HSTM Events

Fall 2022 Colloquium - Matthew Stanley

Gallatin School of Individualized Study, NYU

Title: “Choose your own apocalypse: nuclear war, asteroids, and predicting the end of the world”

Abstract: Astronomers are good at predictions – eclipses down to the second, spacecraft landings to the minute.  But in the 1980s they struggled with convincing their colleagues, politicians, and publics to take one of their predictions seriously at all.  This was their novel warning that the Earth was in danger of being struck by an asteroid like that which killed the dinosaurs.  What they saw as straightforward technical calculations turned out to be deeply entangled with the way late Cold War America thought about apocalypses in general, and the threat of nuclear war in particular.  The scientists involved found that galvanizing political and social action required developing a new set of skills and networks that took advantage of the apocalyptic infrastructure that had been emplaced by decades of nuclear threat. 

A Concise History of Veterinary Medicine Book Launch

Celebrate the publication of "A Concise History of Veterinary Medicine," a global study of veterinary medicine and animal healing throughout the ages! The event, cohosted by the Alpha Psi Chapter and Minnesota Veterinary Historical Museum will include entertaining stories from the history of our profession followed by a book signing with authors Susan D. Jones and Peter A. Koolmees.

The event will include heavy hors d'oeuvres. CVM veterinary faculty and students, MVHM donors, pre-veterinary club members and honored guests will also be in attendance. 

Please check the Minnesota Veterinary Historical Museum's Facebook event page for updates.

About the Authors

Susan D. Jones is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota in the program of  History of Science and Technology. She is a trained veterinarian and historian. Her other titles include "Death in a Small  Package: A Short History of Anthrax", and "Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America".

Emeritus professor Peter A. Koolmees is a member of the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a trained BSc and historian. He served as president from 2000-2004 of the World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine. 

Fall 2022 Colloquium - William Deringer

Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

Title: Hazardous Nature: Coalmining Engineers, Discounting Calculations, and the Price of Risk, c. 1800

Abstract: Coal has long played a starring role in historical explanations of the development of industrial capitalism and the dawning of the Anthropocene. Yet the contributions of the coal industry to the intellectual infrastructure of modern capitalism has gained far less attention. This presentation reconstructs the role that coalmining practitioners played in developing one of the foundational conceptual practices of modern economic life: the ability to put a price on things, particularly things with an uncertain future. In the years around 1800, the engineers—called “viewers”—tasked with managing mines in the rich coalfields of northeast England developed remarkably sophisticated mathematical techniques for the valuation of unmined deposits of coal. Combining geological data, engineering know-how, and market intelligence, colliery engineers reimagined subterranean seams of carbon-laden rock as orderly financial assets that could be projected to produce a flow of regular profits. The linchpin of these remarkably modern business models was a calculative technique called “exponential discounting,” which made it possible to assign a “present value” to expected future income using the logic of compound interest. (This paper is drawn from a larger book project on the history of these discounting calculations.) Viewers’ transfiguration of the earth’s products into profit-generating assets marked a key turning-point in the intellectual genealogy of the carbon economy. It also exemplified a critical development in modern ideas and technologies of risk. Colliery viewers found that adjusting just one parameter in their calculations, the “discount rate,” enabled them to adjust for the myriad financial risks that faced investors given the “precarious and hazardous nature of a Colliery property.” At the same time, this clever computational device effaced the very different kinds of risks—noxious gases, mine collapses, catastrophic explosions—that shaped, threatened, and frequently ended the lives of those workers who descended into the mines.

Fall 2022 Colloquium - Suman Seth

Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University

Title: Problems in the Pluriverse: Postcolonial and Indigenous Science and Technology Studies.

Abstract: In this talk I will explore one of the most interesting current areas of overlap between Postcolonial and Indigenous STS: a shared concern with the problems posed and the opportunities offered by relativizing ontologies. The central issue may be explained quite simply. Imagine a disagreement between two groups. One explains a given event—the shaking of the earth, perhaps—by invoking the action of some Gods; the other insists on a ‘scientific’ explanation, pointing to the coming together of tectonic plates. Were we, as analysts, to adopt an epistemologically relativist position on this disagreement, we might suggest that both groups were really ‘talking about the same thing.’ That they, in fact, were simply offering competing representations of truths—beliefs—about the world. Such a position insists that only one world exists, however many understandings of that world there may be. As an alternative, scholars in both postcolonial and Indigenous STS have proposed that it is the ontological and not the epistemological that needs to be relativized: that the problem lies in assuming that ‘we’ all share a single world. Instead of a universe, some have argued, we inhabit a pluriverse. Is the pluriverse a solution, however, or does it pose its own set of problems, both practical and political?  

HMED Lunch talk featuring Matthew Reznicek, Creighton University

Central to the biopolitics of Edgeworth’s novels and her conception of society is a model of health that can be attributed to or shared with her physician brother-in-law, Thomas Beddoes. In his Hygëia; Or, Essays Moral and Medical, on the Causes Affecting the Personal State of our Middling and Affluent Classes (1802), Beddoes lays out a view of health primarily ‘an object of regulation’.

Understanding the doctor to function as a sort of moral guardian, Beddoes’s conception of health ‘promote[s] activities that lead people toward healthy, cohesive experiences, and to suppress those that have the unhealthy effect of dissolving the relations he holds to be vital to physical, ethical, and social health. The greatest threat to the healthy society, therefore, is any kind of dissolution of the static order of relations into fluidity melting the hierarchical alignment of social members’. This conception of health not only establishes the parallels between moral and physiological health that shape the critique and representation of society in Ennui, but, more importantly, it enacts the type of social surveillance that Edgeworth sees as key to maintaining the social health of the body politic.

Drawing on the biopolitics of Beddoes, Edgeworth’s novel uses the language of infection and contagion to describe the threat of rebellion and insurrection amongst the broader body politic, associating it specifically with an ‘improper’ body, in order to underscore the need for a biopolitical regime that surveys and manages these potential feverish outbreaks.