may want more money, it’s difficult to see the sciences as struggling or as underfunded. And salaries in the sciences are not particularly depressed.
The bulk of her pamphlet presents a bibliography of secondary and primary sources in the history of science. Technology is merely applied science and so does not merit inclusion in the bibliography. Boas’s occasional editorial comments in this section are entertaining because they continue to be commonplaces today—e.g., when referring to Joseph Needham’s work, Boas says “Volume I is a general survey of that strange peculiarity of Chinese civilization that a high state of technology did not lead to an advanced understanding of nature,” or later Boas comments “While historians continue to argue about whether there was such a thing as the Renaissance or not, historians of science are generally agreed that a special name is needed for the activities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when a dying medievalism clashed with new forces in a highly complex transition,” or about the seventeenth century Boas confirms it as “the century of genius, the first indisputable age of modern science.”
April 23rd, 2013
The history of science is a most rational and fascinating story; yet the study of the history of science is in a lamentable state: the literature of the field is often pseudo-scholarly and largely unreadable. The faults which have given rise to this situation, I shall argue, stem from the uncritical acceptance, on the part of historians of science, of two incorrect philosophies of science. These are, on the one hand, the inductive philosophy of science, according to which scientific theories emerge from facts, and, on the other hand, the conventionalist philosophy of science, according to which scientific theories are mathematical pigeonholes for classifying facts. The second, although some improvement over the first, remains unsatisfactory. A third, contemporary theory of science, Popper’s critical philosophy of science, provides a possible remedy. On this view, scientific theories explain known facts and are refutable by new facts.
I am as amused by his criticism of scholarship in the history of science as I am unconvinced by his proposed solution.
April 22nd, 2013
To prompt debate and structure discussion, the organizers of last weekend’s workshop offered the following provocations about STS and the scholars who work within it. I am both encouraged by some of these topics and daunted by some. If you have any thoughts or comments, I encourage you to address them in a post, and link back to here so I know you wrote about them. Let’s use these as an opportunity to have a broader discussion about what STS offers to students, institutions, businesses, and government.
1 :: STS works on the cutting edge of our world’s grand challenges.
STS tackles some of the most central problems of our contemporary world. In our age of information technology, global warming, and bioengineering, STS scholars are providing essential analytical and normative insights into the complex linkages between what we build, what we know, and who we are. As such, STS is one of the most vibrant fields of study and deserves to be funded by government agencies and universities.
2 :: STS offers several paths to policy-relevant scholarship.
In addressing fundamental questions facing our world, STS scholarship often tackles matters of contemporary policy relevance, such as the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of emerging and controversial fields of study. But these considerations of policy or ELSI relevance should not be the sole measure for evaluating the contribution of STS to public policy. Much STS work is powerful because it offers critical frameworks that can allow policy makers to rethink what constitutes fundamental concepts such as “science” “society” and “policy.” Therefore, we must promote and fund a spectrum of research projects including those that analyze the pressing questions of public policy as well as those that help us conceptualize which policy questions we should be asking in the first place. The links between STS and public policy should be understood broadly.
3 :: STS is more than simply the sum of a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
While history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science, and other disciplines have contributed immensely to our understanding of science and technology in society, STS is a distinct field of study that offers unique insights unattainable through the agglomeration of existing perspectives. STS, while drawing on other approaches, has a disciplinary standing of its own. It merits having its own departments, curricula, and standing. Universities cannot expect rigorous education of their students in the social and cultural dimensions of science and technology without dedicated programs and faculty members.
4 :: STS scholars are responsible for the field’s institutional standing.
STS scholars must take responsibility for the institutional security of the field. We cannot expect others to do it. Nor can we assume that once programs are created, they will be automatically sustained. As scholars, teachers, and members of universities, we must take the initiative to demonstrate the relevance and need for STS scholarship and push to secure lines of funding for its practitioners. Academic fields are not natural kinds. They are social constructs whose boundaries can be shaped by STS scholars and must be maintained through practice.
5 :: Funding agencies and STS scholars should work together.
The vast majority of scientific funding agencies recognize that it is important to support research into the societal dimensions of science and technology. In order to ensure that these funds promote cutting-edge scholarship, funding agencies should be willing to work with STS practitioners to make sure that their categories and grant structures are consistent with the research practices of the field. Similarly, STS scholars should be willing to work with funding agencies to help them identify promising research opportunities that can support the organizations’ missions. Collaborative dialogue can produce improved results for both funding agencies and STS scholars.
6 :: STS scholars should collaborate to provide consistent graduate education.
One of the hallmarks of conventional academic disciplines is a recognized canon of literature and set of methods. While different programs will likely emphasize different analytical approaches, STS scholars should work together to create a few broad frameworks for teaching our students the intellectual foundations of our field.
April 12th, 2013
In my continuing survey of the history of medieval science, I turned to the recent and incredibly expensive Handbook of Medieval Studies, edited by A. Classen. Relying on just the Handbook of Medieval Studies, you would think that current scholarship pays little attention to medieval science. Only a handful of topics rank among the “Main Topics and Debates of the Last Decades:”
Main Topics and Debates
- Natural Sciences in the Islamic Context (a subcategory under “Arabic and Islamic Studies”)
- Astronomical Instruments—David King, History of Science, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität:
King underscores a point he has made forcefully: medieval instruments and the texts that describe them offer rich sources for understanding medieval science and society more broadly. He calls for a “catalogue of the entire corpus of surviving medieval insturments … and a survey of the related literature.” Part of his catalogue has been realized by Catherine Eagleton’s book on navicula.
- Botany (Alain Touwaide, Department of Botany, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
- Byzantine Science (Alain Touwaide, Department of Botany, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
- Technology in the Middle Ages—Thomas Glick, History and Gastronomy, Boston University:
He lets Lynn White’s three theses—technological roots of the agricultural revolution, the possibility of a medieval industrial revolution using water power, the origins of feudalism in the stirrup—structure his survey.
- Time Measurement & Chronology
I was surprise not to see, inter alia, magic, medicine, and occult sciences. The “Textual Genres” section again gives the impression that only a few of the sciences occupy only a small place in medieval studies. Maybe bestiaries, charms, cookbooks, and lapidaries are trendy. Griffin’s entry on scientific texts approached them as either artes liberales (theoretical) or artes mechanicae (material). It is unclear why these poles were chosen to characterize texts. It is equally unclear how all sorts of other texts, e.g., astrology, demonology, encyclopedias, instruments, magic, medicine (which are not explicitly the topic for other entries), fit into this scheme.
Two other items struck me:
- Most of the authors called for more and better critical editions.
- Most of the authors were not historians of science.
The first of these issues seems incredibly traditional, if completely defensible. The second seems to reflect what I noted yesterday—that scholarship on medieval science is moving out of traditional history of science and into all sorts neighboring disciplines.
Important “Textual Genres” according to Handbook of Medieval Studies
- Bestiaries, Aviaries, Physiologus (Renee Ward, English, University of Alberta)
- Charms & Incantations (Russell Poole, English, University of Western Ontario)
- Cookbooks (Timothy Tomasik, French, Valparaiso University)
- Lapidaries—Rosmarie Thee Morewedge, German & Russian Studies, SUNY Binghamton:
She classifies lapidaries as either allegorical or scientific-magical-medical. Both approaches owe much to traditional scholarship, such as George Sarton’s Introduction to the History of Science (1927-1948), William Jones, Precious Stones: Their History and Mystery (1880) and Hans Stäubli, Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens (1927-1942). Recent work has tried to understand lapidaries as a marker for “secular, scientific thinking.”
She characterizes Richard Kieckhefer’s Magic in the Middle Ages as descriptive rather than analytical. Nancy Siraisi’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (1990) is also cited as useful for understanding the shift in medical practice after the “reception of Greek science, Ptolemaic astronomy, Aristotelian logic, epistemology, cosmology and physics.” I wonder if she is expecting too much from textbooks—Kieckhefer is less interested in providing a monograph on lapidaries than a handy text on all of medieval magic aimed at undergraduates.
Isabelle Draelants work on encyclopedias and lapidaries is held up as exemplary: I. Draelants, “Encyclopédies et lapidaires médiévaux: La durable autorité d’Isidore de Séville et de ses Étymologies” Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistes 16 (2008).
- Pharmaceutical literature—Alain Touwaide, Department of Botany, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:
Touwaide notes a dearth of scholarly attention directed at pharmaceutical literature. As an area of interest, he notes that it doesn’t fit neatly into academia as its currently organized. So little work has been produced, that he shies away from drawing generalizations. He calls for proper inventories of manuscripts, production of editions based on “an exhaustive heuristic of the manuscripts, their accurate examination and description, and a systematic comparison of the text under study in all of them.”
He surveys a wide range of types of pharmaceutical literature that awaits scholarly attention (some of which don’t seem initially like pharmaceutical literature): amulets, animals, antidotarium, Arzneibuch, astrological herbals, calendars, compendia, compound medicines, diet, electuary, formulary, herbals, materia medica, pharmacopoeia, poisons, recipes, theriac.
- Scientific texts—Carrie Griffin, English, University College Cork:
Griffin stresses the continued need for more and improved catalogs and critical editions of texts. She cites the enduring value of Lynn Thorndike’s and Thorndike and Pearl Kibre’s A Catalogue of Incipits of Medieval Scientific Writing in Latin.
She also highlights need for additional textual studies on medieval technology.
- World maps—Jens Eike Schnall, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen:
Connects the history of world maps to traditional scholarship, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. He discusses classification schemes, periodization, the geographical framework, and the function. Particularly for the last two topics, Schnall situates his discussion in modern scholarship. He summarizes the last three decades as a shift toward symbolic and narrative functions as well as towards a theory of cartography.
This picture can be contrasted with David Lindberg’s survey, Science in the Middle Ages from 1978. That book contained the following chapters, all written by historians of science:
- Science, Technology, and Economic Progress
- The Transmission of Greek and Arabic Learning to the West
- The Philosophical Setting
- The Institutional Setting
- The Science of Weights
- The Science of Motion
- The Science of Optics
- The Science of Matter
- Natural History
- The Nature, Scope, and Classification of the Science
- Science and Magic
These chapters were often dense and technical, e.g., Edward Grant’s chapter on cosmology includes a table showing the radius, circumference, distance of convex and concave surfaces of planetary spheres from the center of earth, and the thickness of the spheres—fyi, it’s 73,387,747 miles to the concave surface of the sphere of the fixed stars (ugh). Clearly, scholarship on the history of science has changed.
April 11th, 2013
The ISIS Critical Bibliography should, perhaps, be supplemented with a look at recent dissertations. While the ISIS Critical Bibliography includes some, I turned to ProQuest for what I assume will be a more complete picture (and crosschecked ProQuest against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Humanities Dissertations, which would really benefit from a search function).
Over the last decade—actually, the last two years are not readily available, so they are not included—58 students at 40 different institutions completed MA or PhD theses. Although training at the graduate level is spread across a wide number of institutions, Chicago, Harvard, and Yale account for 12 of the theses produced. To arrive at these numbers I considered the categories “medieval” and “science” or “medicine” or “technology” very broadly (a number of theses included here would not be classified as “medieval” in the ISIS Critical Bibliography but would be considered “non-Western knowledge”). While students worked on all sorts of topics, religion, medicine, and astronomy/astrology attracted considerable attention.
58 theses in a decade seems promising enough, but I wonder if that number misleads us about the health of History of Science as opposed to the interest in history of science. Most of these theses were produced by students in neighboring departments—e.g., literature, religion, philosophy, political science. On the one hand, I see that as a positive development—it indicates that past sciences are both interesting and considered relevant. On the other hand, as a historian of science, I worry that it does not bode well for the future of the history of medieval science—I don’t want to see the history of science colonized or cannibalized by other disciplines. I, perhaps naively or mistakenly, think training in the history of science as a discipline brings with it an expertise that is not equivalent to and therefore cannot be exchanged for other forms of expertise.
April 9th, 2013
Here are a few additional bits culled from the ISIS Critical Bibliography. Over the last decade, scholarship on medieval science has remained fairly level with respect to scholarship in other periods. The ISIS Critical Bibliography arranges scholarship into:
- Prehistory & Early Human Society
- Ancient Near Eastern
- Ancient Greek & Roman
- Medieval Western European
- Renaissance Western European
- 17th Century
- 18th Century
- 19th Century
- 20th Century, early
- 20th Century, late, & 21st century
Unfortunately, it does not include in this chronological listing pre-1800 scholarship that has been listed under a heading in the “Disciplinary Classification,” e.g., “Astronomy,” or non-Western knowledge, e.g., “Medieval Byzantine contexts” (as a side note, in 2002 the ISIS Critical Bibliography, moved Byzantium out of the chronological listing and now considers it a “non-Western knowledge tradition”). Of the material listed in the chronological section, scholarship on medieval science has hovered around 3-5% of the works listed. 2010 is the outlier here, with over 300 items listed for about 10% of the scholarship. Each year medievalist have produced about a dozen editions or translations of medieval texts.
Scholarship by men outnumbers that by women, though probably not by too much. The information for the graph below excludes a number of items where I did not know and could not determine quickly whether the author was a man or a woman.
As with yesterday’s post, this one should not be taken as definitive. I culled the information from the main entries in the ISIS Critical Bibliography. I did not include any information from the contents of collections—a number of items in the bibliography are collections of essays—nor did I work terribly hard to figure out if authors were men or women. And obviously, I don’t know how much scholarship the ISIS Critical Bibliography misses each year.
April 8th, 2013
I agreed to give a short presentation this weekend on “The Future of Medieval Studies: Science.” Consequently, I find myself thinking about recent trends in medieval science and where things might be headed. As a bit of diversion, I thought I would look back through the last decade or so of the ISIS Critical Bibliography. Having spent a couple hours with it, I am reminded of just how difficult it is to organize a bibliography into meaningful subjects and areas. I fear the CB, in the interest of consistency, has imposed too many modern categories on medieval topics and too finely divided categories.
In any event, here is how the History of Science Society portrays scholarly trends in medieval science over the last decade (I’ve collapsed the various individual categories into the broader subject headings provided by ISIS):
There is an interesting uptick in scholarship a couple years after ISIS started using the new categories. There is also an interesting spike in 2010 of scholarship in the “exact sciences.” If you are interested, here are the various categories ISIS uses to arrange its bibliography.
April 5th, 2013
As I mentioned a few weeks back, I taking part in a workshop at Vassar College, “Science and Technology Studies (STS) in the Liberal Arts,” on the role, if any, of STS in an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum.1
The program is shaping up nicely. Topics include:
- Branching Out: STS and Other Multidisciplinary Fields
- Partnerships and Tensions: Exploring Relations between STS and the Sciences
- Pedagogical Enhancements: New Teaching Methods for STS
- So, What’s New?: Incorporating the Cutting-edge into Our Teaching and Scholarship
- Beyond the Blackboard: Educational Technologies in the STS Classroom
- Outside the Classroom: Non-Curricular Involvement of STS in College Life
- Off-Campus Opportunities: Connecting to Businesses, Agencies, NGOs
- Faced with Intellectual Diversity: Tailoring STS Content to Students’ Interests
- Diverse Students: Globalism and Multiculturalism in the STS Classroom
I am particularly interested in “Partnerships and Tensions” and “Off-Campus Opportunities.”
I am hopeful that we will also be able to talk about what we think holds the STS curriculum together or gives it some coherence. In a comment on my previous post, Joe Martin suggested:
… what are the core competencies of an STS graduate? How do they differ from those of other liberal arts/interdisciplinary majors? How can STS strive to confer the type of disciplinary competence that traditional liberal arts majors offer? Given the diverse and fuzzy-bordered nature of STS as a field, I suspect that answers to questions like these will be highly local and it might be worthwhile to expose and map those differences.
I think these are important questions, complicated by the fact that at many liberal arts institutions STS is not a degree or minor program. STS course work is interleaved into the students’ regular major. Here at Haverford, history majors can select “History of Science” as one of their areas of concentration. Despite some promising efforts a few years back, an STS minor never gained any real traction. Other minors and concentrations often want a history of science or STS component—e.g., Health and Society or Environmental Studies—but again, STS is subordinated to the real focus of the program.
Perhaps that makes Joe’s questions all the more important. What is it that STS brings to the table that other disciplines and majors don’t? What sort of identity—disciplinary or curricular or ideological or pedagogical—does STS have?
If you have suggestions or thoughts, please email them to me or, better yet, write a post at your blog and link back so I am alerted to your post.
1 I am not distinguishing between STS and History of Science. There are many heated debates about the nature of these two things and their proper goals and objects of study and their political agendas. I am not engaging with those debates here.↩
March 15th, 2013
In 1961 the American Historical Association published a short guide for undergraduates, History as a Career. To Undergraduates Choosing A Profession. The pamphlet opens:
TO UNDERGRADUATES CHOOSING A PROFESSION
In former centuries parents chose spouses and professions for their children. Today’s men and women can select their own. Chances are that another person will make at least half the decision for you when you select a spouse. In deciding upon a profession, as at few times in your life, you can stand alone.
This brochure is designed to help you decide whether you want to make college history teaching a career. Do you have “what it takes”? Is this the “route you want to go”? What follows will help you answer these questions. It will also call your attention to financial aid that is available for graduate study, and make suggestions about selecting a university for graduate study.
The decision is your own.
Apparently, what it took to get into graduate school ca. 1960 was a “strong interest in history” and “at least a ‘B’ record in history classes (with average or better grades in other college courses),” the ability “read two modern foreign languages” and “to write effective and lucid English prose.”
In 1959 “about 330 doctorates in history were awarded” (a few years later there were nearly 600 PhDs awarded, according to Figure 1 in this post) from about 85 universities in the U.S. Half studied U.S. history, a quarter modern European.
History graduate students were a smart lot: “A study in 1958 showed that 70% of them—a small notch higher than graduate students in general—had ranked in the upper fifth of their high school classes.” These budding young historians were destined for the upper socio-economic echelons: in 1960 new faculty could expect to make $5,200-6,400. And the sky was the limit: “In 1960-61 salaries of $13,000 for senior professors of history in major universities were not unusual and higher ones were sometimes paid.”
Those 1960-61 salaries turn out to be $39,900 to 49,100 for new hires and $99,800 for full professors. According to a survey of Average Salaries of Tenured & Tenure Track Faculty in The Chronicle, today’s new assistant faculty earn marginally more at $55,000. Salaries for full professors at research universities, by contrast, have remained flat at $99,800.
History salaries do not seem to have kept pace with the national average, which in 1961 was $4007 and in 2011 was 42,979—a 10.72 fold increase. Assistant professors have enjoyed an increase between 8.6 and 10.57 fold. Full professors have suffered worse at only a 7.7 fold increase. I am confident the numbers would look even worse if compared to people with some form of graduate degree (but I don’t have the energy to go find those numbers).
As today, the rhetoric in the profession guided graduate students to teaching careers. After six pages singing the praises of teaching, the pamphlet offers one short paragraph and tepid endorsement of alternative careers: “A large majority of persons who obtain training as professional historians become teachers of history. Some, however, pursue other activities such as politics or journalism.”
It is a bit unsettling to see how little history as a profession has changed over the last 50 years.