The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place every Monday of the quarter from 4:00p-5:30p in Room 3027, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, Muir College campus, unless noted otherwise.
A reception for the colloquium speaker takes place before the talk from 3:30p-4:00p in Room 3005, Humanities & Social Sciences Building.
SSP faculty and students only
What can we gain by integrating the histories of Jews and science? What could such a synthesis teach us about science, Jews, or modernity? This talk will address these questions by focusing on the famed Judenfrage (the Jewish question), which asked, to borrow Marx’ terms, why was the political emancipation of the Jews not followed by their social integration and human emancipation? The question was quintessentially modern. It could not have been posed the same way in an earlier epoch that organized itself by faith and birth. And as a modern question, it had to be answered scientifically. The history of the Jewish question may provide us, then, with a useful lens to ponder the intimate relations between Jews and science in the modern era.
When we speak of the history of “biology,” most historians actually refer to the history of investigations on animals. History of the plant sciences is not only less cultivated by historians of science but also not very well integrated into a larger picture. Why is this? Under what circumstances does it make sense to talk about a history of biology that actually treats scientific investigations of animals and plants together? In this talk, I approach these questions through the problem of the alternation of generations in the mid-nineteenth century. This problem, which concerned the nature of complex life-cycles involving both sexual and asexual reproduction, engaged both botanists and zoologists beginning in the 1840s. But the histories written about it make no mention of the plentiful cross-talk about animals and plants appearing in the primary literature. My talk seeks to explain why, in relation to the larger historiographic fractures in the history of biology.
Battle conditions on the Western Front during World War I highlighted the existence of a series of whole-body threats to the human organism that transcended the dangers of immediate injury and the focus on antiseptics that dominated medical attention during the first year of the war. Shallow breathing, exhaustion, soldier's heart and wound shock became important motivators for a reconceptualization of the human body, and British and American physiologists paid close attention to the forms of bodily integration and collapse that they indicated. This lecture focuses on wound shock, an at first baffling condition that saw soldiers with apparently minor injuries undergo often fatal forms of collapse several hours after the injury and often while under surgical care. It examines the Anglo-American response which involved some of the most celebrated and influential physiologists and medical thinkers of the period, including Walter B. Cannon, William M. Bayliss, and Henry Dale, and it inquires as to the ways in which shock influenced homeostatic theory, the understanding of anaphylaxis, and the place of the invisible wound in the emergence of shell shock.
During World War II, the Allies created a propaganda campaign that used ‘luscious pin-up girls’ and anthropomorphized mosquitoes to convince soldiers to practice malaria discipline and limit their exposure to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. That mosquitoes were purposefully working to defeat Allied soldiers alongside the Axis countries or that mosquitoes were an additional enemy that were even more dangerous than Japanese or German soldiers were common tropes in this campaign. Posters, informational pamphlets, and calendars used caricatures of mosquitoes, such as those created by Dr. Seuss, along with attractive, scantily-clad women to portray mosquitoes as an organized fighting force, interested in claiming territory and defeating their enemy by transmitting malaria to unsuspecting or undisciplined Allied troops. This construction of malaria mosquitos as a spatially-situated enemy who was actively trying to increase its territorial holdings was also both reflected in and created through the military’s mapping of the location and size of mosquito populations as well as by the methods deployed to control those populations.
This talk will use archival maps, images, and documents to trace the genealogy of malaria, showing the central importance of these material geographies in the relationship between landscapes, humans, and mosquitoes and strategies for malaria control.
This talk uses the Saxon alchemist Anna Zieglerin (c. 1545-1575) to explore the ways in which Christianity served as a resource for alchemy in early modern Europe. While alchemists had long envisioned the philosophers’ stone as Christ, achieving its redemptive power only through a creative process that resembled the passion, Zieglerin focused instead on the Virgin Mary, likening the alchemist’s exceptional generative powers – working at once within and beyond nature – to Mary’s own motherhood. This connection allowed Zieglerin not only to posit a new role for the alchemist in sacred time, as someone who could help restore the world during the Last Days, but also to underscore the importance of the alchemist’s own body in fully realizing the art’s potential.
The poorly compensated and willfully invisible infrastructural work of repair and resurrection performed in India’s poorly understood waste processing hubs underwrite the urban economy’s conditions of production. Such hubs are toxic sinks, where the waste generated as part and parcel of a growing capitalist space-economy is reprocessed and repurposed by workers and petty entrepreneurs numbering in the thousands, often drawn from historically stigmatized social groups. Even as they perform the double function of supplying recycled raw materials for capital accumulation while inoculating cities from the injurious effects of their own detritus, the people whose livelihoods are connected to these places are continuously abjected by the establishment, which views them with anxiety and loathing, as a nuisance, even danger, to the proper order of things. The waste infra-economy, in this respect, exemplifies the subaltern geographies of ur ban India.
SSP faculty and students only
It is normally assumed that the concept of error (and related ones such as failure, pathology, and interruption) is a negative one, definable only in terms of an ideal of truth. In the era of digital technologies, error is something to be corrected. Yet philosophically speaking, error is not just parastiic on a truth that measures it. From Descartes to Heidegger, error names a fundamental condition of the human mind, its propensity to stray, as the etymology of error implies. In this context, the error is in fact a way toward truth, for the mind is always searching, exploring, even when straying. What would it mean to think the history of computerization and the truth of the digital from the perspective of error and failure, rather than truth and success? Surprisingly, at key moments in the development of digital technology the concept of error was in fact central to the project of simulating human minds and brains with computers.
Failing to See the Invisible
This presentation examines how we have come to know what we know about radiation health effects following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like non-contaminated ones, and radiation caused no immediately observable bodily effects.
Similar to many other modern risks, radiation and its effects have to be made publicly visible. I argue that making visible is not a one-way process and describe the production of invisibility of Chernobyl’s consequences - that is, practices and conditions that displace radiation health effects as an object of public attention and scientific research, and make them unobservable. To illustrate the production of invisibility, I describe historical fluctuations in recognition of Chernobyl’s consequences in Belarus. I also consider why the affected populations cannot be assumed to be the most risk-aware. The analysis relies on archival research, as well as interviews with various groups of Chernobyl experts and residents of the affected areas.
Do ocean waves have a history? The question may sound odd: surely waves are simple facts of nature, matters of the substance of the sea. Waves may have diverse manifestations in marine and maritime lore, a variety of effects on economic and political enterprise, and a range of meanings for fishers, surfers, and swimmers. But as formal and material entities, the standard view might say, they are best known by a science arriving at ever-improving models of oscillation, undulation, and movement. Historians of oceanography have complicated such a view, documenting the changing systems through which scientists and seafarers have known waves. This presentation will go further, looking toward a future in which waves are not only known differently (though new kinds of computer modeling, for example) but also become differently composed material phenomena than once they were. Today's wave scientists and modelers are predicting that climate change may not only transform the global distribution of significant wave heights, but also may also (though the claim is controversial) amplify the frequency of rogue or freak waves, changing the world's wavescape in novel ways. This presentation will deliver a history of ocean wave modeling in order to anchor an ethnographic report on how scientists think about whether waves (canonically imagined as not evolving, not decaying, but repeating, periodic — cyclical avatars of the ceaseless sea) may be transforming in synchrony with the political, economic, and social scene of the Anthropocene.
SSP faculty and students only