October 18, 2017

Archive Visit: The Joseph Rotblat Papers

Welcome to the HSTM Blog, 2017 edition! I'm Will Vogel, the 2017-2018 Communications Coordinator, and will be serving as editor for the blog this year.

     And now for something somewhat different. This blog had a number of incisive posts in 2015, but has since fallen into hiatus. As part of an effort to reverse this, I’m penning this post as one less ‘academic’ in tone than the excellent pieces which has appeared thus far. Rather than writing a well-researched and argued analysis (mental energy that could go to dissertation writing!), I’ll be discussing my recent research trip to the UK. I invite you to write similar posts about your own lived experiences as an academic in HSTM (research, teaching, and conference experiences seem like excellent candidates), or indeed posts in the vein of those which have appeared before, discussing elements of your work.
     My trip, allowed by the generous support of the Institute for Global Studies' Dunn Peace Research Scholarship, took me to the Churchill Archives Center, at Cambridge University. The Churchill Center serves as a broadly construed ‘life and times’ archive for Winston Churchill, housing his papers, as well as those of a number of other military, governmental, and scientific figures from (generally) the 20th century. The general focus of this collection is on British figures, but I would imagine that it would be useful for any number of projects outside of British history per se (as mine is). Reflecting the value of its collections, the Center was placed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register in 2015.

The Churchill Center (WinstonChurchill.org)

     The Archives were an excellent environment for research, with well-written finding aids (available in electronic and paper form), and a well-organized if formalized system for requesting folders of documents. Photography is permitted, provided one pays a fee of £1 each day one takes photographs. The archives are well-staffed, and all of the staff were extremely helpful and friendly. As one might expect for an institution of this sort, it has a well-maintained web presence, with electronic finding aids on the Janus server, a useful website, and (of course), an oft-updated Twitter feed.
     The actual subject of my visit was the Joseph Rotblat collection. Rotblat was a fascinating figure, born in 1908 in Warsaw (then in the Russian Empire), who worked as an electrician before becoming a nuclear physicist in the 1930s. He left Poland shortly before the Second World War broke out, but lost his wife, who was trapped by the German invasion and died in a concentration camp. Having independently conceived of the weapons potential of a fission chain reaction, he joined British nuclear bomb research, and worked on the Manhattan project, before leaving in 1944 when he concluded that the threat of a German bomb was unlikely to materialize. Horrified by the offensive use of the bomb research, he shifted fields into medical physics, which at the time cost him a Royal Society membership. As a researcher on the biological effects of radiation, he became one of the founders of the Pugwash conferences in 1957. Named after the Canadian resort town in which the first meeting took place, these conferences enlisted international groups of scientists to discuss problems relating to the general theme of disarmament, such as the threat of nuclear fallout. Rotblat served as a central figure in the Pugwash movement for the remainder of his career, literally organizing it from his home in the early 1960s. For this work, he shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize with the Pugwash organization. He died in 2005, having lived through two world wars, the entire history of the Soviet Union, and the first seven decades of the nuclear age.

Joseph Rotblat (The Guardian)

     Due to his central involvement in the Pugwash movement, Rotblat’s papers include substantial administrative records for the movement. My visit was primarily to view these, and they proved to be a goldmine. I was primarily interested in Pugwash’s activities in opposition to chemical and biological weapons, which included a fascinating project in the 1960s to duplicate (presumed) secret military work on technology to rapidly detect pathogenic airborne microbes. These papers will help immensely with my dissertation work. The broader picture of the organization which emerged from the archive was also fascinating, as a network of informal Cold War diplomacy with impacts on the Partial Test Ban Treaty and early Vietnam War negotiations. This picture fits with Matthew Evangelista’s discussion of Pugwash and other transnational organizations in his 1999 book Unarmed Forces, but the new availability of Rotblat’s papers (which were only opened to the public a few years ago) suggest the possibility for new scholarship on the Pugwash movement and its role in the Cold War. There were also the fun little tidbits one finds in any good archive. For instance, Bertrand Russell (at the time the titular leader of the Pugwash movement), was apparently sympathetic to Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.



Copyright Churchill Archives Center. Not a novel finding, but new to me!

     While I didn’t get to any other archives while in the UK, I did get a chance to visit Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyards one weekend. Between that and previous visits to Baltimore and Boston this summer, my dissertation research has allowed a surprising amount of naval history tourism! All good things must come to an end, however: my next two trips will be to Madison, WI and Atlanta, neither of which are noted for their historic ships.


Ex-USS Constellation (1854), Baltimore Harbor. Author's photo.
USS Constitution (1797), Boston Harbor. Author's photo.
HMS Victory (1765), Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Author's photo.

June 3, 2015

A New View, from Somewhere

This week is a second post from John Heydinger, who had previously written about Ludwik Fleck. Here, he interprets the "Anthropocene" through a lens provided by Donna Haraway. Check it out!

May 26, 2015

Métis Medicine in the Northwest Territories, 1835-1839

Macey (Margaret) Flood received her B.A. in the Liberal Arts in 2007 from St. John’s College in Santa Fe. She studies the history of botanical medicine in the 19th- and 20th-century United States, looking at the circulation of both plants and practices between indigenous, metis, and settler communities, including the eclectic practitioners. Her broader interests include oral histories, traditions of heterodox medicine in the United States, and the relationship of medicine to place. She has worked as a freelance editor, a research assistant in cognitive science, and an herbal practitioner and education. Her other interests include exploring the outdoors and writing nonfiction. Her work is supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
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In “Dismantling the Divide between Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge,” Arun Agrawal problematized traditional distinctions between “indigenous” and “scientific” or “western” knowledge by arguing that knowledge in general is best studied through its application. [1] Per Agrawal, knowledge itself is not a thing in itself but something useful that is used. Historian James Secord echoed Agrawal’s point ten years later:
To do real historical work, this perspective [that “communicating is the doing of science” [2]] needs to be not only explicit but also foundational. This means... eradicating the distinction between the making and the communicating of knowledge. [3]
Like Agrawal, Secord situated knowledge within its application. This in itself was not a new step for a historian of science. The historiography of the past few decades reflected the influence of the so-called practice turn. However, Secord articulated the relationship between knowledge and practice a step further, specifying that practice in the form of communication has been both the instantiation of scientific knowledge as well as the act of its creation.

I would like to extrapolate these theories to the creation and circulation of medicinal knowledge. There are several challenges in so doing. Medicinal knowledge and particularly medical practices have often been distinct from “scientific” knowledge, particularly in the early 19th century. Further, medicine in the Western tradition has often carried the dual identity of being both a “theory” and a “practice” – a distinction that has carried more or less weight at different times. Nonetheless, Agrawal’s de-distinction between “scientific” and “indigenous” knowledge might similarly erase the boundary between “scientific” and “medicinal” – each identifies a body of instantiated practices that have been practiced by particular people – in the case of medicine, the healer. When the historian also erases epistemic boundaries between “western” and “indigenous” medicinal practices and instead locates any cultural association to the practitioner, medicine appears, by necessity, linked to the social position of the practitioner.

Such a position may be complicated, such as in Métis communities, social groups in the Northwest territories characterized by their mixed French and indigenous ancestry and modes of living and their social positioning between – but not entirely within – both realms. [4] My current work examines the medicinal practices and episteme of non-professional Métis practitioners in the Northwest Territories during the 1830s. One such individual was Catharine Ely (1817-1880), nee Goulais/Bissell, born in Sault Ste. Marie in the Michigan territories. Catharine’s mother, Josette Grant, was half-Ojibwe. Her father, Joseph Goulais, was a French-Canadian voyageur. [5] Catharine grew up in the waning milieu of the fur-trade, a society in which French and later British and American traders, soldiers, and missionaries lived and worked alongside Odawa, Ojibwe (or Chippewa), Assiniboine, and other indigenous peoples. Marriage and child rearing between cultural and racial groups formed a society of Métis families and a “creole” culture. [6]

Catharine converted to Presbyterianism in 1834 and joined the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) mission at La Pointe in the Michigan territories.  Soon after, Catharine met and married Edmund Ely, a mission teacher from New York. Catharine accompanied Edmund to a mission school at Fond du Lac as helpmate, translator, teacher, and wife. She started a diary several months after her marriage and continued the practice sporadically for three years, from 1835-1839. [7] Catharine’s diary provides a rare opportunity for the historian to understand one practice of Métis medicine.

Among the eighty or so entries in her diary, several refer to medicine. Catharine noted which therapies she used to treat illness - magnesia, peppermint, “rhubard [sic]”, “salts”, and “pills”. Catharine framed disease with a rationale common to European and American settlers:  for example, she described her daughter’s teething as “humours… breaking out.” [8] While Catharine’s medicinal practices and therapeutic rationale were associated with the episteme and trade networks of settler society, her social interactions indicated her awareness of and interaction with Ojibwe kinship networks and social obligation. Catharine distributed medicines in her husband’s absence; on one occasion, she allowed a distraught neighbor to reside with her “until Mr. E arrived” to settle the matter. Catharine’s deference to her husband’s say in household matters would have been typical in American gender politics, but apparently such deference did not hold while her husband was away. Catharine acted as a “go-between” for Ojibwe and settler society through her work as translator, teacher, and mission worker as well as in her social support and medicinal practice. [9] Catharine, Métis go-between, instantiated Métis medicine.

Thus far I have met Agrawal’s call to seat knowledge in practice. Can I go further and fulfill Secord’s admonition to locate the creation of Métis medicine in Catharine’s communication of medicinal knowledge?  If the reader can accept the social act of practicing medicine as a form of communication, then the theory may hold. A comparative analysis of other Metis practitioners is needed in order to track patterns of application and social mediation. From this single window, the study appears promising. Catharine, go-between, negotiating multiple worlds, drew multiple worlds into her practice of medicine - imported drugs, theories about humors, and patients from both Ojibwe and settler societies. Catharine’s practice, as her identity, negotiated a “middle ground” in the Northwest Territories.
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[1]  Arun Agrawal, “Dismantling the Divide between Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge.” Development and Change 26, no. 3 (1995): 413–39.
[2] Secord is quoting Scott L. Montgomery, The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)
[3] James A. Secord, “Knowledge in Transit.” Isis 95, no. 4 (2004): 661. 
[4] I have chosen to use “big-M” Métis to refer to Catharine. For an excellent capitulation of the scholarly controversies and racial and political consequences of using ‘Métis’ versus ’métis’, see Chris Anderson, “Moya `tipimsook (‘the People Who Aren’t Their Own Bosses’): Racialization and the Misrecognition of ‘Métis’ in Upper Great Lakes Ethnohistory.” Ethnohistory 58, no. 1 (2011): 37.
[5] "Life Memoranda" filled out by Mrs. Catharine Bissell Ely. Excerpt from Keith Widder’s Battle for the Soul: Métis Children Encounter Evangelical Protestants at Mackinaw Mission, 1823-1837 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: MSU Press, 1999), 104.
[6] Lucy Eldersveld Murphy, “To Live Among Us” in Native Women’s History in Eastern North America before 1900 : A Guide to Research and Writing, ed. Rebecca Murphy and Lucy Eldersveld Murphy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 368-414. See also Murphy, “Public Mothers: Native American and Métis Women as Creole Mediators in the Nineteenth-Century Midwest.” Journal of Women’s History 14, no. 4 (2003): 142–66. 
[7] Edmund Franklin Ely, The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.)  Catharine’s diary can be found in Appendix B. It is possible that she wrote more that has not survived.
[8] Catharine Ely on November 21, 1836, 448.
[9] The Brokered World: Go-Betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770-1820, ed. Simon Schaffer, Lissa Roberts, Kapil Raj, and James Delbourgo. (Science History Publications Sagamore Beach, MA, 2009), xiv. In their introduction, the editors state that the “go-between” is not “just a passer-by or a simple agent of cross-cultural diffusion, but someone who articulates relationships between disparate worlds or cultures by being able to translate between them.” 

April 8, 2015

Designing Projects for the Digital Generation: The History of Biology Thumbnails Project

Emmie Miller, of Colorado, is a second-year graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Although she loves 20th/21st century zebrafish, she actually studies the relationship between humans and non-human animals in the early modern period. In December, she published a blog post at Shells and Pebbles entitled, "Dissecting the 'Chain of Creation': Edward Tyson and Anatomical Natural History," which she also discussed at an 2014 HSS Meeting session. Follow her on Twitter.
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One difficult thing about being an instructor today is the concern that students, distracted by their buzzing phones and binging Facebook apps, don’t care to learn because they’re preoccupied with what’s trending. In addition to being sidetracked by their interpersonal relationships, higher priority classes, and other things of real significance, they are inundated with diverting alerts from their handheld media. This deserves to be reframed – our students now learn in different ways. We as instructors should realize that every time they text in class on their smartphone, they are playing right into our hands, but only if we are willing to incorporate into our teaching strategies the technology that so thoroughly captures their attention.

April 2, 2015

Music in the Scientific Revolution

Adam Fix is a second-year graduate student here at the University of Minnesota. He studies the history of philosophy, mathematics, and the physical sciences during the early modern period. His post this week is a wonderful intersection of these topics: music. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adam plays music himself. Check out some of his pieces here!

March 24, 2015

Fleck's Multiple Collectives


This week's post comes from a first-year graduate student, John Heydinger, who, after a earning his B.A. in history, briefly became a field and conservation biologist working in South Africa. He has since returned to our own thought collective of the history of science, and plans to work on the relationship between the sciences and the humanities in higher education. His post is about Ludwik Fleck, whose book we read in a seminar about theories in/of history, led by Susan Jones.
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Ludwik Fleck’s Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact is a text both rich in meaning and illuminating in application for the budding historian of science; it seems to grow in strength with increasing familiarity. Amongst our graduate student community Fleck provides fodder for conversations both broad and deep. Echoing one such discussion I wanted to recapitulate a difficulty found in Fleck’s work, along with a tentative hypothesis for how this difficulty in applying Fleck’s philosophy to the history of science might be overcome.

March 12, 2015

A Matter of Meat and Democracy: A Crisis in Veterinary Public Health

Jeannette Vaught is a former equine veterinary technician and current PhD Candidate at the University of Texas. Her dissertation, "Science, Animals, and Profit-Making in the American Rodeo Arena," documents the scientific enhancement and redefinition of rodeo animals over the second half of the twentieth century, and maps how professional rodeo navigates the tensions between tradition and modernity through a strategic use of animals. Susan D. Jones is a member of the dissertation committee. This post derives from her presentation at the September 2014 World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine Congress in London, and provides a veterinary perspective of the effects of deregulation on the meat animal industry in the 1980s based on archival materials that did not make it into the dissertation. Follow her on Twitter: @JeannetteVaught.
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In September 1985, veterinarian and long-time United States Department of Agriculture meat inspector Carl Telleen penned a letter to his former USDA colleagues:  “To my former fellow Review Officers,” he began, “It has been a most painful experience for all of us but one which we had to suffer in order to maintain our own integrity as well as to be able to expose the evils in government.” [1] The painful experience to which he is referring is a four-year battle between Telleen, the USDA, and the conglomerate of companies making up the lion’s share of the modern American meatpacking industry. In 1981, after serving for 20 years as a meat inspector, Telleen charged the USDA with instituting meat inspection policies that broke longstanding food safety laws and endangered the public. To his view, these changes were made for commercial and political reasons at the expense of public health. By 1985, Telleen’s whistleblowing campaign, steeped in acrimony and intimidation, had brought him national notoriety and made him a polarizing figure in the agricultural veterinary world. When the USDA deregulated its inspection policies, he was horrified that the public would consume contaminated meat, and lost faith in the government’s role in protecting citizens from harm. To Telleen, the principles of American democracy were centered on healthy meat, and both were at risk.