Welcome to the 2015 HSS Meeting Wiki!Edit

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Find other scholars to organize sessions for the 2015 History of Science Society Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Post your interests and ideas here to find other potential participants!

Instructions: To add your topic to the list, please click on the "edit" icon to the right of the title above (Welcome to the 2015 HSS Meeting Wiki). This will open the editing screen, which will show only this opening section. You will not see the rest of the meeting entries; that's okay. You're going to be splitting this introductory section into two parts, one of which will be your session description, which will appear at the top of the session list.

To create a new session topic, press enter (return) to start a new line after "Happy sharing!" (below). Type your session title and highlight that text. In the toolbar at the top of the editing screen, you'll see a pull-down menu that says something like "Paragraph" or "Sub-heading 2". This controls the size of your text. Select "Heading". Your session title should now be written in large type and underlined with a gray divider-bar. Type your session description below that divider; make sure you type it in "normal text".

You can preview your session description by clicking the gray "Preview" icon in the upper-right corner of the editing screen. Again, this will show only this top section and the new section you have created; you won't see the full meeting list. If you like the way your text looks, close the preview window and click the green "Publish" icon.

N.B. Users of Google Chrome (and perhaps other internet browsers?) will find this preview functionality embedded in the editor, without a Preview icon. Also, the first paragraph of the above instructions do not perfectly apply when using such browser. [Note added by Michiel Thijssen, feel free do delete / edit.]

Happy sharing!

To go to the current meeting (2016) wiki, click here

Diagrammatic Notation Systems Edit

This panel seeks to illuminate visual epistemologies by examining diagrams – what they are and how they work. Diagrams are not merely representations or abstractions of reality (though they can also serve those functions); they can be knowledge-producing entities in their own right. Diagrams have a long history from early Mesoamerican calendars to Feynman diagrams. They have become key tools in analyzing and communicating scientific findings. As Simon and Larkin argue in their seminal article, “Why a Diagram Is (Sometimes) Worth Ten Thousand Words,” diagrams present information in a way that makes possible connections and ideas that would not otherwise be perceived.

In the eighteenth-century Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, for example, processes are analyzed, taken apart, and put on display as starkly separated components on the page to facilitate a new way of thinking about them. Diderot’s rapports reconnect knowledge on a different plane, offering a newly analytical, disembodied sense of the world. Diagrams offer novel approaches to describe the world and attempt to map that world in new ways.

At the crux of this panel discussion is the interface between nature and ourselves. What artifices do we employ to mediate the natural world and our experience of it? How do we come to know the world? How do we explain it? This round table takes diagrams as a way to discuss how the manipulation of spatial relationships, the correlation of unlike parts, and the juxtaposition of disparate and similar elements in graphic notations have led to new ways of thinking. 

We are seeking one additional panelist, preferably working in a twentieth century context, and a commentator. Please contact Tamara Caulkins (, to join this panel. Scholars at all levels are welcome.

Histories of Environmental Impact Assessment Edit

The implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures has transformed science, nature, and societies across the planet over the last half century. The vector for this transformation has been the “environmental impact statement,” a document, prepared by teams of scientists, that incorporates the likely social and/or ecological effects of development into the design stage of major projects. Through public comment periods and review hearings, EIA has also provided citizens with unprecedented access to science and bureaucracy.

Despite the force of these historical changes, historians of science have a thin understanding of EIA. EIA rarely figures into our narratives of 20th century science, environmentalism, science in the federal government, vernacular science, (post)colonialism, or the relations of natural and social sciences. Our proposed panel would explore EIA in a variety of ways to make contributions to these narratives.

We seek one or two panelists to explore EIA in the history of science, from any of the above angles or alternative ones. Our own research considers how EIA processes provided new understandings of nature, development, and governance in the colonial spaces of the Panama Canal and western Arctic over the last third of the 1900s. Papers from graduate students are preferred. Since the due date for panel proposals is April 6, time is of the essence.

Please contact Andrew Stuhl ( or Christine Keiner ( with any questions or interests.

Nothing else matters? – Describing, Classifying and Transforming Natural Substances in Ancient Sciences Edit

Organized by the SFB 980 “Episteme in Bewegung”, Berlin -

Within the Peripatetic school natural substances were classified and conceptualized in a system that bequeathed an enduring legacy. For instance, Aristotle’s theory on the formation of minerals was endorsed by Late Antique Alexandrian commentators and further developed by Arab philosophers, who combined it with the alchemical theory of sulphur and mercury as main constituents of minerals. Theophrastus classified and described hundreds of plants and minerals, and Hellenistic physicians recognized the medical powers of herbs, minerals and animal parts. Galen built his own pharmacology on this rich tradition and his works constituted the cornerstone of Western medicine until the rise of Paracelsianism. Against this general background, the session aims to look beyond this learned tradition, and examine how experts in different fields dealt with natural substances and tried to describe their uses and conceptualize their properties. Taking a comparative approach, different cultures will be investigated, with particular attention to Babylonian, Byzantine, Jewish, and Near Eastern contributions. Cuneiform tablets record early systems of classification of organic and inorganic materials. Hellenistic Jewish or Egyptian alchemists processed a wide set of substances in their efforts to transmute base metals into gold. Fragments of medical knowledge are embedded in the Talmud. We will ask which functions natural substances played in these different discourses and cultural milieus, which common themes may be detected, and their possible intertwinement with the Aristotelian and Galenic learned tradition.

If you are interested in joining this session, please contact Dr. Lennart Lehmhaus ( or Dr. Matteo Martelli (

Early Modern Music and AcousticsEdit

This session focuses on the early modern natural philosophy of music and the emergent science of acoustics. Music is an often overlooked yet fascinating subplot of the Scientific Revolution. Music defined Pythagorean philosophy and formed an integral part of the Scholastic quadrivium. Many of the great minds of the seventeenth centuryKepler, Galileo, Mersenne, Huygens, Hooke, and Newton, among othersaddressed musical problems in some form or another. Alongside physics, optics, and a myriad of other scientific disciplines, acoustics, the science of sound, was also born of the seventeenth century. Concepts of vibration and oscillatory motion (intimately related to both music and acoustics) played key roles in natural philosophers' new understanding of time and motion. Similarly, the new physics directly informed music theory on both a philosophical and practical level. A full understanding of the new physics of the Scientific Revolution requires a coherent treatment of sound, music, and vibration studies in the seventeenth century.

Please contact Adam Fix ( with any questions.

Survival of the Not-so-Fit: Ambiguities of Darwinism Edit

Since Herbert Spencer coined the phrase 'survival of the fittest', Darwinian evolution has been imagined as a motor of adaptation driven by natural selection within clearly defined populations. Developments in contemporary evolutionary biology, which re-focus on co-evolution in multi-species communities and increasingly question the borders between inheritance, metabolism and devlopment, but also a surge of publications during the 2009 centennial which highlight the roles of redundancy and uncertainty in Darwin's vision of life, suggest that it is high time for a re-evaluation of Darwin's thought. Darwin himself was indeed frequently concerned with the evolution of traits which were ambiguous in their adaptive value. For example, the sexual selection of decorative characteristics could render organisms more vulnerable to predators. Camouflage could protect the weak and maladapted, while mimetic resemblances to other, inedible species rendered the appearance of defences as potentially valuable as real ones. For Darwin, evolution did not simply sculpt individual organisms into ever-more efficient, well-adapted forms, but also created symbiotic relationships between organisms which muddled the boundaries between adaptation and maladaptation, the individual and the environment. In addition, the randomness of hereditary variations, the contingency of environmental conditions and the agency of organisms "struggling" for their existence rendered the trajectories of evolution uncertain.

Along these lines, William Abberley (University of Oxford, and Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter, would like to bring together scholars from history, philosophy and literature to explore under-discussed aspects of Darwinism, focusing on the roles of redundancy, caprice and uncertainty in Darwin's vision, and their reflection (or suppression) in cultural responses to evolution, including those of the present day. We have not decided on the format yet, whether discussion panel or formal session, and would be happy to discuss this potential proposal with anyone interested.

International Perspectives on Science PolicyEdit

We have become increasingly aware of how science policy can impact on the doing of science, particularly with regard to emerging and controversial technologies and fields such as stem cell research, genetic modification, and reproductive technologies. This session seeks to explore the history of recent science policies (second half of the 20th century and the 21st century) in a cross-national and comparative context in order to highlight the social, cultural, political, economic, and other norms that underlie such policies, as well as their influences on where and how research is done and by whom. We welcome contributions from any scholars working on topics that fit within this general area, across all scientific fields and disciplines. Please contact Rachel Ankeny ( to discuss your interest and potential fit with this session.

New Publishing Tools and Trends - past and future - for History of Science (working title) Edit

The fact that a large number of the major scholarly history of science & medicine publications (journals, book series, ...) are now edited from within the Netherlands, can be considered 'historic'. Being responsible at BRILL for some of these publications enticed me to submit this proposal for a panel. My aim is to stimulate exchange between editors, authors, publishers and the like of knowledge, practice, experience and latest developments in publishing, getting published - or 'perish', as the expression ( goes. I'd like to elaborate on the Quality in the Age of the Impact Factor symposium ( and focus on how publishing can enhance the quality of history of science scholarship. I also welcome perspectives on publishing/publisher's activities in the past, and possible 'extrapolations' into the future. I herewith broadly call on all scholars* - amongst whom are editors, reviewers, authors - other publishers, policy makers, HSS officials etc. to develop this theme into a panel for HSS 2015.

*worldwide, not only those based in the Netherlands (!)

Michiel Thijssen, Sr Acquisitions Editor, History of Science, BRILL, Leiden, the Netherlands;

Impact of World War I on Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, and Other Sciences (short title: Science and the Great War) Edit

World War II has been called the physicists' war (radar, rockets, fusion bombs) and World War I the chemists' war (yes, poison gases, but also nitrogen fixation, petroleum substitutes, and artificial rubber).  But in fact both wars fundamentally changed all of science.  For astronomers, WWI began with the capture and internment of a German eclipse expedition in the Crimea in August 1914, and ended with the 1919 founding of the International Astronomical Union and the Eddington eclipse expeditions that actually found the bending of light by the sun that the 1914 expedition had gone to look for (at an earlier Einstein level of 1/2 the GR prediction).  Chemists learned to do many things for the first time and others on very large scales for the first time.  Contrary to general belief, the first poison gas was tear gas used by the French in 1914, and the largest factory was eventually at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.  Physicists contributed enormously to range finding for aircraft, submarines, and artillery fire, but also to radio technology, for instance Henri Abraham's astable multivibrator, which allowed accurate measurement of radio frequencies, used by France and GB from 1916 and the US from 1917.  His reward?  He was the founding General Secretary in 1922 of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, confirmed in office at the 1937 General Assembly, the last before WWII, and transported to Auschwitz in December, 1943, where he was probably killed on arrival, at age 75.  Medical sciences learned the enormous importanct of vaccination (typhoid among British troups, with protection factors of 90% or more), how to mass produce anti-microbials, and how to use plastic surgery to render returning, damaged veterans acceptable to society.  Significant scientific deaths during the "War to end all Wars" included Henry Moseley (of atomic number) at Gallipoli and Karl Schwarschild (of the black hole solution) of pemphigus in 1916.  These are a subset of the items I know about at present. Other more established historians of science must know about many others, and I would like to see an HSS round table or session devoted to the topic during the centenary of WWI (and the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, which was surely the most important outcome of WWI).

Virginia Trimble, Prof of Physics & Astronomy, U California Irvine

PS: The gas made in Edgewood was chloropicrine, and it is only now being phased out of use as a pesticide in California.  If there is a lesson from all this, it is that once you have learned to produce deathly chemicals and even more deadly atomic weapons, you cannot unlearn them.  And the same will be true of whatever bio- or cyber-weapons are developed for the next war

The Promises of Science. Historical Perspectives Edit

The nineteenth century saw the explicit diversification of science involving the professionalization and institutionalization of new disciplines, first in the natural sciences and, later, the social sciences. These processes often involved the clash between different pressure groups representing conflicting moral economies, pragmatic and epistemic priorities, ideological agendas, etc. As a matter of fact, the history of any modern scientific discipline can be written as the contingent historical outcome of such dialectical processes; processes in which the category of promise was embedded all throughout. Every new kind of knowledge tried to achieve social, political, economic and philosophical legitimacy by promising a better future world: new or better manufacturing technologies, cures to so-far mortal illnesses, or improved social organization in the modern nation-state, just to mention a few.

This session will explore the ways the category of "promise" can help us understand the history of science and, with it, contemporary ideas on what science is or is perceived to be. It will include contributions by historians of science committed to explore the notion of "promise" as a historiographical tool in the history of science. The papers will be circumscribed to case-studies from the last two hundred years. The most obvious way in which historians could, and have actually paid attention to the notion of "promise" is by discussing the rhetoric used by certain practitioners of science in the past, a rhetoric that involved highly inflated expectations on the future benefits of new discoveries and research avenues. From radioactivity in the early twentieth century to recent stem cell research, from phrenology to DDT, there is no shortage of episodes in which the legitimacy of new scientific disciplines, theories and products was based on the promise of practical future outcomes. These examples need not be of a negative character since many of our current technologies may well be the outcome of specifically oriented projects in both the natural and the social sciences. But even when this happens, these instances are more often than not turned into samples to justify the argument that science is always progressive and always providing improved knowledge or commodities.

Jaume Navarro, Ikerbasque Research Professor, University of the Basque Country, Spain:

Human diversity and scientific classification in the 18th century Edit

Possible roundtable session:

With witness accounts and travelogues reporting on a plethora of new sensuous and visual experiences, such as sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and customs, along with divergent human fashions, life-styles, and facial features, the colonialist 18th century, saw an increased interest in “ethnicity” and variation of people. In the European scientific community, this translated into an interest in definitions and classifications of groups of people, real or imagined, new or old and the relations between them.

This session tries to bring together scholars interested in the attempts of 18th century naturalists, intellectuals and commentators to understand, define, and categorize “findings” in human variety. Focusing on 18th century names, from the late 17th century Francois Bernier to the late 18th century Immanuel Kant, the session aims to explore the boundary work done before the surge in race science in the early 19th century, inspired by Blumenbach’s monumental work. Possible names include but are not limited to: Richard Bradley, James Burnett (Lord Monboddo,) Montesquieu, Herder, Henry Home, (Lord Kames,) Buffon, Linnaeus, and Petrus Camper.

=== The session can address but is not limited to questions such as: === What were the responses of the scientific community to the diversity of people? How did travelogues, foreign reports, mounting “evidence” of anatomical collections, etc influence the classifications and understandings of non-European people?

In the establishment of new categories, how were new marks identified, recognized and how did they relate to old ones? How were boundary lines drawn between the same, the similar, and the different? What perils and benefits were perceived between strategies of “lumping” (high degree of generalization) and “splitting” (high degree of specialization)? Were there any necessary characteristics that marked the boundary of a group? Which marks were agreed upon, which ones were disputed and why?

To what extent did (naturally) fixed or (culturally) pliable traits inform classifications? How were aspects of essence and existence elaborated, negotiated, and challenged? What was the relationship between internal and external characeristica differentia? What dimensions garnered more interest than others and why? What unified mankind? How did non-European people respond to the classifications? When and why did a categorization fail? What to do with exceptions?

Monica Libell, History of Sciences and Ideas, Lund University, Sweden. Contact:

☂To see an example from the past, you can view the 2014 HSS Meeting wiki here.

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