Organized Session

Switching Jobs

Organizer

Morgan J. Robinson

Mississippi State University

Chair

Morgan J. Robinson

University of Southern California

Metadata

Session Abstract

Dialectician to theologian; patent clerk and publishing physicist; scientist by training, historian by profession-the "switch" back, forth, and between occupations, vocations, and institutions is a familiar motif of the history (and historiography) of science. This panel will make it a topic of investigation in its own right-while the vagaries of the twenty-first-century job market might seem exceptional, academic scientists have long moved from one job to another, sometimes voluntarily and other times at the pressure of earning a living. These changes in professional situation brought both new opportunities and new constraints, practical and epistemological. From instruments and funding, to conversations with new colleagues and students, switching jobs could bring about new ways of seeing and doing. Starting a new job also required getting up to speed, imbibing, perhaps, new epistemic virtues, and preparing to embark on new research.
"Switching Jobs" will deliver three granular studies of switches along different planes and in different spheres of the history of knowledge: the goal is to interrogate closely the concept of transition from many angles and at high resolution, and to investigate the possibility of a syntax of the "switch" that cuts across fields-from linguistics to virology to textual investigation and beyond-and helps taxonomize the assumptions of actors and investigators alike.

Presenter 1

J. M. Gesner From Leipzig to Göttingen: A Philologist on the Move

Christian Flow

Mississippi State University

Abstract

The classical scholar Johann Matthias Gesner (1691-1761) moved in 1734 from his position as rector of the storied Thomasschule in Leipzig to a professorial post at the newly founded university of Göttingen, soon to garner a reputation as a cutting-edge university. It was a moment of transition on many levels. This paper will profile Gesner's move from one city to another, from school to university; it will examine the opportunities and challenges posed by his duties in a freshly minted institution, including his role, assumed shortly thereafter, as the head of a putatively new pedagogical project, the seminarium philologicum. At issue is what qualified as an innovation in the philological scholarship and teaching of the period, as well as a better profile of the backdrop posed by the early modern university, and a sharpened understanding of the cursus honorum that defined contemporary scholarly ambitions.

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Presenter 2

Africanizing Expertise in Virus Research

Julia Cummiskey

University of Tennessee Chattanooga

Abstract

In the 1960s and 1970s, the East African Virus Research Institute (EAVRI) in Uganda underwent major changes as the country, and the wider region, made the transition from colonial rule to independence. At the EAVRI, independence meant the imperative to recruit, train, and promote African scientists. While most visibly dramatic at the level of director and senior scientists, Africanization also had effects among the more junior positions at the Institute, such as laboratory technicians, field staff, and "unskilled" laborers such as animal attendants and collectors. This paper will explore the goals, challenges, and opportunities that resulted from the rapid, but strategic, transformation of the EAVRI. It will focus on the stories of several directors of the EAVRI in the 1960s, two Europeans and one Ugandan; two of the first Ugandan scientists employed at the EAVRI in the 1960s; and several technicians for whom Africanization of scientific research offered some potential for upward mobility. As people moved from director to consultant, from student to scientist, from janitor to medical officer, and from carpenter to senior laboratory technician, the imperative to remain credible as a site of international scientific expertise mandated that a discourse of consistency exist alongside a discourse of revolutionary change. The Africanization of jobs at the EAVRI offers insight into the larger project of Africanization in Uganda, but also the particular dynamics of Africanization in scientific research.

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Presenter 3

The Creativity of Clerkship

Morgan J. Robinson

Mississippi State University

Abstract

Shaaban Robert is best known as one of East Africa's most storied literary figures: a poet, novelist, and essayist who deliberately chose to utilize Standard Swahili, rather than of the language's more traditional 'literary' dialects, as his artistic medium. Less well-known is Robert's lifelong career as a bureaucrat, working for the colonial administration in Tanganyika in the Customs Service, the Department of Game Protection, and retiring as a clerk in the District Office of Tanga, his hometown. The bureaucratic and literary threads of Shaaban Robert's career were connected through his association with two organizations-the Inter-Territorial Language Committee and the East African Literature Bureau. Both the ILC and the EALB were colonial creations, the first focused on the standardization of Swahili, the latter on the "production of literature" in that language. Exploring the career trajectory of Shaaban Robert as it moved from clerk to author, from ILC volunteer to chairman of the EALB, we can see how official, 'scientific' projects of language codification such as that of Standard Swahili simultaneously imposed constraints and empowered artists and activists to seize the language for their own purposes.

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Presenter 4

Period Styles: From Classical to Medieval Studies in Early Modern Scholarship

Frederic Clark

University of Southern California

Abstract


Specialization is perhaps endemic to scholarship, but how did scholars past talk about specialties that did not yet possess fixed names? Early modern Europe constitutes a particularly rich site for understanding the "pre-history" of the modern academic disciplines that were ultimately formalized in the nineteenth century. Today, advocates of greater interdisciplinary in the contemporary academy celebrate that now-lost ability of early modern scholars to combine scientific and humanistic pursuits into a coherent research program. However, far less attention has been paid to a related-and equally significant-phenomenon: the tendency of early modern historical scholarship to range across periods, before such periods were isolated as discrete units of specialization.
This paper investigates this phenomenon through a case study in how early modern classical scholars-that is, scholars of the languages and cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman world-used the tools of their trade to investigate a very different context: the millennium of European history from roughly 500 to 1500 that they gradually began to call the "middle ages." It focuses on two figures instrumental in formalizing the tripartite division of time into ancient/medieval/modern: the Dutch humanist G.J. Vossius (1577-1649) and the German scholar Christopher Cellarius (1638-1707).

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