Committee Meetings Schedule

Hotel Reservations

Need a Roommate?

Preliminary Program


About Vancouver

Vancouver Dining Guide

Exhibitor's Guide





HSS 2000 Abstracts
These are arranged alphabetically.

A-B  |  C-E  |  F-H |  I-K  |  L-M  |  N-P  |  R-S |  T-V  |  W-Z

If you would like to modify your abstract, please e-mail changes to

Andre Wakefield Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology
Science and Silver in the Mines of Central Europe, 1650-1850

My paper explores the place of the mining sciences (e.g., metallurgical chemistry, geognosy, mineralogy, geology) between the 17th and 19th centuries. In order to comprehend the perceived purpose of these sciences for contemporaries, we need first to understand the larger "economy of the mines," i.e., the system of administrative, fiscal, material, and technological demands that defined them. By sketching the economy of the silver mines, I intend to offer a fresh context for a wide range of literary and scientific production. My paper draws mainly on unpublished archival records from the fiscal and mining bureaus of Saxony, Hanover, and Prussia.

Olivia Walling, University of Minnesota
The Intellectual and Social Life of Nineteenth Century Laboratory Methods, A Longhorn View

With the expansion of the cattle industry after the Civil War, the disease "Texas cattle fever" began appearing in epidemic proportions among cattle native to the northern United States. In 1866, the New York Metropolitan State Board of Health began to investigate Texas fever. By the time that the federal government tackled the problem in the 1880s, agricultural experiment stations in four states were already researching the disease. All of the investigators involved in this research adhered to the methodologies associated with the introduction of laboratories that marks a well-known watershed in the history of science and medicine. The study of Texas fever during this time period, however, shows that our assumptions about this "laboratory revolution" need revision. My paper will use Texas cattle fever as a case study to explore the introduction of laboratory techniques and tools in the late nineteenth century. In attempting to isolate the cause of the disease, researchers at the Bureau of Animal Industry and elsewhere hybridized laboratory techniques with existing natural history and clinical techniques and, in so doing, they transformed the laboratory into a productive research tool. In short, the new epistemology was insufficient to produce a revolution in medicine. Instead, laboratory science emerged triumphant because it was shaped in the crucible of the social, economic, and political milieu that placed new demands on scientific research.

Lisa H. Weasel Portland State University
Race and Gender through the Microscope: A Feminist Perspective on Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line

The relationship between race, gender and the history of science must be understood as a complex intersection between the social context of science and its historical practice, as well as the subject matter itself. The case of the HeLa cell line, the first in vitro human epithelial cancer cell line to be established in the laboratory, provides an opportunity to examine the ways in which race and gender have intersected with the history of science at all of these levels. The cells that make up the HeLa cell line were initially taken from a cervical biopsy performed in 1951 on an African-American female patient by the name of Henrietta Lacks, at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Although Lacks died just 8 months following the biopsy, her cervical cells lived on, and since that time have been used by scientists the world over in a multitude of experiments ranging from testing the Salk polio vaccine to basic cancer research. While the HeLa cell line ostensibly lost its connection to race and gender once in the petri dish, the context of these cells and the way that they have been and continue to be represented in the popular and scientific literature retain vestiges of the socially-derived connection between science and race, class and gender stereotypes. Furthermore, current scientific debate regarding the naming of this cell line and its potential classification as a new, non-human species requires that the historical context of race and gender in this scientific story be acknowledged and attended to. This paper will present a feminist perspective on the case of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line, showing how race, gender and science intersect in both the practice and the subject matter of science.

Kathleen A. Wellman Southern Methodist University
Physicians and Philosophes: Biology and Sexual Morality in the French Enlightenment

The eighteenth-century saw a great revival of interest in medicine and physiology, areas which would eventually take shape as the biological sciences in the nineteenth century and which led to much investigation and speculation about living creatures. The emphasis on the biological served many functions in the texts of the period---it caused a redirection of scientific interest away from the mechanical and the mathematical and towards the natural sciences in general and functions of living creatures in particular. The emphasis on the biological was particularly influential in altering the understanding of human beings. They were much more clearly integrated into an understanding of natural processes, much less likely to be separated by a distinctly human soul, directly compared to animals in their abilities, etc. Biological interest led to much speculation about sexual mores and morality. This paper will compare and contrast the treatment of sex by enlightenment physicians and philosophes. It will focus in particular on the works of Nicholas Le Cat, Antoine Le Camus, Jean Astruc, and Pierre Chirac. There are many points of similarity between physicians and philosophes. Because physicians sought relief from pain for their patients, many of them were inclined to advocate tolerance, a perspective they shared with their philosophical counterparts. Both groups explored connections between sex and disease (obviously venereal diseases but also mental illnesses) and highlighted the role of sex in human nature. But physicians were inclined to take a more therapeutic approach, narrowing both the extent of the problem and the scope of its treatment. They also used the biology of sex to enhance their professional authority. The philosophes, in particular La Mettrie, Diderot, Holbach (even more moderate thinkers like Voltaire) were willing to advance a much more radical biological agenda through unfettered speculation.

Petra Werner Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Composing the Picture of Nature, or Alexander von Humboldt's English Correspondents

In this presentation, I will describe the extent to which Alexander von Humboldt's English correspondents helped him construct the picture of nature found in his book "Cosmos, a Sketch of a Physical Description of the World." I will base my evaluation on the correspondence he carried on with English naturalists. (Many of these letters remain unpublished.) Humboldt himself depended on these letters from English colleagues, citing them often, for the composition of that five-volume work of his later years. He carried on a correspondence with a total of 109 English scientists and writers (a list will be presented), of which some 38 are mentioned in "Cosmos"--along with citations of their work and letters. The extent of the correspondence with a given individual does not always indicate its significance for either of the writers: a rather detailed correspondence exists with Herschel, but only a few letters passed between Humboldt and Darwin. Yet Darwin was an important correspondent for Humboldt. The contact made with most of Humboldt's English colleagues had not only a scientific component, but a social one as well---indeed, both aspects of the relationship overlapped. This relationship became particularly important for Humboldt when he was attached in some reviews by prominent English writers---he he expected support from his friends.

Simon R. E. Werrett Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftgeschichte
An Odd Sort of Exhibition: Spectacles of Science and the Russian State in the Eighteenth Century

In 1675 a young Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz wrote a memorandum describing "An Odd Thought concerning a New Sort of Exhibition." One of Leibniz's first designs for an Academy of Sciences, the "Exhibition" he described was a distinctly dramaturgical, spectacular form of operation, hybridizing Francis Bacon's Solomon's House with the theatricals of German carnival. This paper follows the Leibnizian exhibition into reality as it traces the role of spectacle in the formation of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in early eighteenth-century Russia. The place of spectacle in the history of the sciences in Russia has been neglected in the past, but for the first fifty years of its existence, academicians produced spectacular theatricals such as allegorical fireworks displays and museological shows which served to bind the Academy to the Russian court and government . I explore how these spectacles promoted academic and courtly concerns by focusing on celebrations surrounding an "Ice Palace" built in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1740. A fine example of Leibnizian theatre, the Ice Palace mobilized artefacts and skills drawn from the Academy's Kunstkammer to demonstrate Russia's new status as a civilized member of Western European nations, and identified the sciences as central to this project's success. Thus the Ice Palace, and St. Petersburg's scientific theatricals generally, make manifest the importance of spectacle for the dissemination of the sciences during the Enlightenment and can serve as a nexus in which to see clearly the interlinking of the sciences and absolutist political economy at this time.

Robert S. Westman University of California, San Diego
Kepler's Early Astrological Problematic

Important dimensions of Michael Maestlin's (1550-1631) role in framing Kepler's adoption of Copernicus's theory are now widely acknowledged and reasonably well understood. Also, thanks to recent scholarship, the general outline of Kepler's astrological ideas is reasonably well mapped. Rather less attention has been paid to how Maestlin's views helped to shape Kepler's attitude toward astrological theory and practice and how Kepler reconciled those views with his evolving cosmographical commitments. In this paper, I will suggest that Kepler's astrological, physical, and astronomical convictions were interwoven in significant ways from his early days as a student at Tübingen.

Elizabeth A. Williams Oklahoma State University
The Scientific Discourse of Hysteria in Enlightenment France

If hysteria has been largely discredited as a diagnostic category, nonetheless as a cultural phenomenon it draws ever more intense scrutiny from historians of science, medicine, and art as well as professionals in diverse mental health disciplines. In the historical literature devoted to hysteria, the eighteenth century has been consistently slighted despite the fact that Enlightenment medicine supplied crucial ingredients to modern thinking about hysteria, its nature, treatment, and general cultural significance. This historiographical lacuna, to which Mark Micale drew attention in 1989, has not been filled since, despite the appearance of valuable new work on hysteria in later periods. This paper will examine the status of hysteria in eighteenth-century French nosologies, especially the Nosologie méthodique of François Boissier de Sauvages, and in the specialized literature of the "vapors" produced between the 1750s and 1780s by Joseph Raulin, Pierre Pomme, Edme-Pierre Chauvot de Beauchêne, and others. Three problems will be emphasized: l) the status of hysteria as somatic or psychodynamic in origin, and the variety of etiologies proposed within these broad domains of explanation 2) the place of hysteria as a nosological category in relation to closely-allied conditions such as hypochondria, melancholia, and, especially, the "vapors" that dominated medical discussion in the late Enlightenment and 3) the "gendering" of hysteria in works produced in the 1780s, especially Beauchêne's De l'influence des affections de l'âme dans les maladies nerveuses des femmes. The paper will stress the complexity of the discourse of hysteria in Enlightenment France while arguing that the late eighteenth century witnessed a general trend away from somatic explanation and toward holistic, psychosomatic explanations that depended heavily on emergent conceptions of strictly delimited gender roles. Thus it will be argued that the gendering of hysteria in the late Enlightenment emerged from a larger physiological and medical discourse that purportedly grounded pathological categories in a new understanding of the physico-moral constitution of the sexes.

Jack Wilson Washington & Lee University
U.S Patents on Organisms Prior to Diamond v. Chakrabarty

This paper explores the history of the interaction between intellectual property law and biology in the United States prior to the Chakrabarty decision. As is well known, in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that patent statutes should be interpreted so as to include living bacteria within the scope of patent law. Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Chakrabarty case did not represent the first time that patent protection had been extended to an economically important living organism had been patented. Numerous process and product patents had previously been issued for bacteria, viruses, and vaccines. Some higher plants had been protected from unauthorized asexual reproduction through the Plant Patent Act of 1930. The scientific and political factors involved in these patents make an interesting story in their own right and also foreshadow the current debates about intellectual property rights covering genetically modified organisms and genes.

Alison Winter California Institute of Technology
Snails, Leeches, Mediums, and Conductors: The Use of Living Things as Instruments in Mid-Nineteenth Century Europe

The mid nineteenth century saw the proliferation of a number of very different experimental inventions that, despite their differences, shared one striking characteristic: the physiology of a living animal was joined to the working of a mechanical device to create a composite instrumental system. Four examples, falling within a single decade, are the so-called 'snail telegraph', in which snails were claimed to be able to transmit information between Paris and New York the 'tempest prognosticator,' which relied on the responses of leeches to an impending storm the fashionable practices of 'table turning' (the immediate precursor of spiritualism in Europe) in which participants linked hands round a table in the expectation that combined nervous energy would make the table turn and the 'electric baton' of Hector Berlioz, in which the maestro created a telegraphic network linked to metronomes which, in turn, were attached to human 'sou chefs', to allow the varying beat of his baton to be communicated through simultaneously human and electric channels to a vast orchestra. In each of these varying scenarios, the living animal or human being is not only linked to a mechanical device but incorporated within it and the phenomena that link the animate to the inanimate parts of the experiment are thought to involve a simple reflex or the flow of nervous influence between the two entities. In this paper I will explore why these various enterprises developed as they did, and at the time that they did. I will use them to address the nature of experiment, its relation to human action and inter-relations, as the disciplines of modern experimental science came into being.

Audra J. Wolfe University of Pennsylvania
Protecting Turfs (Literally): Negotiating the Meanings of Exobiology at the Dawn of the Space Age

The launch of Sputnik sparked the formation of numerous American scientific advisory boards on the topic of space science. While some of these dealt with technical questions on rocketry, scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, the President's Scientific Advisory Council, and the military threw themselves into a topic generally known as "life science in space." For the public this usually meant one of two things: man-in-space research (bio-astronautics) or the search for extra-terrestrial life (exobiology). The Armed Forces/National Research Council on Bioastronautics and early NASA programs focused nearly exclusively on man-in-space, but Joshua Lederberg and an eager collection of West Coast geneticists, bacteriologists, biochemists, and chemists regarded interplanetary surface and atmospheric contamination as the most critical problem posed by the space program. This was the origin of the science of exobiology, loosely defined as the study of life outside of earth. My paper focuses on the rhetorical framework of exobiology established in these early discussions. Molecular knowledge legitimated exobiology as a "basic" science in opposition to the "applications" of the man-in-space research; simultaneously, containment and the concept of the alien ensured popular and political support for their Space Age science. Other elite biologists--especially those from naturalist evolutionary traditions--challenged the rhetorical devices and narrative strategies used by the exobiologists. Questioning exobiology's legitimacy was a way to restate in Cold War terms the postwar debate on the character of biology as a holistic or reductionistic science. Exobiology could be regarded as either a step towards or a diversion from a positive experimental biology program in space. A careful examination of language used to discuss exobiology's role in the space program will inform our understanding of the relationship between American scientists and the state in the Cold War era.

Andrea I. Woody University of Washington
Brodie's "Calculus": A Chemistry with No Future as Window onto the Past

Reporting on a 1867 lecture to the London Chemical Society, The Chemical News declared Sir Benjamin Brodie's--Calculus of Chemical Operations-- "the chemistry of the future". The irony of the proclamation will be lost on no one familiar with the fast demise of Brodie's calculus. Though never adopted, the system illustrates vividly several issues confronting the chemical sciences in the late nineteenth century, including a self-conscious awareness that decisions made at this point in time would be crucial in determining the chemistry of the future. This talk explores certain interrelated aspects of Brodie's formalism, including 1) its explicit acknowledgement of the role of representation in shaping an intellectual enterprise's conceptual resources, 2) the assumption that such conceptions radically constrain the future development of the enterprise, 3) implicit articulation of the proper role of theory in chemical practice, and 4) the relevance of this issue for both assessing (and interpreting) atomic theory and understanding the value of abstract mathematical structure within science.From a historiographic perspective, Brodie's calculus is intriguing precisely because it was designed to address particular problems recognized by the chemical community yet was clearly infeasible in several important respects. Discussion of the calculus consequently forced to the surface metatheoretical and methodological assumptions which typically remain implicit in the public discourse of the period. For this reason, examination of Brodie's calculus may provide a window onto a landscape of self-conceptions - professional, social, epistemological, and methodological--that typically remains hidden.

Mary K.K. Yearl Yale University
The Time of Bloodletting

Four to ten times in a year, a mediaeval monk could request in chapter permission to be bled. Upon receiving a "bleeding licence," the monk would change into his night shoes and proceed to the infirmary where the cutting of a vein would be the start of a three-day event during which he was excused from monastic services, ate food of a higher quality than usual, and sometimes was even allowed to talk with the other minuti. At the end of the third day, the monk had to return to the chapter-house and beg for forgiveness with his face on the ground...implying that though medically necessary, the time of bloodletting also involved some sin on the part of the participants. What were the sins committed at the time of bloodletting such that minuti often had to do penance upon their return to the community? Was it the possibility that they had entertained impure thoughts? Was their sin that they had been excused from religious services for three days? Could it be the sin of having indulged in those foods--meat especially--that were normally prohibited? In my paper, I shall examine some of the dualities that characterize the time of bloodletting: how it was that this event was deemed medically necessary, while in some sense being emblematic of sin and how, if minuti had sinned, they also symbolized Christ, who (to use an image common at the time) had been phlebotomized on the cross to cure humanity of the sins of the five senses. I shall argue that the time of bloodletting is representative of broader debates about the place of physical medicine in Christianity, and that the compromises reached acknowledged the importance of medicine, while affirming the priority given to the religious life. Bloodletting itself was acknowledged to be a crucial part of maintaining health, but the times to bleed were dictated not by medical authority, but by the avoidance of disruption to monastic life. Thus, bleeding was forbidden not in extreme seasons or when the moon was waxing or even on Egyptian days, but near major feast days, or when where was a fast that could not be broken.

Richard Yeo Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
A Solution to the Multitude of Books: Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia (1728) as "the Best Book in the Universe"

In making the audacious claim referred to in my title, Chambers was able to draw on an earlier intellectual and educational tradition - the Renaissance tradition of commonplaces and the practice of keeping commonplace books. He was also able to put this legacy to work in another context - the debates stimulated by the 1710 copyright Statute. This paper looks at two senses in which Chambers regarded and promoted his Cyclopaedia (2 vols, 1728): 1) as a scientific dictionary that promised to replace other books, condensing knowledge of the arts and sciences into two large folio volumes 2) as a work conceived as having a structure or design, planned by an author. Chambers faced contemporary anxieties about the explosion of books and new scientific discoveries by asserting that knowledge had to be reduced to essentials and collated in an accessible work. In stressing that this could be achieved in an alphabetical dictionary without losing a grasp of the circle of sciences and the integrity of individual subjects, he depended on an analogy with a commonplace book arranged under Heads. At the same time, this analogy reinforced his contention that dictionary makers were absolved of the charge of plagiarism because they collected knowledge from a range of sources as a public service. Moreover, by affirming that his work betrayed scholarly abridgement and conceptual design - again with allusions to the commonplace tradition - he defended it as one worthy of a copyright in a period in which the meaning of intellectual property was being fiercely contested.

Christian C, Young Mount Angel Seminary
American Wildlife Organizations in the Progressive Era

The emergence of concern for wildlife protection around the turn of the twentieth century corresponded with a growing insistence on scientific expertise. As a consequence, subsequent generations of biologists, game managers, and historians have generally considered wildlife protection a part of the Progressive Era nature conservation movement. While the connection between wildlife protection and American conservation may be undeniable, the standard interpretation of conservation as a Progressive Era movement deserves further examination given the relationship between scientific expertise and wildlife protection. In this paper, I examine that relationship, looking specifically at the way American wildlife organizations used Progressive Era rhetoric about science to promote greater participation for scientists in wildlife protection and policymaking. Scientists themselves often found themselves in the uncomfortable role of expert without any particular expertise. Rather than withdraw, however, scientists adopted an approach that has persisted in conservation and environmental controversies: they issued demands for further study. This served the dual purpose of justifying their initial involvement and ensuring their continued authority in debates over wildlife protection, even if they were not certain how scientific knowledge might contribute expertise. I will use a number of brief cases to illustrate this trend and suggest its centrality more generally in the notion of scientific expertise in conservation during the Progressive Era.

Suzanne Zeller Wilfrid Laurier University
Elective Affinities: National Identity and Early Timber Researches at McGill University, 1894-1910

During the 1890s, McGill University became a centre for pioneering researches in forest sciences. An outgrowth in North America of tension between modern industry's voracious appetite for natural resources and a nascent public awareness of ecology and the need for conservation, forest sciences embraced a broad spectrum of subfields intertwining physics, chemistry, engineering, and biology. As they were practised at McGill, forest sciences invited cooperation primarily between faculty members from the Departments of Applied Science and Botany. Responses to their published work generated cross-border discussions with colleagues at American institutions, engaging national identities both directly and indirectly in complex permutations and combinations from at least 4 different perspectives: a British "empirical" engineering tradition in timber testing transplanted by McGill's dean of applied science, H.T. Bovey (1852-1912) a European "theoretical" tradition in timber physics extolled by Bovey's nemesis, B.E. Fernow (1851-1923), the Prussian-trained chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry a "progressive" evolutionary tradition in plant phylogeny extended by McGill's American-born and -trained professor of botany, D.P. Penhallow (1854-1910) and a "reductionist" evolutionary revisionism introduced by Penhallow's mirror image, E.C. Jeffrey (1866-1952), Harvard University's Canadian-born and -trained plant morphologist. In shifting patterns reminiscent of Goethe's Elective Affinities, the resulting exchanges and interchanges among representatives of these various perspectives highlight the historical relationship between science and nation as highly utilitarian, and contingent upon the broader context of its time.

Leila Zenderland California State University, Fullerton
Of Mice, Men, and Mercy Killing: Steinbeck's Novel and the Euthanasia Debate

John Steinbeck's 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men, tells a tale of two murders. In the first, a mentally retarded farmhand named Lennie, a child-like man who likes to pet soft objects, accidentally strangles a woman. In the second, this man's closest friend and protector, George, trying to spare Lennie from a lynch mob, shoots him in the back of the head--a murder committed out of love, the story suggests, a mercy killing. An immediate bestseller, by 1939 this story had also been transformed into an acclaimed Broadway play and a successful Hollywood film. In the following years, it has remained immensely popular more than six decades later, this novel is one of the most frequently taught literary texts in American high schools. This paper will reconsider Steinbeck's popular story in light of several scientific, social, and political controversies of the 1930s. In particular, it will focus on the ways that the fictional murders committed by Lennie and George raised questions about three broad concerns that had increasingly captured the attention of both psychological scientists and the general public: the meaning of mental retardation, the nature of criminal responsibility, and the morality of mercy killing. This paper will explore the complex interconnections between psychological theories and popular beliefs by reexamining this influential work of fiction produced by John Steinbeck, a naturalist novelist whose writing simultaneously reflected scientific curiosity and contemporary political concerns. It will also analyze this story's messages within the more specific context of the 1930s euthanasia debate--a debate that increasingly came to link ideas about mental retardation with the question of mercy killing.

Yaakov Zik University of Haifa, Israel
Beyond the Naked Eye

Historians of science commonly describe Kepler as the father of modern geometrical optics. Kepler clarified the foundation of optics and solved a series of problems that had confounded his predecessors: the problem of vision, the camera obscura and the geometrical theory of the telescope. Kepler's books on optics, Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena (1604), which is solidly based upon a medieval foundation and Dioptrice (1611) which is considered to be the first treatise in modern geometrical optics, are the mile stones of his optical work. However, careful analysis of related texts and events, will clearly show that something in the above description is missing. In 1604, while Kepler was working on the Paralipomena, he disparaged the telescope most vigorously. The first time Kepler understood the potential of this instrument as a scientific device was after he had read about Galileo's discoveries, published in the Sidereus Nuncius (March 1610). Kepler wrote the Conversation with Galileo's Sidereal Messenger (an answer to the Sidereus Nuncius) in April 1610 and from the way he described the construction of the telescope, it was clear that he had not understood the importance of the focal length ratio and how the magnification was determined. By the end of August 1610 he got a telescope, made by Galileo, with which he was able to see Jupiter and its satellites. In late September 1610 Kepler completed his Dioptrice (which was published in the beginning of 1611). The chronological course of events strongly suggests that Kepler's reading of Sidereus Nuncius was not enough for him to understand the optical principles of the telescope. Only after examining and employing a telescope made by Galileo, was Kepler able to exploit the technical details and to learn how it works. It appears that the whole story deserves a re-examination. On the one hand it seems that Galileo must have known something about the science of optics and that we have underestimated his knowledge at our peril. On the other hand Kepler needed the knowledge that Galileo had attained, as reflected by his inability to construct the telescope, much more than what historians of sciences have been willing to accept. In this paper I shall argue that there are more key figures in this story and that its various aspects have not been properly appreciated up to this very day. Moreover, most of the theoretical aspects regarding the phenomena of light, vision, and lens properties necessary for the construction of the telescope (with the exception of the law of refraction which is in any event not essential to our case), had been at hand even before the time when Kepler addressed himself seriously to optics. I shall claim that over and above the actual building of the telescope it was Galileo who put all the theoretical pieces together. In my paper, I shall present a few aspects of the claim that in Galileo one finds a fusion of practical and theoretical knowledge which is crucial for the construction of an instrument that is also a bearer of theory.

19 July 2001 | Contact HSS | Contact the Web Editor | Return Home
© 1995-2001 by the History of Science Society, All Rights Reserved

We've Moved! This site is no longer updated.

Please use our new site at