Looking for GECC at HSS Boston?

Looking for GECC at HSS Boston?

Harpoon Brewery
Thursday from 8:30-10pm
Location: Harpoon Brewery
Meet us early and make conference connections at the Harpoon Brewery at 306 Northern Avenue. Relax and let your hair down. Build connections, raise a pretzel, tip a pint, and get to know your fellow scholars over brew and good company. A presence on the Boston waterfront since 1986, Harpoon is a brewpub founded by beer lovers. (See map on the back of this page.)

Teaching Outside the Discipline
Broaden Your Audience
Friday from 12-1:15pm
Location: Revere
This year the GECC is pleased to sponsor the session, “Teaching History of Science Outside the Discipline” organized by Rebecca Kinraide. This discussion session explores teaching the History of Science in new contexts for new communities.
“Your Work in One Minute”
Friday from 8:45-10pm
Location: Adams
Join GECC and David Attis (Higher Education Researcher, Education Advisory Board) for an evening workshop,“Your Work in One Minute.” Work with your peers to create a concise and engaging pitch for your own scholarship–then put it to work right away!

Business Meeting
Saturday from 12-1pm
Location: Douglass
Come to the business meeting and signup to help out with future GECC events. Let us know what we are doing right. Let us know what you would like to see. Meet your fellow scholars and talk about future events for GECC. We’re looking for session ideas, new officers, and any thoughts on how the HSS can support graduate students and early career scholars. Also, find us in the lobby near Starbucks ahead of Saturday’s reception.



Early Careerists at HSS Boston: Robin Scheffler

543517_10100277321637380_1563009905_nRobin Scheffler, “Remembering the ‘Failure’ of Cancer Virology and the Fashioning of Molecular Biology’s Second Wave,” Session T4: Stories about Science: Mediating between a Reassuring Past and Uncertain Future, Room 251 (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center), Thursday, November 21, 3:00 – 6:00 PM

1. How did you come across this topic?

My talk arises from some questions that emerged as I came to the end of writing my dissertation, Cancer Viruses and the Construction of Biomedicine in the United States from 1900-1980. When researching my topic initially, I encountered many scientists who described cancer virology (sometimes vehemently) as a “failure” which “siphoned” hundreds of millions of dollars away from other research efforts. However, this description seemed at odds with historical developments. Rather than a case of isolated failure, cancer virology was tied, directly or indirectly, to a range of “successes” in molecular biology. Many of the most ardent critics of cancer virology were in fact associated with the field through their sponsorship by the National Cancer Institute’s ambitious Virus Cancer Program—an ambitious NASA-style program designed to manage biomedical research.

This discrepancy seemed like an opportunity to think about the history of cancer viruses not only from the perspective of the history of science, but also from the perspective of the history of memory. To make sense of this, I considered how “failure” might be understood from the perspective of the politics of memory, another theme that I’ve been interested in the history of science.  In this light, discussing “failure” has more to do with the turbulent politics of support for molecular biology in the 1970s. Condemning and commemorating cancer virology as a failure was a means of affirming molecular biology’s social autonomy and intellectual independence from medicine in the face of the Virus Cancer Program’s far reaching proposals to remake the scientific culture of molecular biology.

Like the origin stories associated with nationalism, the “failure” of the Program’s efforts, as recalled by molecular biologists ended up playing a constructive role in fashioning the identity of molecular biology in the 1980s and 1990s. Recalling this instance of failure was an object lesson in what kinds of social and institutional arrangements for biomedical research were acceptable, a theme repeated in planning for the Human Genome Project.

SVLP Logo2. What was the most interesting source you encountered in this project?

Much of the controversy associated with the Virus Cancer Program is associated with a report written by a committee chaired by bacterial geneticist Norton Zinder.  The “Zinder Report” while prominently referenced in Nature or Science, was neither officially published nor received by the National Cancer Institute.  Even fierce critics of the Program would acknowledge never having read a copy. In my research, it was exciting to find copies and drafts of the original report drafts at the National Cancer Institute, as well as transcripts of some of the committee’s working sessions!  These documents illuminated the political dimensions of the assessment of cancer virology for me. From the perspective of the print culture of bureaucracy, it’s been interesting to see where copies of this report were distributed, and how it gained folk status for molecular biologists.

3. What did you have to cut out of your paper that you wish you could have kept?

There are some interesting parallels that can be drawn between attempts to manage biomedical research and similar controversies over how to manage other forms of creative work in different industries. I didn’t have space for it in my talk, but in the future I would like to explore some of the continuities between the controversy over the Virus Cancer Program and the settings for scientific research created a decade later by the biotechnology industry.

4. What are you most looking forward to at HSS in Boston?

The material in my talk is still relatively new, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting feedback from my audience and other panelists.  Other than that, I’m very excited to see old friends and at the prospect of so many other great papers on the program!

Early Careerists at HSS Boston: Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi

profileJaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, “Cotton-Wool vs. Vulcanized Rubber: Expertise and the Artificial Tympanum Controversy,”  Session Sa41: Making Hearing Aids: Diverse Motivations, Aesthetics, and Audiences, Adams (Mezzanine Level), Saturday, November 23, 3:45 – 5:45 PM

1. How did you come across this topic?

A few years ago, I was struggling with my essay assignment for a graduate course on the history of medicine. My professor advised me to concentrate on one textbook, so I headed off to the library–the first, random book I picked from the historical collection shelves was a 1816 treatise on diseases of the ear. Since then, I’ve been interested on the changing concepts of deafness and how these concepts influenced not only medical & surgical practice, but also the lives of the deaf in nineteenth century British society. My HSS presentation is an extract of one of my dissertation chapters.

 2. What was the most interesting source you encountered in this project?

Probably the late-nineteenth century photographs of users inserting the artificial tympanum. They really show how small the device was and how little effort it was required by the user to wear the device.

3. What did you have to cut out of your paper that you wish you could have kept?

Anecdotes from patients on how the artificial tympanum transformed their every day lives.  Since many of these anecdotes are published in surgical textbooks or accompanied by clinical case details, it’s hard to assess their validity from the “deaf perspective.”

4. What are you most looking forward to at HSS in Boston?

Besides presenting my paper? Seeing some good friends again! I also signed up with the mentorship program, so I’m looking forward to meeting my assigned mentor for the first time.


The artificial tympanum is a device used to remedy a perforation in the membrane of the eardrum that prevents it from functioning properly, by maintaining air


pressure and preventing excessive discharge. Throughout the centuries, various types of materials were proposed for constructing an artificial membrane, including pig’s bladder, lint, fishskin, egg membranes, and foil. These were mainly popular folk remedies that required little expertise in its construction beyond trial-and-error. In 1848, the aural surgeon James Yearsley published an article in The Lancet introducing his new technological marvel: an artificial tympanum made of cotton-wool and affixed with a silver wire stem. Yearsley’s innovation received modest attention until 1850, when the aural surgeon Joseph Toynbee presented his own artificial tympanum, made of vulcanized india rubber, at a meeting of the Provincial Medical Association, without making any reference to Yearsley.


In addition to debates about priority, Yearsley and Toynbee’s disagreements over the device raises questions about the issue of expertise, particularly in the selection of materials: Yearsley chose the cotton-wool based upon his case studies, whereas Toynbee went with vulcanized rubber after rigid anatomical investigations of the ear and experimenting with theories of bone conduction. Both practitioners boasted their selection of materials made for a more superior device in restoring hearing loss. This paper examines the debate between the two surgeons in the context of broader issues of legitimacy within medical and surgical practice, as well as the contesting boundary lines between what constituted as “scientific practice” in the making of early non-electric air conduction devices.


Early Careerists at HSS Boston: Andrew J. Hogan

HoganPictureAndrew J. Hogan, “Seeing and (Sometimes) Believing: Managing Uncertainty in Prenatal Diagnosis,”  Session F11: Managing Risk and Uncertainty in Postwar Biomedicine, Commonwealth Ballroom B (Concourse Level), Friday, November 22, 9:00 – 11:45 AM

This year at HSS, I am part of a panel that brings together historians of science and medicine to examine the management of risk and uncertainty in postwar biomedicine.  Drawn together by common interests in classification, risk management, and institutional protocols – as well as the experiences of individual researchers and patients – historians of science and medicine are now jointly probing the convergence of biological and clinical research.  Postwar biomedicine encompasses an incredibly diverse spectrum of research and clinical aims, ranging from answering basic biological questions to improving specific patient outcomes.  Through historical analyses of prenatal diagnosis, in vitro fertilization, hemophilia treatments, and breast cancer screening, our panel examines the various tensions that exist in biomedicine, which result from the differing goals and expectations of physicians, patients, and basic biomedical researchers.

My talk focuses on the management of uncertainty in the context of prenatal diagnosis.  In 1908, William Bateson famously reminded his fellow geneticists to always “Treasure your exceptions!”: a dictum that remains central to the thinking and practices of genetics research today.  During the postwar period however, with the uptake of increasingly high-resolution approaches for examining the human genome, the ‘exceptions’ that geneticists ‘treasure’ have become increasingly synonymous with the uncertain results that many clinicians would prefer to avoid. This is particularly relevant in the continuously growing area of prenatal diagnosis, due to the time-sensitive and socially difficult nature of decisions that prospective parents face.

I came to this topic while conducting interviews with biomedical professionals as part of the research for my dissertation, Chromosomes in the Clinic: The Visual Localization and Analysis of Genetic Disease in the Human Genome.  Through these interviews, I sought to better understand how physicians and geneticists develop confidence in the links between visible genetic markers and particular clinical outcomes.  My interviews focused on the clinical and laboratory history of specific disorders, diagnostic techniques, and methods of standardization.

In my presentation, I describe various approaches, professional and technological, for managing uncertainty in the clinic.  I focus on two recent prenatal diagnostic technologies, chorionic villus sampling and DNA microarray.  Each of these procedures regularly produces results of uncertain clinical significance.  I show that, while ambiguous results make clinical interpretation and consultation more challenging, providers generally feel confident that they possess the tools and procedures needed to manage this uncertainty.  Many biomedical professionals treat the patient anxiety that accompanies uncertain results as an issue to be solved with better communication, rather than ceasing to offer a particular test.  Indeed, for some prenatal diagnostic providers, the tendency towards uncertainty actually makes for a better test.  My talk explores approaches aimed at balancing the conflicting aims of patient-focused diagnosis and biomedical research.

Andrew J. Hogan is a Lecturer in Science, Technology & Society, in the Department of Engineering & Society at the University of Virginia.  Hogan recently completed his Ph.D. in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  His research examines the visual cultures of postwar biomedicine, with a focus on the evolving ‘look’ of genetic disease and the human genome.

Early Careerists at HSS Boston: Melissa Charenko

SONY DSCMelissa Charenko, “The Historical Debate about End Times and Environmental Action among Evangelical Christians,” Melissa Charenko (University of Wisconsin-Madison) Session Su13: Studies in Modern Science and Religion, Adams, Sunday, November 24, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

I first came across this topic when Ron Numbers was teaching for a semester at the University of Toronto as the F. Ross Johnson-Connaught Distinguished Professor in American Studies. I was searching for a paper topic for his course and I decided that I should merge the discussions that we were having about science, medicine, and religion in America with some of my interests in environmental history. I started by looking for religious responses to environmentalism and found that, in the evangelical periodicals that I started with, the response to environmental issues was very different than how others have characterized them: in both the popular press and the standard historiography, the second coming is usually cited as a reason that Evangelicals do not care about the environment. Yet I was finding that Evangelicals writing in religious periodicals were advocating environmental action because of their eschatological beliefs. This seemed like a topic worth exploring and my talk at HSS presents my findings from the larger paper.

Looking through evangelical publications from the 1960s until today was lots of fun. I kept turning pages expecting to find the story that I thought I knew, but was always surprised when I found another article, like the one here from Christianity Today, that seemed to tell a very different story. After sorting through lots of sources and constructing a narrative about what Evangelicals think they should do for the environment in light of their end times beliefs, I then tried to work out where the common picture of Evangelicals’ environmental beliefs comes from. I was only briefly able to cover this aspect in the HSS talk, but this detective work was really engaging.

I’m looking forward to sharing this work in Boston and hearing all the other panels. As usual, there looks like many talks well-worth attending!