Early Careerist Profile: Joy Rankin

Joy Rankin

Joy Rankin, Yale University

How did you first get interested in history of science?

I double-majored in math and history in college. During my senior year, I looked for ways to bring those passions together.  In my senior math seminar on cryptography, I researched the Voynich Manuscript, a well-known mysterious and undeciphered manuscript from the 15th or 16th century. Then, my senior history seminar addressed “Science and Medicine in Nazi Germany,” with Rich Kremer, a great historian of science. This combination of courses and topics stimulated my interest.

What was your experience like at your first HSS meeting?

My first HSS meeting was exciting.  I actually presented a paper at that first meeting, in Phoenix in 2009.  Our panel addressed “Speaking of Darwin: The Meaning and Application of Evolution in the 20th Century,” and we had quite a large audience. My HSS colleague’s enthusiasm for my research, as well as their helpful questions and suggestions, made me feel welcomed and supported.

What is a piece of advice you could pass on to fellow GECC members that you think could be helpful to her/him?

It’s never too early to start thinking about professionalization, and what professionalization means to you.  As you’re doing original research, think about how you can turn those smaller projects into conference papers, articles, or digital humanities projects.  I think many of us feel that what we produce during our first year or two of graduate school isn’t ready for public consumption, but part of the process of sharing work and peer review is transforming something that may not be quite ready into a polished piece.

Also, when you start attending HSS meetings and other conferences, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to more senior scholars whose work engages you.  It may seem daunting to approach someone whose book (or books!) you admire, but most people are happy to talk about their work and their experiences, and to learn more about your work.

What is currently your toughest professional challenge?

The job market!

What is your favorite part about being a historian of science?

I really like my colleagues, and I feel privileged every time I get to read the work of a fellow historian (or anthropologist) of science and technology. One of my most rewarding endeavors over the past year has been leading a dissertation writing group, and our shared readings and meetings have been highlights for me.  I’m learning all about the history of vaccination and immunology in 20th century China, the history of sugar standardization in the 19th century, and recent biosecurity practices in Mexico.  I love reading and researching in this field, and I love sharing all of this with my students.

Joy Rankin studies the textures of digitization in daily life since World War II.  Her research addresses American history, the history of science and technology, and the history of gender. Rankin is a doctoral candidate in History at Yale University, and her dissertation, “Personal Computing before Personal Computers,” argues that students and educators using academic time-sharing systems during the 1960s and 1970s transformed computing from a military, business, and scientific endeavor into an intensely personal practice. Her dissertation earned recognition and support with the IEEE Life Members’ Fellowship in Electrical History (2012-13) and the Adelle and Erwin Tomash Fellowship in the History of Information Technology (2013-14). Rankin’s second project interrogates the history of democracy and technology by analyzing the relationships among activism, gender, identity, and technology during the movements of the long 1960s. Read more at www.joyrankin.com.


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