Gender, Digital Publishing, and “Lady Science”

downloadIn this second post of the summer we’re highlighted the work of the digital magazine Lady Science. In the interview below I spoke with co-editors and creators of Lady Science Anna Reser and Leila McNeill. Leila is currently an independent researcher and freelance writer. She studied History of Science at the University of Oklahoma and Literary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. Anna is a PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma in History of Science, and previously studied art at the University of New Mexico.

Sarah Naramore: Where did the idea for Lady Science come from? Also, what were the steps you needed to take to go from idea for full-fledged digital magazine?

Leila McNeill: I don’t think we had that idea in mind when we started. It was the year after I had left OU [University of Oklahoma]. Anna was a year behind me and we wanted to keep working together so we started a women in science newsletter. It started as a TinyLetter, just us writing some essays, and it got popular quickly. It became clear that it couldn’t just be a newsletter anymore. There was more potential to it than just us writing a newsletter every month.

Anna Reser: Yeah, once we realized that there was a potential audience, I think that was motivating to try to figure out ways to grow the project and kind of knuckle down and be like, “Well, people are going to read this. We should be serious about it.” Think about the future of what we want to do and start making some plans. We just kind of jumped into it. Once we got a little bit of a readership, that was sort of all the push that I think we needed.

SN: What is the readership at this point like?

LM: It’s a lot of different people. It started out, with the H-Net post and most of the people signed up in that initial launch were historians and academics. Then, over that first year, it steadily grew beyond just academics. Then we got covered in Slate on the “Bad Astronomy” blog, and that brought in a lot of more science-y people, not just history people. And we’ve gotten a couple surprising plugs as well. One was from a fashion and makeup magazine that featured us in a Snapchat thing. So it’s really cool that we’ve been able to see how this content appeals to so many different people.

AR: I don’t know what our numbers are right now. We’re a little bit spread out over different platforms. We still have the TinyLetter. We’re syndicating with the The New Inquiry, and then we have our own website. We have about 580 TinyLetter subscribers.

SN: On that note, would you describe your content a bit? Is there anything that’s been recently published that you’re excited about?

AR: We don’t focus just on women as practitioners in science. We look at women as having been objects of scientific inquiry, like the gendered understandings of nature and science and we’ve had several issues unpacking that, and we also look more, at the structural things going on there. So not only do I think we tell different stories about women in the history of science, I think we also tell stories about science.

LM: What makes us different than others writing about women in history of science is that we don’t do profiles. And we don’t like to that whole unsung women in the history of science type of stuff. We like to do more critical theorizing about things. Right now we’ve got our special series on “Fascism, Gender, and Science”. Part of that was because we wanted to address things that people were thinking about with what’s going on right now, and give people a historical context for where we’re at. I think historians always have a lot to offer when it comes to that, and I think that a lot of academics don’t know how to do that or don’t know what platforms are out there.

SN: Speaking of practice, that leads into something else that I wanted to talk about, your collaborative editorial process. Why is that something important that you and how does it affect the magazine?

AR: When we first decided to have outside contributors, one of the things that we were really adamant about was that there wasn’t going to be any revise and resubmit kind of journal-type format. We wanted it to be more like a traditional magazine in that you would submit a pitch instead of a finished piece, and that the process would be a collaborative one between writer and editor. As an editor, one of the most surprising things that I found about working on this project after we started having other people write for us is how rewarding I find that process and how useful it is for me as a writer to have editing experience. I have found it really rewarding and really a rich experience to work with all these different types of writers and to get to know their style, and it’s nice to hear that the work that you did with someone is something they’re proud of.

LM: Yeah, I like that we personally respond to all of the pitches. We are the ones who edit them. We use Google Docs on purpose because it is collaborative and you can see who is doing what. We do have a certain style and word count that we have to stick to so that there is some consistency that our readers come to expect from us. But we’re also really careful to try not to change someone’s voice and tone and that they get to write the way that they want to, or the way that feels good for them or natural for them. We want them to feel that at the end of it that it wasn’t just a chop job that we did because it was what we wanted. We want it to be something that they’re also happy with and proud of.

I’ve been freelancing a little bit, and there is just so much variation in the way that editors work and the things that they expect from their writers and that they expect from cold calls or prior relationship pitches or whatever. I wish it was the way that we did it everywhere because it’s meant to be welcoming to people who don’t have experience, sort of writing out there in digital media. And I think that sets the tone for a less adversarial kind of interaction. You know what we want and you show us what you want and we will work together on it.

SN: If people are interested in writing, what would you be interested in hearing about?

AR: We are always accepting pitches on our website. Fill out the form, it will send us an email, and we’ll get back to you usually within a week. If we decide to go ahead and assign it, we will send you a writing guideline, and ask that, if you haven’t already, look through some old issues to get a feel for the essays that we publish. Then we’ll assign you a month to write in, set some deadlines up, and then you can get started. Right now, we’re particularly interested in more non-western history of science as well as pre-modern. Can we add one thing about our crowdfunding? Right now we are crowdfunding using Patreon in order to expand how much content we can offer and also to be able to host all of our content ourselves.

LM: Yeah and did we mention that we do pay you for the essays? If you pitch and we assign you a piece, it’s $50 per piece. Because of that, we’re locked into only two essays per issue, but it would be really nice if we could do more than two essays.

SN: Is there anything, looking over your experience with you found important or surprising, just either from the experience of putting this together or the feedback you’ve gotten from people?

LM: Any of it! That we’re still sitting here talking about it at all!

AR: I think part of the reason for that is that there are a lot of things that we didn’t know that we would be able to do until we did them, and for me, that was the big lesson of this project. We would talk about doing something, and we would be like, “Do you have any idea how to do that?” “No, do you?” “Well, I will just figure it out.” So everything was like that. It’s also much less scary, I think, to say “I have no idea how to do that; I will just figure it out,” if you’re not doing it alone. So forming and growing our partnership has been really rewarding, both for us as friends but also all of the things that I’ve learned how to do because I have Leila’s support. If we’re just going to jump into something, I know that if I screw it up, she’s there to back me up or fix it. It becomes a lot easier to try new things and learn new skills. That’s something that is a really important part of the project to me personally that was also surprising.

LM: I feel the same. I never would have done any of this on my own for sure, and something that was surprising—the full-time thing that I did outside of the thing that I got paid for, I turned out to be okay at it, and something that I want to be doing as a full-time thing eventually. That part of it, the personal trajectory is a thing that I would probably never have done without being partners with Anna. So it’s been really rewarding. We do try to have, to make it feel like a team. Academia can be so isolating. Even if you’re in a cohort together, at the end of the day you still go back to your thing, to your books, alone, sad, crying in fear. Whatever your method is.

Read, Pitch, and Support Lady Science:


Talking Critical History With Sarah Pickman

Last February, graduate students at Yale University hosted a conference entitled “Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine, and Racial Violence.” To kick off our summer blog series I spoke with one of the organizers, Sarah Pickman. Sarah is a PhD student in History of Science at Yale. Her research centers on the history of exploration, anthropology, and natural history of polar regions in the long-nineteenth century. In our conversation, we discussed the goals and outcomes of the conference and continuing activism among Yale graduate students in history of science. Below is an edited portion of our interview followed by links to resource and communities Sarah recommended for further reading.

Sarah Naramore: Could you give us a quick introduction about the conference?

Sarah Pickman: The full title was, “Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine, and Racial Violence, Critical Histories” as shorthand, which took place February 24 and 25 at Yale. Most of the conference occurred at the School of Medicine at Yale in the Medical Historical Library, our unofficial home of the history of science and medicine program (HSHM). The speakers were a mix of current graduate students, faculty, and healthcare providers and the moderators were all Yale faculty. There were a mix of history of science and medicine professors and also instructors and clinicians from the medical school. And in addition to the five panels, we also had a lunch session that focused on combining scholarship and activism, moderated by one of my colleagues in HSHM, Maya Sandler. The discussants were current medical students and PhD students in history and history of science and medicine.

We found that one of the perks of putting out a wide call for papers and asking for people from different backgrounds was that the attendance was really mixed as well. We had about 150 people over the course of the weekend. Yale has a medical school, a public health school, and a nursing school, so there were people who registered from all of those schools. There were also some undergrads. And we had a lot of non-Yale attendees. So that was one benefit. And in terms of how it actually went off, we tried to put people together thematically, rather than based on what field they represented.

SN: Did the conference foster cross-discipline dialogue and what was the value of such dialogue?

SP: Yeah. One of the things that we found out in the process of organizing this conference—and I should also say that the official conference organizations are a group of HSHM grad students who are doing something called the History of Science and Justice Collective. The HSJC website has a section for the conference, but we’re a group of students in the program who want to bring social justice into our work and what we do as young scholars. That was the official organizing body for the conference. One of the things that we found when we were putting together our CFP, we really wanted to get a broad spectrum of people and we wanted to bring people in from outside of academia. But once we had to do that, it was more challenging than we had naively assumed, because as an academic program, we don’t have a lot of links to the immediate community outside of Yale’s walls. In fact, Yale has historically had a really bad relationship with the larger New Haven community, based on things that have come out of the medical research that Yale has done and services that it has provided to the community, which is not a story that is unique to Yale. So one of the challenges for us, thinking about our role, is that we’re graduate students at this very privileged university. How do we go about doing something that has social justice in the name? What’s our position in that? We really had to do some soul searching in the process of putting this conference together

The whole idea started about a year ago, this past spring. There were a group of us in HSHM who were inspired by the activism that came out of the undergrad community at Yale. Things like Next Yale and people may be familiar with the protests around Calhoun College and the imagery around campus and certain aspects of Yale that undergrads really led the charge in trying to change. We were inspired by that, and a group of us sat down together and said, “What can we do as grad students in this institution?” So that’s where the History of Science and Justice Collective came from. The first thing that we did was call the Fall Forum, which is a group of speakers that we brought to campus this past fall semester, and then the conference. So now that the conference is over, we’re trying to figure out what our next steps are and ways that we can kind of carry those conversations on.

There was a group of us within the Collective who signed on specifically to handle some of the logistics. I did local arrangements. My colleagues, Tess Lanzarotta and Marco Ramos, headed up the programming committee,  and we wrote a CFP together. They read all the abstracts with some of our other colleagues and put the program together. And then we’re very fortunate here that we have wonderful program administrators who helped me pull together the logistics of a conference for 150 people.

SN: Yeah! It’s no joke!

SP: Yeah. I’m happy to talk individually about the steps of putting together something like that. In fact, one of our pieces of follow-up, we’ve been putting together a document to help others. We had this idea that we would like to take this Critical Histories, Activist Futures lens on the road and maybe use it as a template that other universities can use when they’re hosting conferences. We could have Critical Histories, Activist Futures 2 hosted by another school, so one of the things that we’re doing is putting together a document with everybody’s experiences that we hope will be useful for whoever takes this up next, and we hope that somebody does.

SN: So much of what we do as historians is solitary, each in our own little box. It is so singular, and it seems like what a lot of this is doing, the idea of groups like this and collaboration, is really sort of breaking down some of those walls as well.

SP: One of the things that came out of this conference, and which for a lot of us was one of the most exciting parts was the lunch panel on combining scholarship and activism. We had two discussants from Yale medical school—Maya Sandler, my colleague who is in my cohort kind of moderated. We had two of our colleagues from the broader history department, Viet Trinh and Amanda Joyce Hall, and a student from the medical school at Brown. Also it should be mentioned that Viet wrote an open letter published on the blog Conversation X. And that was one of our inspirations. He talked about a high-ranking Yale administrator who at an open house that happened about two years ago and made a dismissive comment basically saying that, “Diversity awareness is the purview of people in the humanities and social sciences, but that it’s not really relevant or easy to teach it to people in the sciences or the medical fields.”

The idea was to get them talking and then get the whole room talking about how we could combine scholarship and activism, because a lot of the pushback that people who are passionate about these things have gotten is that activism is the sort of activity that you could do on the side. But really, as a graduate student, the focus needs to be on your work. It’s like the activism part is separate from the scholarship, and so we wanted to get people to think about the really practical ideas about how they see combining this things, whether it’s—somebody brought up a great idea, a great insight, that if you are working on a particular community, but you don’t produce work that that community is familiar with, if you only write in English, and let’s say you’re working on populations that aren’t majority English-speaking, that is one way that your work is isolated from those people and kind of replicates some of the power dynamics that we don’t want to replicate.

But you don’t have to have as dramatic examples of that in your work to bring, to have a justice-minded scholarship, whether it is acknowledging where the absences are in your work, that you’re only working on certain communities while other voices haven’t been recorded in the historical record or things like that. I mean, I, on a personal level, I work on dead white men. In the nineteenth centuries, and they’re American and British white men. So this is something that I have been trying to think about a lot and sort of you know, not just saying, “Oh, my historical actors are all white dudes, so my project can’t be activist in some way,” and trying to think through how to challenge that.

SN: To start wrapping up, do you have anything coming up in the pipeline that you would like to share?

SP: Definitely the listserv. We’re going to start with the Google listserv and then see where that goes, so that is We’re [the History of Science and Justice Collective] also on Facebook and Twitter, and we’re also thinking about more traditional academic ways to follow up the conference, so we’re pitching conference reports. That will be good to have a permanent record of that weekend. What we’re most interested in doing is following up the conversations that happened with actual further steps and not just saying, “Oh, this was a great academic event. Let’s memorialize it in text somewhere and do something else.” But that part is going to take a little bit of figuring out. Again, that’s part of the process of trying to integrate scholarship and activism, figuring out exactly how we’re going to do that in a way that people find useful and how we’re going to connect with our colleagues at other academic institutions and outside academic institutions.

Want to learn more about social justice and scholarship? Check out the following:

Contact the History of Science and Justice Collective:
Twitter: @shjcollective 

Summer Blog Series Launch

Happy summer GECC members and readers! With temperatures rising and most classes taking a hiatus it’s time to add something to your reading list in the form of our summer blog series. Last year, under the direction of Emmie Miller (now GECC co-chair), the blog profiled early career scholars working in fields outside academia. If you haven’t read the interviews, check them out here. In taking up the mantle as communications co-chair I wanted to continue in a similar vein and use the blog to highlight some of the excellent work being done by historians of science as graduate students, traditional academics, and those branching out in new directions.

The first half of 2017 has brought current events into the forefront of many of our academic as well as non-academic lives. On the national and international stage coping with the fallout from the US election and Brexit, immigration, and activism including the Women’s March, Science March, and ongoing social justice advocacy by groups like #blacklivesmatter fill headlines and twitter feeds. Within the community of higher ed campus activism, funding concerns, and local politics continue to draw deserved attention. Personally, I have found myself asking what graduate and early career historians of science can bring to the table at this time. What platforms are there to express our concerns? How can our work reflect the times we live in? What is the role of historical criticism and how does it escape the academic bubble? These questions pre-date 2017, but with increased awareness and active commentary from organizations as large as the AHA and National Parks Service the time seemed right to look at the opportunities within our own house.

To that end, we will post three interviews over the next month (look for them on Thursdays!) addressing projects intended to break history of science out of a narrow academic box. In short, how historians of science are making a difference. Sarah Pickman co-organized a conference at Yale University on social justice issues which reached out to medical practitioners aw well as historians. The digital magazine Lady Science, co-edited by Lelia McNeill and Anna Reser brings critical historical assessments of science and gender to a broader audience. Finally, I spoke with co-editors-in-chief of the journal Endeavour, Richard Bellon and Joseph D. Martin, about its “In vivo” section, a dedicated space for historians to write about history and public policy. Each discussion is edited, but even with editing they are quite lengthy so please be patient. I hope they serves as both useful and entertaining reading over the weeks to come.

Happy Reading,
Sarah Naramore, GECC communications co-chair

About the author/editor- Sarah Naramore is a PhD candidate in the History and Philosophy of Science Program at the University of Notre Dame. Her research looks at the development of the American medical profession and medical theory from the American Revolution to the early nineteenth century.