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Early Careerist Profile: Jenna Tonn November 8, 2015

Posted by emmiemiller in Uncategorized.
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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.

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