Roundtable

Narrative as Practice in the Life Sciences

Organizers

Rachel Mason Dentinger

University of Utah

Tina Gianquitto

Colorado School of Mines

Chair

Rachel Mason Dentinger

University of Utah

Metadata

Session Abstract

Narratives and figurative language play a constitutive role in the sciences, helping to structure both theory and practice. In the life sciences, for instance, an individual organism may be turned into a species-representative collection: A plant is pressed for inclusion in an herbarium; the pressed plant becomes a microcentrifuge tube of DNA; the DNA then attains a digital identity as a sequence of nucleotides; then the sequence may be both disseminated and reconstituted, producing new accounts of whole organisms and their interactions. In turn, these narrative accounts influence how both 'science'-and its suppositions-are understood in the culture at large. Participants in the roundtable ask how ecological data, evolutionary histories, and cultural values are generated both by different types of evidence and by the stories that scientists and historians tell about that evidence. What are the narratives and figurative forms of language that allow life scientists to link, transform, and equate these radically different forms of knowledge about organisms? How then do historians and others parse these narratives to understand broader cultural trends?

Our roundtable, which brings together participants from a range of disciplines (history of science, literature, biology, and ecology) explores the weaving together of data and narrative by bringing case studies from the 19th century to the present day into conversation. Topics covered include: gender and plant reproduction; exploration and empire; the entwining of plant evolution and human cultivation of crop plants; plant biology and mind sciences; cultivation and coadaptation in the multispecies association of ants, fungi, bacteria, and plants; and the intersection of policy and ecology in understanding and managing urban vegetation in post-Katrina New Orleans. Collectively, we consider how analysis of narrative practices in the life sciences may open lines of communication between humanities scholars and scientists.

Presenter 1

Jelagat D. Cheruiyot

Tulane University

Presenter 2

Mary Bowden

University of Delaware

Presenter 3

Don Opitz

DePaul University

Presenter 4

Tina Gianquitto

Colorado School of Mines

Presenter 5

Sunshine Van Bael

Tulane University

Presenter 6

Rachel Mason Dentinger

University of Utah

Presenter 7

Joshua Lewis

Tulane University

Presenter 8

John Beatty

University of British Columbia