Graduate Student Profile: Emily Beck

For this last week leading up to HSS, we will be changing up the scholar profiles to give some love to the scholars that work hard to assemble aesthetically pleasing and informational poster presentations for HSS. The poster session will be Friday, November 20th from 7:30pm to 8:30pm in the Grand Ballroom (Mezzanine Level) of the Westin St. Francis and will feature entries related to “Images of/in Science.” To give you a small sampling of what to expect, here is the second in our series of poster presenters.


Emily BeckEmily Beck, “Teaching Undergraduates: Scientific Communication and Leonhart Fuchs”

Abstract: My poster addresses using scientific images in teaching the history of science. When I bring my students to our rare book library to look at original source material, I inevitably run into the following scenario. I want to show them early modern materials, but they almost never read Latin (or German or French), and they certainly have never had paleography training, so they just look puzzled at the indecipherable text. This has led to some experimenting with examining examples of marginalia as images rather than looking at them as text in order to learn about scientific communication. My poster uses the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine’s copy of Leonhart Fuchs’s 1542 herbal De historia stirpium as a case study for this method of teaching. It has lots of different hands writing at different points in history, plus all of the images are colored and many have drawn additions, so it is a very rich text to work with.

What’s so great about poster presentations anyway? 

One of the main advantages of a poster session is the ability to actually have conversations with participants. Because poster sessions are really based on discussion, I think there are more opportunities for conversations between presenters and viewers to ferment and develop into new and more meaningful directions for scholarship. And, obviously, talking about herbals demands images, and people who look at my poster will have a better chance to really examine the images I discuss.

Leonhart Fuchs

 Drawings of the plant in different phases of its cycle made by later owners of this copy of Fuchs’ De historia stirpium (1542)

What do you wish you could have included in your poster?

I wish I could have included even more images! Even though I can get my point across in a few images, seeing how the handwritten words and images are carried throughout the volume really drives home the point about communication. I also really wish I could have included images from two other books that we have at UMN. The first is a second copy of the same volume at the University of Minnesota with very different marginalia. The second is Anleitung zu der Pflanzenkenntniss by Salomon Schinz, published in 1744. The book uses the same woodcuts that Fuchs had made for his 1542 book but to accomplish different goals. The images from all three volumes together make it so clear how additions to the images (whether by painting or drawing) could shift the kinds of information that was communicated to readers.

Biography: I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota in the Program for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. My dissertation uses manuscript medical recipe books to discuss medical communities and non-professional medical practice in northern and central Italy during the long-sixteenth century. Early herbals have been a side interest of mine for a while, though, so I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk about one of my favorites this year at HSS!


Graduate Student Profile: Paige Madison

For this last week leading up to HSS, we will be changing up the scholar profiles to give some love to the scholars that work hard to assemble aesthetically pleasing and informational poster presentations for HSS. The poster session will be Friday, November 20th from 7:30pm to 8:30pm in the Grand Ballroom (Mezzanine Level) of the Westin St. Francis and will feature entries related to “Images of/in Science.” To give you a small sampling of what to expect, here is the first in our series of poster presenters!


Paige Madison, “How to Study Fossils: Imaging and Knowing Neanderthals”

Abstract: For my pIMG_4894oster, I’ve examined how images and representations of hominin fossils were created, circulated, and used to create scientific knowledge in the nineteenth century. I focus on the first Neanderthal skull, which was widely discussed in the UK—despite never leaving Germany. Because fossils like the Neanderthal were so rare and delicate, naturalists such as Thomas Huxley were forced to study representations of the fossils in the form of casts, photographs, and illustrations. I argue that, despite these mediums’ potential for introducing interpretation or error, these reconstructions and renderings of the fossils were embraced in the nineteenth century. I think this raises interesting questions about access and circulation of knowledge. Also, the Neanderthal story sheds light on how claims are generated about scientific objects—even without access to the objects themselves. The final section of my poster asks how these issues of access to fossils are being solved in paleoanthropology today, and to answer this question I’ll have some fun, interactive toys for people to play with!

Rewards and challenges of putting together a poster: Putting together a poster is great because it gives you another dimension with which to tell your story: images! My story is very visual, so it lends itself well to a poster. Because of a poster’s limited space, it’s definitely a challenge to be concise. The limited space requires that the argument is succinct and clear, which has been a useful skill for me to practice while I’m working through a large dissertation. For me, the biggest advantage of a poster session is the potential for conversation. Giving a talk is a great experience, but interaction with the audience in that context is limited. I look forward to my poster sparking open discussions that make me think critically about my research.


What didn’t make it onto the poster? 

I would love to have included more images! After visiting some archives last year, I have numerous images of fossil skull sketches, illustrations of gorilla skulls, and more. Though they didn’t make the cut this time around, I think those sketches images provide great insight into how naturalists were attempting to understand the Neanderthal—what were they comparing it to and so forth. However, that doesn’t fit in the short argument I’m trying to make with my poster. Again–I’m still practicing being concise!

What are you excited about doing at HSS?

There are a number of talks I’m looking forward to this year, but I especially enjoy the roundtables held mid-day. These roundtables often give people the opportunity to have open, insightful, and progressive discussions, which I find interesting and valuable. And, of course, I’m looking forward to all the great GECC events!

Biography: I’m a PhD candidate at Arizona State University and I’m interested in the history of paleoanthropology. My dissertation asks how scientists have used fossils to make claims about what it means to be human. For my dissertation, I’ve narrowed in on three fossils that sparked debates in the study of human evolution, one of which is the subject of my poster: the first Neanderthal fossil! I’m also interested in using history as a tool to communicate science to the public—especially through online tools like social media—so I work with outreach programs at ASU and I will be live-tweeting the meeting.

Early Careerist Profile: Jenna Tonn

Jenna Tonn, “Engineering Systems of Order in E.L. Mark’s Zoological Laboratory,” in Scientific Workspaces: Reconstruction and Representation, Elizabethan C, Saturday, November 21 at DSC_0101_JAT_Wgs9:00-10:45AM

This year at HSS, I am part of a panel that brings together historians of science and technology, museum practitioners, and book historians to examine the reconstruction and representation of scientific workspaces since the seventeenth century in Europe and the United States. We are interested in how scientific workspaces, broadly defined, have mediated scientific practice and how representations of these workspaces by our historical actors, as well as by industrial preservationists and historians, have contributed to the iconography of modern science. Elizabeth Yale uses the illustrated letters of the seventeenth century British naturalist Edward Lhwyd to understand how “the field” was central to his natural history practices but represented differently in the translation of his letters for print. David Unger focuses on the reconstruction of historical workplaces in Lowell, MA (once a center of the textile industry) by industrial preservationists in the 1960s and explores what kinds of knowledge were produced in this process. Megan Formato challenges the iconography of early twentieth century physicists at work through the lens of Niels Bohr by comparing visual representations of his workspaces with archival reconstructions of its people and practices.

My talk focuses on graduate training in zoology by reconstructing E. L. Mark’s surprisingly elaborate organizational system for the Harvard Zoological Laboratory between 1890 and 1910. Mark’s relentless interest in visualizing biological phenomena with great precision and accuracy manifested itself in the physical and material arrangement of his laboratory in Cambridge, MA. He engineered and indexed systems of order for all of the instruments, experimental organisms, reference materials, reagents, pedagogical demonstrations, and people located in his laboratory rooms. Beyond describing these workspaces, however, my paper shows how Mark attempted to reconstruct his laboratory system in the Radcliffe Zoological Laboratory, a highly contested laboratory space at the center of campus-wide debates about coeducation, and in the field in British colonial Bermuda. Mark’s laboratory ideal had to be reconfigured for Radcliffe women, whose laboratory was an impossibly small storage closet, and for biologists at the Bermuda Biological Station, whose laboratory consisted of temporary rooms in a tourist hotel. Thus, while Mark’s laboratory ideal traveled from site to site, its reconstruction underwent radical changes. More broadly, I am interested in connecting this case with my panel’s attention to how our own practice as historians of science relies on tacking back and forth between reconstruction and representation.

I became interested in Mark’s workspaces while conducting research for my dissertation, which examined how Mark’s Zoological Laboratory developed from a few desks in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology into an influential department at the turn of the century. In the archives, I kept running across notes from Mark’s former students about how the Zoological Laboratory was organized – how each bottle, book, table, and microscope had a number and a place and at times how difficult that made doing research. As I followed Mark’s laboratory system to Radcliffe College and then to the field in Bermuda, it became increasingly clear to me that Mark’s system of order had evolved within a specific physical and intellectual space; as a result, it had significant problems adjusting to new spatial, social, and epistemological environments. While doing this research, I started looking for archival photographs, floor plans, hand-drawn maps, and sketches of laboratory (and laboratory-like) spaces to provide a sense of how my historical actors experienced and represented these workspaces during their training. One of the most interesting sources that emerged in this process was a series of time-capsule diaries, which were deposited in a wooden chest in the Harvard University Archives in 1900 but forgotten for a century. These diaries, written by students, faculty, and community members during March of 1900, represent everyday life at the turn of the century and provide fascinating details about the social and cultural history of higher education (especially zoology) during this period.

This is my fifth HSS meeting. I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the theme of reconstruction is also taken up in the plenary session on “Passing the Book” on Thursday evening and how issues of space are discussed at the “Spatial Histories of Science” roundtable on Saturday. In past years, I have benefited tremendously from the HSS mentorship program and enjoyed both the Women’s Caucus Breakfast and the GECC CV review.

Biography: Jenna Tonn is a Lecturer in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. She recently completed her Ph.D. in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her research examines issues related to gender and higher education in the modern biological sciences, the history of natural history, and the circulation of scientific knowledge between museums, laboratories, and the field.

The Final Countdown: #HSS2015 Prep in a Nutshell

It’s November, which means there are only a few more weeks before the annual meeting for the History of Science Society in San Francisco, California! Get excited! The Graduate and Early Career Caucus will be live and on the scene throughout the duration of the conference, running various events meant to serve graduate students and early careerists. Our events have been designed to promote networking and professionalization and to create an amiable environment for those of us in the early stages of our careers. That being said, here’s a quick line-up of what to expect! (Plus, an oh-so convenient infographic!)

Mentorship Program: It’s not too late to sign up for some one-on-one time with a senior scholar! This is an amazing opportunity to network, ask for advice, and receive guidance about your career from a new perspective (i.e. not your adviser!) Click this link or email Deadline: November 6th

CV Review: Meet face-to-face with a senior scholar and get feedback on your CV, cover letters, and the interview process. Interested? Click the link. Sessions available Friday afternoon (Nov. 19) and all day Saturday (Nov. 20).

Workshop and Business Meeting: Following our brief business meeting, we will be hosting a workshop on publishing, led by Elsevier’s history of science editor! Saturday, November 20th, 12pm (see program for locations)

GECC Mixer: Meet other grad students and early careerists at our mixer, hosted at the Golden Gate Taproom. Thursday at 9PM