Isis Special Session: Demography, Diversity, and the Transformation of the History of Science


Alexandra Hui

Mississippi State University


Suman Seth

Cornell University


Session Abstract

Does it matter if the history of science is diverse? Or rather, why should it matter if the people who tell the history of science represent a diversity of backgrounds, whether of class, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, or gender? A utilitarian answer: if the History of Science Society is charged with fostering interest in the history of science and its social and cultural relations, it is sensible that a greater diversity of perspectives would enable more holistic and comprehensive histories. A better state of affairs has come about through the persistent and courageous work of previous generations in our field; by those who were willing to risk professional and personal security in order to patiently read archives against the grain to tell stories of working-class botanists, feminist anatomists, or fugitive race empiricists. The result has been richer and more imaginative histories of science. But telling better histories cannot be the sole reason we care about and work for a more diverse professional historical society. This roundtable extends the discussion commenced in the Open Conversation section of the June 2020 issue of Isis. There, the contributors wrestled with the lessons we ourselves have learned from writing the history of those who have committed harm to further the aims of Science. This roundtable pushes the HSS membership to consider facing the notion that by doing what we love we have hurt others. And, further, ask (and answer) how the research that we pour our lives into has contributed to colonialism, racism, and sexism.

Presenter 1

Projit Mukharji

University of Pennsylvania

Presenter 2

Emily Merchant

University of California Davis

Presenter 3

Elise Burton

University of Toronto

Presenter 4

Terence Keel

University of California Los Angeles

Presenter 5

Sebastián Gil-Riaño

University of Pennsylvania

Presenter 6

Ahmed Ragab

Harvard University