JAS-Bio 2021

The Joint Atlantic Seminar in the History of Biology holds its delayed 55th meeting on April 9-11, 2021.  Founded in 1965, the Joint Atlantic Seminar provides a welcoming forum for new scholars to present original scholarly research to their peers and faculty.  
 
The remote format involves recorded power-point presentations of no more than 20 minutes each, which must be uploaded to the designated CHSTM site by March 31. During the actual seminar participants will respond to live questions from the assembled group.   
 
PROGRAM
 
Friday April 9
4:00-5:00 pm
Welcome, Susan Lindee
Joanna Radin: Memories of the Future of the History of Biology

 
5:00-5:30 pm
Opening Breakout
Optional breakout groups will be open during this time for catching up.
You can move freely from room to room to socialize.

 
Session 1: 5:30-6:30 pm
Session Chair: Janet Browne
 
Liv Grjebine, Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Science, Harvard University. livgrjebine@fas.harvard.edu
The Debate on Darwinism in the French popular press, 1859-1900
 
Henry-James Meiring, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, The University of Queensland, h.meiring@uqconnect.edu.au
Mimicking a Darwinian: The Curious Case of William Boyd Dawkins
 
Daniel Halverson, University of Toronto, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. daniel.halverson@mail.utoronto.ca.
“Always Reprehensible and Dangerous to the Fair Fame of Biological Science”: Biologists in the United States reject Ernst Haeckel’s Evolutionary Monism, 1874-1924
 
Auguste Nahas, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto auguste.nahas@mail.utoronto.ca
Cui Bono? The Continental Critique of Teleonomy and its Relevance Today
 
6:30-7:30 Social Hour Zoom Breakout Groups
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 1) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize or talk about the session
 
 
Saturday April 10
 
Session 2 9:00-9:45 am
Session Chair: Robin Scheffler
 
Itamar Avneri, History of Science Department, Harvard University; and Graduate Program in Science, Technology & Society, Bar-Ilan University, Israel. itamar_avneri@fas.harvard.edu
Reinventing Nature or Preserving It? Or Maybe Both? Uncovering the Roots of De-Extinction in Conservation Biology
 
Jonathan Galka, History of Science, Harvard University jgalka@g.harvard.edu
Mussels, Modernity, and the Mobilization of Invertebrate Sensation
 
Oliver Lucier. History of Science and Medicine, Yale University.  oliver.lucier@yale.edu
The Construction of a Normative Climate: Caribbean Commodities and Holdridge Life Zones 1940-1970
 
9:45-10:30 BREAK
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 2) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize or talk about the session.  
 
Session 3 10:30-11:30 am  
Session Chair:  Sharon Kingsland
 
Ryan Hearty, History of Science and Technology, Johns Hopkins University.  rhearty1@jhu.edu
Visualizing pollution: Graphic representations of how pollution affects biological diversity, 1945-1960
 
Caitlin Kossmann, History of Science and Medicine, Yale University caitlin.kossmann@yale.edu
Poiesis and Poetics: Self-Fashioning in Gaia and the Anthropocene
 
Gina Surita History of Science, Princeton University. gsurita@princeton.edu
From Cancer to Carbohydrates: Metabolic Cycles, Collaboration, and Experimentation in 1920s Biochemical Physiology
 
 
David J. Robertson, History of Science, Princeton University davidjr@princeton.edu
Thinking in Herds: Veterinarians, Epidemiologists, and the Question of Immune Populations
 
11:30-1:00 LUNCH BREAK
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 3) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize, eat lunch, or talk about the session.  
 
 
Session 4 1:00-2:00 pm  
Session Chair: Betty Smocovitis
 
Brigid Prial, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
An Ape Psychologist? Sarah the Chimpanzee and ‘Theory of Mind’ Experiments
 
Alexander Clayton, Department of History, University of Michigan aclayt@umich.edu
“The Philosophic Bacon:” Learned Pigs and the Demi-Rational Nonhuman in Late-Eighteenth Century London
 
Paige Madison, Postdoctoral Fellow, Natural History Museum Denmark & University of Copenhagen. paige.madison@snm.ku.dk
A Fantastic Specimen: Debating Hobbit Bones
 
Brooke Penaloza-Patzak, FWF Erwin Schrödinger Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Department of History and Sociology of Science.  cbpp@sas.upenn.edu
Ancient Migration and Biogeographic Speculation during the Dawn of Modern Genetics: The Jesup Expedition, 1897-1902
 
2:00-2:30 BREAK
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 4) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize or talk about the session.  
 
Session 5: 2:30-3:15 pm  
Session Chair: Henry Cowles
 
Katherine Contess Modern Culture & Media, Brown University. katherine_contess@brown.edu
‘Fatigue Has Its Uses’: Recovering Subjectivity’s Knowledge-Making Potential at the Harvard Fatigue Lab
 
Sam Schirvar, Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
Seeing Stress: Measurements of Mental Workload in the 1970s
 
Matthew Soleiman, Science Studies Program and Department of History UC San Diego
Mechanisms of Experience: Ronald Melzack, Patrick Wall, and the Gate Control Theory of Pain
 
3;15-3:45 BREAK
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 5) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize or talk about the session.  
 
Session 6: 3:45-4:45 pm
Session Chair: Sebastian Gil-Riano
 
Udodiri R. Okwandu, History of Science, Harvard University udodiriokwandu.com, udodiriokwandu@g.harvard.edu
Violence and the (Black) Brain: Law and Order Politics and Biomedicalization of Urban Rioting, 1960 - 1975
 
Nayanika Ghosh Dept. of the History of Science, Harvard University nag123@g.harvard.edu
Synthesizing Sexual Selection into Mainstream Evolutionary Theory: On the Historiographical Significance of Sociobiology versus Academic Feminism in the History of Biology
 
Vincent F. Auffrey, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (IHPST) University of Toronto, vincent.auffrey@mail.utoronto.ca
“Pour l’amélioration de la race humaine”: The Reception of Eugenics in Québec Newspapers, 1912-1921
 
Iris Clever Postdoctoral Fellow, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago clever@uchicago.edu
Geoffrey Morant, Race, and Antiracism in Twentieth-Century Physical Anthropology
 
4:45-5:00 Breakouts
Breakout Sessions will be open
We recommend that for the first 15 minutes of each breakout after a session, all of those in the immediately preceding session (here Session 6) join Breakout Group 1.  Anyone interested in talking with them further can meet them there.  There will be 11 optional Breakout Groups.  All can move freely from room to room to socialize or talk about the session.  
 
5:00-5:45
Marsha Richmond: Journal of the History of Biology
Adrianna Link: Barzun Fellowship, American Philosophical Society  
 
Toasts, thanks, and goodbyes! Wishing we could have a lovely dinner in Philly somewhere.  Maybe next year…

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There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.


Past Meetings

  • April 10, 2021

    Iris Clever Postdoctoral Fellow, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago clever@uchicago.edu
     
    Geoffrey Morant, Race, and Antiracism in Twentieth-Century Physical Anthropology

    This paper discusses newly uncovered archival material and introduces anthropological incentives that have remained largely unexplored in the historical literature on racial science: biometrics or “Pearsonian anthropology.” In the early 20th century, British statistician Karl Pearson and other biometricians analyzed skull measurements with new statistical methods in order to unravel racial relationships. In the 1930s and 1940s, Geoffrey Morant, the expert on biometry and race in Pearson’s Biometric Lab in London, began to mobilize biometry to criticize and debunk Nazi Aryan racial theory. He informed the public about the fallacies of Nazi theories of race in a short publication titled The Races of Central Europe: A Footnote to History (1939). With this book, he joined a small group of scientists that publicly spoke out against Nazi scientific racism. But unlike antiracism campaigners such as Ashley Montagu, with whom Morant actively corresponded, Morant did not dismiss the biological reality of race in his fight against racism. Thus, the paper historicizes the manifold ways in which race and antiracism manifested itself around World War II and shows that the coexistence of antiracist and racializing practices was not paradoxical but an important feature of the anthropological study of human variation in the twentieth century.

  • April 10, 2021

    Vincent F. Auffrey, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (IHPST) University of Toronto, vincent.auffrey@mail.utoronto.ca
     
    “Pour l’amélioration de la race humaine”: The Reception of Eugenics in Québec Newspapers, 1912-1921

    In September 1912, French-Canadian gynecologist Albert Laurendeau made an energetic plea in the radical Montréal-based newspaper Le Pays in defense of what he called “l’eugénique.” This was the first time the newly translated term “eugenics” was used in French-speaking Canada. Interest in the topic was initially aroused when news of the First International Eugenics Congress – held in London between July 24 and 29 – reached Montréal in the summer of 1912. While Laurendeau soon abandoned his public endorsement of eugenics due to conflict with the Catholic Church, Le Pays kept publishing until the early 1920s. Its promotion of eugenics sparked intense debate with the ultramontane Catholic press in Québec City. My research sheds light on the importation and reception of eugenics in Québec by examining French-Canadian newspapers published between 1912 and 1921. If historiography on eugenics in Canada depicts French Canadians as apathetic or hostile towards eugenics due to their religious convictions or presumed scientific backwardness, this paper emphasizes the internal struggle that pitted French-Canadian eugenicists against their ideological opponents. It expands on existing historiography by illustrating why this first wave of French-Canadian eugenicists was not more successful at propagating their views in French-speaking Québec.

  • April 10, 2021

    Nayanika Ghosh Dept. of the History of Science, Harvard University nag123@g.harvard.edu
     
    Synthesizing Sexual Selection into Mainstream Evolutionary Theory: On the Historiographical Significance of Sociobiology versus Academic Feminism in the History of Biology

    The late 1970s-early 1980s conflict between sociobiologists and women-and-feminist scholars over the logics of sexual selection in the US academe is emphasized in the feminist philosophy of science and feminist science studies. I however, argue for its place in the history of biology by proposing that it is just as crucial as the conflict between naturalists and geneticists during the Modern Synthesis.  While female choice did not eclipse from evolutionary theory during the Synthesis, sexual selection did not undergo the processes of collective scrutiny that elevated the factual status of evolution by natural selection in the 1930s and 1940s. Approximately 30 years later, during the rise of sociobiology or the “New Synthesis” (as coined by EO Wilson in 1975), sexual selection increasingly became a lens through which (predominantly white) organismic biologists constructed human evolutionary histories. Visible scrutiny by collectives of (predominantly white, middle-class) feminist scientists and scholars of Trivers’ theory of differential parental investment and the usage of nonhuman primate data to make naturalized claims about human gender roles, is typically viewed as an opposition to the politics of a biologically-determinist research program. While this conflict did not end in a solidifying of the epistemological credentials of sexual selection, treating this opposition as a significant epistemic conflict akin to the naturalist-geneticist conflict, I argue, helps in further theorizing a place for sexual selection—and its race, gender, and class politics—in the history of biology.

  • April 10, 2021

    Udodiri R. Okwandu, History of Science, Harvard University udodiriokwandu.com, udodiriokwandu@g.harvard.edu
     
    Violence and the (Black) Brain: Law and Order Politics and Biomedicalization of Urban Rioting, 1960 - 1975

    In 1967, Harvard neurosurgeons Vernon Mark and William Sweet and psychiatrist Frank Ervin suggested that the cause of urban rioting and violence in African American communities was due to neurological dysfunction. In suggesting psychosurgery as a form of treatment and prevention, their work represented an attempt to apply a biomedical framework to a social problem. The primary questions of this thesis are as follows: (1) Why would urban violence and rioting in African American communities become a concern for scientists at this particular historical moment? and (2) How did the sociopolitical context in the United States influence the reception and perceived credibility of Mark, Ervin, and Sweet’s claims? In this paper, I will argue that the recategorization of African American protest methods as senseless violence in conjunction with the prevalence of law and order political ideology facilitated the conception of their work and its subsequent reception by political bodies. Consequently, Mark, Ervin, and Sweet’s claims contributed to the depoliticization of African American protest methods. In addition, I will examine how arguments that their work was inherently racialized and could be utilized to suppress political dissent contributed to the dissociation of their work from urban rioting.

  • April 10, 2021

    Matthew Soleiman, Science Studies Program and Department of History UC San Diego
     
    Mechanisms of Experience: Ronald Melzack, Patrick Wall, and the Gate Control Theory of Pain

    In 1965, the psychologist Ronald Melzack and the physiologist Patrick Wall challenged long-standing notions of what it meant to feel pain. Deep within the spine, the duo argued, nerve cells integrated signals ascending from the periphery as well as those descending from the brain. Pain, then, was not simply the psychological consequence of an injury. It was an experience that was also shaped, if not sometimes determined, by memory, emotion, and attention. Collapsing the Cartesian dualism of mind and body, “gate control theory” reconceived pain as a dynamic state of the entire organism. By the late 1970s, Melzack and Wall’s theory had gained wide acceptance within and beyond the neurosciences, acting as a catalyst in the development of “pain science” and in the spread of multidisciplinary approaches to the treatment of chronic pain. In this paper, I trace the genealogy of this shift in the mind and brain sciences by disentangling the historical conditions that made such a model of the nervous system thinkable. For Melzack and Wall, observations made in the clinic, not the laboratory, represented the primary explananda for a satisfactory theory of pain. Yet, as I argue, these clinical cases were only privileged and explained in the way that they were because of the “anti-reductionist” approaches of cognitivism and cybernetics that emerged, and often came to overlap, in the postwar era.

  • April 10, 2021

    Sam Schirvar, Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

    Seeing Stress: Measurements of Mental Workload in the 1970s
     
    In the 1970s, human factors and ergonomics specialists in the United States and Western Europe addressed the failure of technological systems like air transport and nuclear energy by calling attention to the human operator as a risky component. This paper explores a 1977 conference sponsored by the NATO Human Factors Panel to understand how psychologists, engineers, and mathematicians attempted to build consensus around the measurement of “mental workload.” To measure mental workload, specialists tracked hand tremors, eye movements, adrenaline levels, and other physiological processes. However, human factors specialists found it difficult to correlate their litany of bodily recordings with the workers’ self-reporting of stress and fatigue. Through a closer look at workplace experiments with air traffic controllers, this paper demonstrates how, despite their epistemological discomfort with “subjective” reports, these researchers relied on them to calibrate their “objective” measurements. Furthermore, this paper shows how concerns with “stressful” work in the late twentieth century mobilized different claims to expertise. While some workers and their representatives depicted work stress as an occupational health issue causing harm to workers, these specialists aimed to measure “mental workload” as a mechanical system component to mitigate system-wide risk. At the same time, human factors researchers’ dependence on the workers’ knowledge encouraged them to think about the political dimensions of their measurements.

  • April 10, 2021

    Katherine Contess Modern Culture & Media, Brown University. katherine_contess@brown.edu

    ‘Fatigue Has Its Uses’: Recovering Subjectivity’s Knowledge-Making Potential at the Harvard Fatigue Lab

    In 1943, William H. Forbes, acting director of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory (1927-1947), wrote about the difficulty of studying fatigue because of “the general tendency to speak of fatigue as an entity, without considering the many kinds of fatigue which are observed, each of which may have a different cause and different symptoms”1.  He advocated for the separation of fatigue into three categories: physical fatigue, mental fatigue, and nervous fatigue.  I argue that the second and third categories were excluded from the purview of the lab because it could not conceive of ways to quantitatively measure these conditions. Thus, the lab’s qualitative understanding of what fatigue is was highly limited by its understanding of what could be quantitatively measured in terms of physiological and biochemical markers. Yet, despite outwardly dismissing qualitative, subjective data as unreliable and inferior, it was through the comparison of subjective bodily experience and objective data that Fatigue Lab researchers began to understand the body in a numerical way.  Because “subjects, though undoubtedly tired, showed on the whole such slight objective changes,” researchers used their subjective data to tease out the objective markers of physical fatigue2.  The lab operationalized subjectivity, finding ways to use it for the triangulation of objective measurements of the body.  At the level of method and epistemology, the translation process between subjective and objective ways of knowing became an important mode of producing the “truth” of the body.

  • April 10, 2021

    Brooke Penaloza-Patzak, FWF Erwin Schrödinger Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Department of History and Sociology of Science.  cbpp@sas.upenn.edu
     
    Ancient Migration and Biogeographic Speculation during the Dawn of Modern Genetics: The Jesup Expedition, 1897-1902

    In 1897, a multidisciplinary group of researchers set out under the direction of German-born US anthropologist Franz Boas to settle an age-old question: Were the Americas indeed populated by human migrations across the Bering Strait? Their five-year survey, known as the Jesup expedition, remains a subject of sustained interest for anthropologists, who consider it a critical juncture in the shift of analysis from individual cultures toward thinking about cultural interaction on broader biogeographic and deeper historical scales. Within Boas’s milieu, however, there was a long tradition of drawing an analogy between geographic regions and multicellular organisms—what we call ecosystems—and of regarding human culture as a constitutive element thereof. Both impulses lead back to the work of Rudolf Virchow and Adolf Bastian, who moreover began speculating about the singular significance of the Bering Strait region for understanding the prehistory of the Americas as early as the 1860s. The Jesup Expedition, its impetus and design as much as the specimen collection and analysis methods employed by the expedition team, demonstrates that there is still much to uncover about the interwoven nature of the biological and human sciences, even during the very era in which modern genetics was prompting their divarication.

  • April 10, 2021

    Paige Madison, Postdoctoral Fellow, Natural History Museum Denmark & University of Copenhagen. paige.madison@snm.ku.dk
     
    A Fantastic Specimen: Debating Hobbit Bones

    In September of 2003, a team of archaeologists discovered a hobbit. At least, “hobbit” is the playful nickname they assigned to the surprisingly small skull and skeleton unearthed in an Indonesian cave. While the international team declared the find an exciting new species of extinct human relative, critics dismissed it as a diseased human. The specimen was—as one researcher remarked—fantastic, though in different senses of the word depending on the interpreter. For some it was the most significant discovery of a lifetime; for others it was as fanciful as Middle Earth, evidence that the science of human origins had lost its way. This paper examines the hobbit controversy, asking: how did the bones inform such drastically different interpretations? Drawing from archival documents in Indonesia, I trace the bones’ journey from the ground to the center of biological anthropology, arguing that their position as “boundary objects,” situated between cultural and disciplinary spheres, fueled debates by perpetuating inconsistencies in scientific practice and knowledge foundations. By reconfiguring historical narratives of science dominated by European actors, I provide a new lens through which to view the hobbit controversy and generate a clearer picture of knowledge production in a cross-cultural setting.

  • April 10, 2021

    Alexander Clayton, Department of History, University of Michigan aclayt@umich.edu
     
    “The Philosophic Bacon:” Learned Pigs and the Demi-Rational Nonhuman in Late-Eighteenth Century London

    This paper examines how performances of animal intelligence—rooted in illusion and satire—came to redefine understandings of the animal mind, the natural order, and human-animal relations in late-eighteenth century London. It shows how a menagerie of learned pigs, scientific elephants, and military monkeys both sustained and challenged taxonomies of reason at the end of the enlightenment. By spelling words, dressing fashionably, and solving puzzles, animals toyed with the exclusivity of human subjective experience. Far more than Cartesian machines, they became the flag-bearers of the “demi-rational.” Animals were remade as politicians, musicians, and academics, blurring the boundary between nonhuman cunning and human creativity. From Samuel Johnson and Roberts Burns to Erasmus Darwin and William Martyn, writers and men of science examined the acts as proxies for the power and limits of human reason. In doing so, performances not only blurred the line between human and nonhuman, but helped move it altogether.

Group Conveners

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  • mlindee's picture

    M. Susan Lindee

    Susan Lindee is Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Her work explores historical and contemporary questions raised by genetics, nuclear weapons and radiation risk. Her books include Suffering Made Real, The DNA Mystique, and Moments of Truth in Genetic Medicine.

     

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