As a reader on this blog, you probably enjoy learning about science. But how much do you know about its history? If you’re a scientist, do you know where your field came from? There are fascinating stories behind the instruments you use and the journals you read. If you’re not a scientist, do you know about the connections between surgery and warfare? Or how computers came to be both everywhere and invisible? This is where historians of science come in. We inform current-day scientists by tracing their present work to past discoveries and reflecting on the lessons from these successes and failures. We can tell you how scientific knowledge has changed over time, the stories of the people who were behind it, and how it shaped and was shaped by society.
This weekend, our Bloomington campus will host the Midwest Junto for the History of Science. For the past 60 years, this regional gathering has brought together scholars fascinated with the science of the past to share their work in a friendly, informal setting. Topics of discussion range from illustrations in early modern medical books to how science was taught during the Cold War. The presentations cover an array of sciences, including natural history, psychology, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. Each talk lasts for 15 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of discussion. They run all day Saturday, March 25th, and on Sunday morning, the 26th. Registration (via email) is appreciated, but no fee is required for local students and faculty.
Here’s a sample of the presentations in store:
Chemists, alchemists, and anyone else still in search of the Philosopher’s Stone will be excited for the Stuart Pierson Memorial Talk by William Newman (Indiana University). A master of the occult, Newman will reenact Isaac Newton’s alchemical experiments at 2:00 pm on Saturday. (Transmutation not guaranteed).
Earlier that morning, Guilherme Sanches de Oliveira (University of Cincinnati) will compare the emerging field of forensic neuroimaging with the criminal anthropology of 19th-century Italy. Are scientists, he worries, making the same old mistakes?
After lunch, Meagan Allen (Indiana University) takes us to medieval times. Back when surgeons sought to counter the Black Death as it spread across Eurasia, Guy de Chauliac’s diagnostic advice was key to their understanding of plague.
Sunday morning, Amy Coombs (University of Chicago) explores the forgotten history of oilseed. Unglamorous at first, this oil has been used to combat crop diseases for over four centuries. Does the history of oilseed, she inquires, provide insights for contemporary strategies for sustainability?
The opening reception is on Friday night at 5:30 pm in Ballantine Hall room 004 (see the full program here). Saturday’s talks take place in the Social Science Research Commons (Woodburn Hall room 200). Sunday’s proceedings are also in Woodburn 200.