1998 HSS Annual Meeting Program Abstracts

Meeting Program | Abstracts

Abstracts are arranged alphabetically.
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Andreas Daum (German Historical Institute)
"Spectacularizing Nature: The "Scientific Theater" in Berlin ca. 1900"

In 1888, members of the scientific and business elite of Berlin founded the Urania Society to spread knowledge about nature and science among the city's rapidly growing population. Among its many educational activities, the society introduced a novelty into Berlin's extensive entertainment scenery-the so-called "Scientific Theater." No actors, however, appeared on its stage. Instead, large diorama pictures, light effects, hydraulic apparatus, and artificial stage accessories created stories of natural phenomena, scientific explorations, and journeys across oceans and into the earth. The performances soon stirred up unparalleled interest in Berlin. Within a decade, the "Scientific Theater" attracted more than two hundred thousand visitors per year and appealed to both bourgeois and proletarian audiences. The paper will scrutinize this peculiar form of nature on display as an integral part of the metropolitan life and mass entertainment culture with its strong tendency to spectacularize public performances around the turn of the century. In particular, the "Scientific Theater" can demonstrate the fin de siecle's drive for visualization of knowledge in an effort to stimulate a new, non-intellectual understanding of the world. The paper will emphasize the ideological subtexts of this undertaking and its inherent attempt to combine technical and "natural" elements into a holistic presentation of nature. This form of artificial display of nature reflected thoughts of cultural critics of the time and tried to produce a harmonious experience among the spectators, crossing social class-lines. However, this very objective turned out as illusionist as the theatricalization of nature itself.

Edward B. Davis (Messiah College)
"Boyling Mad? On Editing a New Edition of Robert Boyle's Works"

For the past several years, Michael Hunter and Edward Davis have been preparing a complete, scholarly edition of Robert Boyle's voluminous writings, scheduled for release in March 1999. This paper offers an overview of what has been learned about Boyle's works in the process, focusing on two areas: (1) hitherto unknown differences among various English and Latin editions (2 ) information about published works, gathered from manuscript material (including essays surviving only in unpublished Latin translations), that has been incorporated into the edition.

Frederick R. Davis (Yale School of Medicine)
"Winston Churchill's Bowl of Turtle Soup: Archie Carr and the Development of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Conservation Biology"

This paper examines how one scientist's efforts to study a group of organisms led to an international conservation movement and the development of a new discipline. Archie Carr (1909-1987), a University of Florida Zoology professor, studied the ecology and migration of sea turtles for more than fifty years. Carr's scientific papers, popular books and articles, and his research program established much of what is known today about the biology of sea turtles. His efforts to protect sea turtle populations led to the founding of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and the establishment of conservation areas in Florida and Costa Rica. Finally, Archie Carr's work presaged the development of a new discipline-conservation biology. The story of Archie Carr touches on many themes in the history of field science including passion in science, the importance of place, U.S. and Latin American relations, and the survival of natural history in twentieth-century biology.

Jean De Groot (Catholic University of America)
"The Method of Aristotelian Statics in Galileo's Two New Sciences"

It is a staple of Scientific Revolution history that progress in dynamics depended upon bringing the diverse factors of weight, resistance, and speed into more direct relation that was possible with the Aristotelian proportionalities used in the Physics and De Caelo. Aristotelian statics played a role in the relating of these factors, I shall argue, by extending the method of proportionalities without resort to treating the diverse factors as homogeneous. In the Aristotelian Mechanical Problems, weight and the length of the balance arm are related by means of their "proxy" rectilinear motions represented in accordance with the geometry of the circle. When Galileo treats motion along inclined planes in the middle theorems of the Third Day of Two New Sciences, he uses a similar reasoning by substitution or proxy to relate motions along different inclined planes. He relates them by means of a proportional relation of rectilinear elements that belong to the geometry of the circle. My paper will explain how the proxy reasoning works and draw out its implications concerning abstraction and idealization in Galileo's thought.

Michael A. Dennis (Cornell University)
"Knowledge and Secrecy Revisited: Classified Knowledge in Cold War America"

Stamps reading, "Confidential," "Secret," and "Top Secret" are the raw materials for the history of post World War II American science, especially research supported by the armed services. What makes some knowledge worthy of the stamp and other freely available? This paper looks at debates over classification and the key texts on secrecy that appeared during the Cold War, including Edward Shils‰ influential work, The Torment of Secrecy.

John Dettloff (Princeton University)
"The Chemistry of State: Chemical Knowledge and State Power in Late Eighteenth-Century France"

This paper examines the relationship among the various forms of chemical commerce in late-eighteenth-century France: the exchanges of commodities, texts, instruments, practices, and theories. At the end of the Old Regime in France, the manufacture of chemical products like saltpeter implicated pressing state military and mercantile interests. Following the French military and economic defeat in the Seven Years War, a succession of royal ministers sought to lessen the dependence of these state on imports of saltpeter from abroad and to increase state control of its production by reducing the power of guilds. These ministers engaged the Royal Academy of Sciences to free the state from both of these constraints by pursuing means to augment and rationalize the manufacture of saltpeter. Savants used their position as advisors to claim a role for themselves as managers of economic production who mediated between state needs and artisanal production. They argued that efficient economic practice depended on a set of precise instrumental practices and theoretical understandings that yielded decisive criteria for maximizing productive gain. Savants backed by the power of the state would regulate exchanges of information, standardized instruments, and capital. This conjunction of state and scientific interests in the arena of rationalized economic production and management in part created the distinctive form of chemical theory and practice at the end of the Old Regime in France.

Alice Domurat Dreger (Michigan State University)
"Social Constructivism as Carrot, Stick, Therapy, and Guide: An Insider's Observations on the Intersex Rights Movement"

Many scholars in history of science and related fields have investigated the question of whether or not social constructivism is an intellectually tenable philosophy. This paper, rather than asking whether or not social constructivism is (always) "right," asks how social constructivist accounts of history can play out in a political arena. Eight years ago I began a historical investigation into the biomedical treatment of hermaphroditism, a phenomenon now generally called intersexuality. Publication of my work led me to meet intersexuals, parents of intersexuals, and inter sex clinicians. As a result of that interaction, I have become something of a"historical consultant" to the intersex rights movement, and I have had the remarkable opportunity to watch what impact histories of hermaphroditism -- especially social contructivist histories -- can have on a movement like this. In this presentation: I provide an overview of the ways in which knowledge of the history of human intersexuality has shaped the intersex rights movement. For example, I discuss how an understanding of the socially constructed nature of the category of "hermaphrodite" has allowed the intersex rights movement to attract a broader range of members and supporters than it otherwise would have. I also give accounts of intersexuals and mothers of intersexuals who found previously unattainable psychological relief via historical contextualization of their experiences, and I show how historical and anthropological accounts of hermaphroditism have convinced some intersex clinicians to reconsider their usual practices. Overall, I trace how the U. S. intersex rights movement has consciously used history to engineer a positive change in status (socially and medically) for people born intersexed.

Noah J. Efron (Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology)
"Jews, Natural Philosophy and the Eirenic Impulse in Rudolfine Prague"

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Jews of central Europe, for the first time in their history, began to take real interest in natural philosophy. Occasional comments on natural philosophy began to appear in almost all the established genres of Hebrew and Judeo-German literature: commentaries and exegeses, disquisition on halakhah, or Jewish ritual law, homilies, ethical works, and so forth. Other genres flourished that previously had been extremely rare or entirely unknown. These included chronicles (with astronomic, astrological, mathematical and natural historical entries), astronomic textbooks, books of intercalation, guides to using astronomic instruments, astrological works and horoscopes, mathematics texts, geographies, and so forth. Major religious academies began to teach introductions to mathematics and astronomy as part of their standard curriculum and some efforts were made to incorporate these subjects even into the elementary curriculum of primary schools-what would later come to be called heder. Important rabbinical authorities and community leaders of the epoch prided themselves on what they called their "natural" knowledge. Some Ashkenazi Jews made names for themselves as alchemists. Other Jews from Italy, traveled north and made conspicuous names for themselves as adepts of various sorts as well. The center of this interest was in Prague, especially during the reign of Rudolf II. As R. J. W. Evans has described so splendidly, Prague in Rudolf's day was remarkably heterogeneous. The cultural and intellectual life was characterized by what Michael Hunter has called the indolent iconoclasm of cosmopolitan circles, which in turn funded a multiplicity of orthodoxies, and sometimes outright heterodoxy. Fynes Moryson visited Bohemia at this time, and concluded that "Generally in all the kingdome there was great confusion of Religions, so as in the same Citty some were Caluinists, some Lutherans, some Hussites, some Anabap tists, some Picards, some Papists. . .And as the Jewes haue a peculyar Citty at Prage, so they had freedome throughout all th kingdome. . . . .I founde [Emperour Rudulphus'] subjects in Bohemia more differing in opinions of Religion yet to converse in strang amity and peace together, which patience a turbulent spiritt could not liue in those partes." With such an atmosphere, it is little surprise that some of the most famously unorthodox thinkers of the day took up residence in Prague for longer or shorter periods: Giordano Bruno, John Dee, and Edmund Kelley, for instance. What these men had in common, and shared with men of slightly-less esoteric interests like Kepler, was a persuasion that their scholarly efforts represent a "third force," which might serve to reconcile fragmented and confessionalized post-Reformation Europe. This "eirenic" impulse characterized much of the cultural and intell ectual life of Rudolfine Prague. In my presentation, I would like to explore how this impulse affected Jewish intellectuals living and working in Prague during this time, and how it encouraged their interest in natural philosophy. One such intellectual, David Gans, became persuaded that natural philosophy was the only pursuit could be companionably shared by Jews, Catholics and Protestants. In other words, Gans concluded that natural philosophy was the medium through which the eirenic impulse he perceived in Rudolf's court might be extended to Jews of his day. Jewish interest in nature, and in natural philosophy, because inextricably linked to their attitudes towards the Christian culture in which they lived. Natural philosophy, some Jews hoped, would prove to be an intellectual endeavor with theological implications, but one that could be pursued peaceably by scholars of different religions.

Richard England (Franklin and Marshall College)
"Poisoned Milk, False Science: Scientific Authority in "Genesis and Geology" Debates of the 1880's"

It is often thought that champions of Genesis or Geology ceased battling in the early nineteenth century. But while the literal interpretation of the Bible was soon consigned to the oblivion of fringe opinion, the hope that Scripture contained some scientific information lived on until the end of the century. This hope was inspired by a popular belief that if Genesis could be shown to foretell the order of creation discovered by modern geology, then its divine inspiration would be confirmed. The attacks of those who felt that biblical criticism proved the bible a collection of mere myths would be successfully fended off. Agnostics and many Christian intellectuals rejected this enterprise. Thomas Henry Huxley felt that some would go to ridiculous lengths to twist science and Scripture to serve their interests. Some Christians agreed, but claimed that this was because the would-be "reconcilers" of Genesis and geology falsely assumed that the Bible was intended to convey scientific information. In this paper I delineate the alliances which sprung up between men of science, biblical critics, "reconcilers" and bishops. Two cases are compared: that of Dr. Samuel Kinns, whose Moses and Geology (1882) divided the Church of England, and that of the great battle between Huxley and William Gladstone in the pages of the Nineteenth Century (1885-6). While Kinns was publicly crushed by a cabal of men of science and bishops, Gladstone's eminence demanded different treatment, and drew contributions from Canadian and American experts. This late episode in "Genesis and geology" discussions was not only a controversy in which recently established professionals established their authority to pronounce on questions of science and biblical criticism. It was also part of a wider struggle among conservative "reconcilers," liberal Christians and agnostics to claim for their metaphysical positions the powerful sanction of scientific authority.

James Evans (University of Puget Sound)
"A Chapter from the General History of Irony: The Least-Action Principle from Maupertuis to General Relativity"

In 1744 Pierre-Louis Moureau de Maupertuis proposed a principle of least action which he meant to explain not only the rules governing of the collision of bodies, but also the refraction of light. Maupertuis sought to demolish Fermat's principle of least time and was himself embroiled in a famous priority dispute. The principle of least action was thus born in a vortex of controversy and confusion. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of Maupertuis's and Fermat's principles, by Laplace, Hamilton, Levi-Civita and Louis de Broglie, exhibtis many moments of high irony as important results were lost only to be rediscovered and workers with conflicting philosophies of nature read nature's equations in different manners. In this short paper I shall sketch the twists of fortune of the principles of Fermat and Maupertuis.

Fa-Ti Fan (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
"What is a Mo?: Nineteenth-century Western Research into Chinese Literature on Natural History"

This paper seeks to understand how 19th-century Western naturalists in China utilized Chinese literature on natural history to facilitate their research. China had a long tradition of natural history writing (defined broadly) and had produced enormous literature on various aspects of nature. Local history, travel writing, herbals, encyclopedia, gardening literature, etc. all contained material of interest to Western naturalists. Many Western naturalists in China were missionaries or members of the consular service and had some grounding in the Chinese language. They mined the rich lore of natural history data either on their own or, more often than not, with the assistance of Chinese interpreters. The naturalists also consulted Chinese gazetteers and maps for their travels and explorations. This paper examines how the naturalist approached the Chinese texts and interprets their perceptions of the literature within the context of the development of sinology and Western exploration of China's natural history in the 19th century.

Paul Farber (Oregon State University)
"General Biology and the Historical Approach"

Paul Farber taught for several years in a non-major biology sequence. During that period the faculty revised the course to incorporate an historical perspective. One result was a textbook with biology content presented in a historical context. Professor Farber's experience with this course has convinced him of the value of using history, but it has also made him more aware of some of the pitfalls. He will discuss both. Paul Farber is OSU Distinguished Professor of History of Science and Chair of the Department of History at Oregon State University. He holds joint appointments in History and Zoology.

Anne Fausto-Sterling (Brown University)
"The Saga of John/Joan: Using Case Studies to Prove a Point"

In the 1950's psychologist John Money proposed that the best way to treat children born with ambiguous genitalia was to surgically "correct" their anatomy and raise them in their new, anatomically defined sex. Money believed that if the sex of rearing was established in the first couple of years of life, and if it was consistently applied, the child would develop with an unambiguous gender identity. To prove his argument he presented the most extreme case of all-an XY male whose penis was destroyed in a circumcision accident. Money convinced "John's" parents to raise him as "Joan" and published papers claiming that the transformation had been successful. The claim lent credence to the idea that when it came to gender, "nurture" reigned supreme. One scientist (Milton Diamond), however, was unconvinced, and he followed Money and the case until he found a break-an opportunity to interview the adult, who had, finally, reverted to his identity as "John." The news that Money's case did not pan out: made headlines, and Diamond claimed not only that Money had been wrong, but also that "nurture" does not reign supreme. Now a second case of an XY male with a damaged penis, raised as a girl, has been published. This time, however, the girl became a woman and did not revert back to her birth sex. In this paper I will discuss these cases in detail and examine their interaction with public debates about the origin of sex differences.

Paula Findlen (Stanford University)
"Representing Nature: The Painting of Knowledge in Early Modern Italy"

This paper explores the relationship among painting, nature and knowledge in fifteenth through seventeenth-century Italy. Building on some of the recent work on science and the visual arts done by scholars from several different fields-art history, literature and history of science-this essay explores the idea of painter's knowledge in the Renaissance and Baroque era. I am especially interested in comparing two cases in which individuals whom we primarily identify as "artists"-Leonardo da Vinci and Agostino Scilla-used their skills in visualizing nature to understand how nature worked. In the case of da Vinci, he often argued that images were superior to words in their ability to convey full knowledge of nature. But did he see images as specifically a painter's knowledge? This question allows us to explore the ambiguities of professional identity in the Renaissance in relation to the growing importance of scientific imagery during the sixteenth century. Did naturalists, for instance, also claim the right to display knowledge visually? Whose province was the illustration? The case of Scilla in the late seventeenth century is equally interesting. Author of Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense (1670), Scilla was a painter in Messina. In his only scientific publication, he claimed that his abilities as a painter gave him better insight into nature than the skills of a more traditional natural philosopher. In this instance, it allowed him to see fossil objects as more than just nature's mimesis in stone but as the calcified remains of once living creatures. To what extent did Scilla see himself as heir to an explicit tradition that begins with figures such as da Vinci, who had also wondered about the nature of fossils? How had the idea of painter's knowledge changed over two centuries?

Gabriel Finkelstein (Princeton University)
"Headless in Kashgar"

In 1854 the British East India Company, acting in cooperation with the Prussian Crown, commissioned Hermann, Adolphe, and Robert Schlagintweit to undertake a scientific expedition to India and High Asia. The ostensible purpose of the mission was to complete the Magnetic Survey of India, a project that was part of a global effort led by Col. Edward Sabine of the Royal Society and the British Association. At the time the Brothers Schlagintweit were mainly known for Alpine adventures; nevertherless, they convinced their patrons that the aims of the Asian expedition should be expanded to include a comprehensive scientific picture of the region. To this end the Schlagintweits traveled over 18,000 miles, collected 14,777 specimens, completed 749 paintings (some more than twelve feet wide), and set a new mountaineering altitude record of 22,128 feet. Despite these achievements all the brothers ended forgotten and miserable. My paper will discuss 1) how three sons of a Munich eye doctor attracted and lost so much high-level attention, and 2) what the Schlagintweits' successes and failures tell us about British and German science in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Mary E. Fissell (Johns Hopkins University)
"Hairy Women, Naked Truths, and the Secrets of Nature: Gendering Knowledge in Early Modern English Popular Medicine"

Aristotle's Masterpiece was the best-selling popular book on pregnancy and childbirth in eighteenth-century England and North America. Most of the text was a compilation of other older works. However, the frontispiece to this book, included in virtually every edition, is startlingly original. It depicts a naked hairy woman and a small black child standing in a scholar's study the male scholar is bent over an occult book on his desk. This paper explores the meanings of this peculiar image, tracing its origins iconographically and textually. I will argue that this image is directly tied to a phrase in the book's subtitle which promises the reader access to "the secrets of nature." The image implies that a reader will learn about the sexual "secrets" of a woman's body (evidence suggests that the book was read by young men as well as married women). At the same moment, however, the picture calls attention to the unfathomable quality of natural knowledge. Reading this particular monstrous body's surface produces erroneous information. So too, the image calls attention to the material form of the book enclosing it, creating mixed message about the possibility that a book could make a occult or secret knowledge available to all. Finally, I will argue that these ambiguities were central to this particular genre, from Nicholas Culpeper's 1651 Directory for Midwives right through the eig hteenth century. Popular writers struggled with the tensions inherent in the metaphor of knowledge as the secrets of the female body while attempting to produce persuasive knowledge of specific women's bodies that would be open to all.

Anne Fitzpatrick (Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota)
"Need to Know: Threading the Labyrinths of Classified Materials for Historical Research"

Failure to gain access to archives is a problem encountered from time to time by most historians. A problem unique to historians of recent science, however, is obtaining access to government-classified archival materials. Because so much work in certain specialties in the physical sciences (and other disciplines) has been carried out at federal laboratories or by corporate contractors to the federal government, resources essential to historians of such recent sciences are all too likely to be secret. Access requires agency-issued security clearance. Even then, it is subject to the doctrine of "need to know," an additional means of limiting a cleared individual. Classified interviews encounter the same problems. Nor is access the end: completed histories that use such materials must go through security clearance-which entails potential legal, even ethical issues. I am writing a history of the development of high-speed computing as driven by nuclear-weapons design. I have spent two years at Los Alamos with Q clearance-and have experienced th ese problems all too intimately. With few exceptions, only government-agency or contract historians have routinely been granted access to classified materials but official histories often do not meet academic standards. Historians (and journalists, from whom historians can learn) employ a variety of measures-notably the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)-to get into restricted areas of science. Along with reviewing these measures, in this paper I examine the range of problems encountered in carrying out research in American "secret-restricted" data and in conducting classified interviews. I shall present suggestions for handling these problems.

James R. Fleming (Colby College)
"Joseph Fourier and the "Greenhouse Effect""

The concept of the greenhouse effect has yet to receive adequate historical attention. Although most writing about the subject is concerned with current scientific or policy issues, a small but growing fraction of the literature contains at least some historical material, which, as this paper demonstrates for the case of Joseph Fourier, is largely unreliable. Beginning with recent articles and proceeding in reverse chronological order, I will trace the practice of citing Fourier's article of 1827 as the first reference to the greenhouse effect. This strategy allows me to begin with the problems in the recent literature before attempting to clarify what Fourier actually said in 1824. I will then locate the subject of terrestrial temperatures within the context of Fourier's analytical theory of heat, provide authoritative references to a greenhouse analogy in Fourier's earlier writings, and point out still earlier work by others.

Eric Francoeur (Ecole des Mines)
"Structures and Constraints: Mechanical Molecular Models in Chemistry"

Since the early days of modern atomic theory, chemists have designed different types of mechanical models to represent and explore the various aspects of molecular structure. Although widely recognized as a pedagogical tool, these molecular models have also constituted an important research tool, a heuristically-enabling embodiment of molecular structures. Paradoxically, despite this importance, molecular modelling, as a specific practice, has been rarely explicitly discussed in the formal chemical literature. This last point has important implications for the way in which the contribution of this practice has been assessed (or, so far, largely ignored) by historians, philosophers and sociologists of science. The aim of this talk will be to discuss the issue of molecular modelling through two specific types of "esoteric" modelling practices. The first, which I call "surveying structures," revolved around measurements performed on models as a prelude to the numerical treatment of structural variables, as exemplified by the work of D. H. R. Barton the conformation of cyclic structures in the late 1940s. The second practice, which I call "articulating constraints," revolved around the assessment of various theoretical and empirical constraints on the conformation of molecules through the manipulation of models, as exemplified by the work on the structure of the polypeptide chain between the mid-1930s and the early 1950s. A point to be highlighted in this discussion is that while often considered a theoretical pursuit, model building had many of the attributes of experimental practices. This raises interesting questions regarding the traditional distinction between theoretical and experimental work.

Daniel Friedman (St. Clare's Hospital)
"Guarding Objectivity: Langmuir's Pathological Science Colloquium"

Shortly before his 1932 Nobel Prize, Irving Langmuir began a long investigation of what he called "pathological science." He never published on this subject, but a colloquium he gave in 1953 achieved legendary status, and after his death was, apparently, circulated privately for years before its publication in the late 1980s. Several cases of unusual discoveries were colorfully presented, all potentially important but ultimately unverifiable, which represented, he believed, "sick science." In a long, detailed opening section describing his entry into this field, Langmuir emphasized his own role in evaluating and influencing the outcome of the Davis-Barnes experiment: he had asked Niels Bohr to pass on to Arnold Sommerfeld and some other physicists a letter which "headed off a lot of experimental work that would have gone on;" on the other hand, seeing these disparate cases as conforming to that model has contributed to historical misunderstanding of at least one of the cases.

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