2022 Burnham Early Career Award Prize: Catriel Fierro, “A Supposedly Objective Thing I’ll Never Use Again: Carl Rogers and the Tradition of Word-Association Tests in Emotional Adjustment Research (1898–1927)”
Most well-known for his humanistic and person-centered method, Carl R. Rogers claims an important place in the history of psychotherapy. Less understood is Rogers’ earlier approach to clinical psychology, especially when psychological testing emerged as the clinician’s foremost scholarly activity in the 1920s. In this careful contextualization of Rogers’ early thinking and experimentation, Catriel Fierro superbly sheds light on the development of clinical psychology and its quest for scientific legitimacy during the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on a plethora of previously untapped primary sources, Fierro skillfully unravels the links between Rogers’ early conception of scientific empiricism, Carl Jung’s word-association technique, and Whately Smith’s investigation of the relationship between bodily reflex and affective states. Rather than considering Rogers’ abandonment of word-association tests as an episode of scientific loss, Fierro makes a convincing case for why it should be seen instead as a pivot for rich historicism. “A Supposedly Objective Thing I’ll Never Use Again” deftly untangles the complex relationship between theory and experimental practice, exemplifying how to best place both in a detailed intellectual, institutional, and cultural context of science.
Honorable mention: Zhipeng Gao, “’Overcome Illness with Revolutionary Spirit!’: Psychosomatic Healthcare in Socialist China, 1949 – 1965”
2022 Burnham Prize Committee: Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira, Howard Chiang (chair), and Emily Kern
2021 Prize: Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira, “A Science for the Spirit: Popular Culture and the Early Popularization of Psychical Research in China, 1900-1920”
At a moment when the history of science is increasingly being conceptualized as a global history of knowledge, Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira’s study of the flows of psychical research is posed to make a crucial contribution to the history of the human sciences. Methodologically rich, with sources across at least four languages, this paper introduces readers to a huge and varied collection of scientific and popular accounts of psychical phenomena from Japan and Europe into China. As he traces the movement, adaptation, and translation of these sources, Junqueira examines how “Spiritual Science” (xinling kexue) opened new paths for reformers in Republican China to conceptualize the links between Western science and Eastern traditions in ways that ameliorated critiques of the reductive nature of materialism in science, served their political projects. The judges were particularly impressed with the sophisticated arguments and the extraordinary use of language and translation to weave a global history. “A Science for the Spirit”—and the broader project that it is part of—promises to expand our understanding of the intersections of popular science, the human sciences, and state building projects.
2021 Burnham Prize Committee: Rosanna Dent, Jai Virdi (chair), and Peter Callopy
2020 Prize: Rosanna Dent, “Bureaucratic Vulnerability: Possession, Sovereignty, and Relationality in Brazilian Research Regulation”
Professor Dent’s work in the academy demonstrates the highest standards and embodies principles of social justice in research, teaching, and global community build. Dent’s research essay, “Bureaucratic Vulnerability,” explores colonialism in Brazil as an ongoing structure rather than an event of the past and does do by developing innovative historical methods in working with indigenous Xavante people. With deep care, nuance, and scholarly rigor, Dent grapples with balancing positions both within the Xavante community and within scholarly communities. In doing so, Dent’s work gives courage to other historians of the human sciences to further consider the place of ethnographic practices in historical knowledge making. Dent’s work is a profound yet humble call to attend to how historians might navigate institutional bureaucracies and personal moral codes, as well as what Dent calls “systems of relational ethics” within the communities.
2020 Burnham Prize Committee: Chin Jou (Chair), Tom Stapleford, Sebastián Gil-Riaño
2019 Prize: Jaipreet Virdi, “Measuring and Conserving Hearing: Early Audiology & the Fitting of Hearing Aids”
The prize committee members agreed that the 2019 prize should be awarded to Jaipreet Verdi for the paper, “Measuring and Conserving Hearing: Early Audiology & the Fitting of Hearing Aids.” Virdi’s manuscript describes the epistemological and technical problems surrounding US midcentury attempts to “fit” electronic hearing aids to users, that is, to provide hearing aids that matched the particular needs of particular users. While audiography – the graphic tracing of difference thresholds in hearing – provided one avenue for fitting hearing aids, the subjective perceptions of users were neither easy to fix in place, nor simple to interpret from ethical and ideological perspectives. Ultimately, Virdi shows how a set of institutional standard practices emerged from clinical responses to military and commercial research in audiography and hearing-aid design at midcentury. Virdi’s essay is richly sourced and well-written, and serves as something of a prolegomenon for a variety of topics at the intersection of the history of the behavioral sciences and of disability studies – for example, matters of technological apparatus and epistemological flexibility; questions of standardization, commercialization, and subjectivity; and, ultimately, issues of the ways in which ideas of subjective selfhood both resist and accommodate modes of mechanical objectivity and trained judgment as wielded by different actors. As such, the committee believes that this paper documents an important beginning to a new direction in disability studies and the history of science.
2019 Burnham Prize Committee: Myrna Sheldon (chair), Julia Rodriguez, and Michael Rossi
2018 Prize: Michael Rossi, “Inventing ‘Neuroscience’: Behavior, Materialism, and Spirituality at the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT, 1958-1965”
The John C. Burnham Early Career Award is given annually to a scholar for an unpublished manuscript on a topic in the history of the human sciences, in combination with a record of high scholarly achievement. In 2018, the Burnham committee unanimously agreed that the prize should be awarded to Michael Rossi, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, for his paper “Inventing ‘Neuroscience’: Behavior, Materialism, and Spirituality at the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT, 1958-1965.” The paper unfolds the history of the “Neuroscience Research Program” at M.I.T. and the efforts of Francis O. Schmitt to fashion a new approach to an empirical study of the mind. Rossi’s impressive analysis brings together several intriguing strands to show efforts to create neuroscience as “a new kind of science,” one that would braid various scientific disciplines and methodologies (including psychology, physiology, linguistics, biochemistry, physics and cybernetics, among others), and, importantly, transcend the gap between materialism of scientific research and experiences of spirituality. Rossi explores the role of the “unorthodox” and “supernatural” interests of the early proponents of neuroscience. In doing so, Rossi troubles the distinct boundaries too often drawn around “science” in histories of the behavioral and mind sciences at mainstream secular institutions. The paper illuminates the complexities of the ideals that motivate scientific practice, and by shedding this light this paper will open up new imaginative possibilities for scholars pursuing the history of the human sciences.
The Burnham prize committee also saw fit to award honorable mention to Daniela Helbig to acknowledge a record of scholarly excellence and an impressive paper submission. Helbig’s paper, titled “The nature of the ordinary world: Walter Benjamin and Paul von Handel on techno-scientific experience,” links early 20th century German worlds of philosophy and engineering and new insights into the history of human sciences. At its most ambitious, Helbig interprets these new historical insights as consequential for new theories of history.
2018 Burnham Prize Committee: Myrna Sheldon (chair), Joanna Radin, Grace Davie
2017 Prize: Joanna Radin, “Rescaling Colonial Life From the Indigenous to the Alien: The Late 20th Century Search for Human Biological Futures”
“Rescaling Colonial Life From the Indigenous to the Alien: The Late 20th Century Search for Human Biological Futures,“ follows the reach of colonial practices of natural history through genomics and into outer space. The article centers around biochemist and medical anthropologist Baruch Blumberg, who began his career collecting samples from colonial subjects in Surinam and ended it as head of the NASA program in Astrobiology. Joanna Radin’s history traces entwinements of colonial natural history, space exploration, and inductive methods in postwar biological science.
In the paper, Radin explores how frozen colonial pasts operate in the service of biological futures. Radin’s research refigures sample collection, induction and cryogenic suspension as modes of colonial science. Following histories of frozen blood samples collected from indigenous populations in the postwar period, Radin reveals a cryopolitics of “not letting die,” in the service of some future biological development. Radin’s impressive body of work offers unique contributions to the study of Cold War, postcolonial technoscience, genomics, big data, climate history, extinction, science fiction and speculative futures.
Radin deftly weaves a story of postwar scientific method with an account of postcolonial extraction. She shows how a colonial imaginary of frontier exploration and a scientific imaginary of induction, unite in a calling to “discover the unexpected.” Radin depicts Blumberg as a collector of samples, in the mode of a colonial natural historian, for whom the Pacific – and later the world, perhaps the solar system – figured as a living laboratory. Blumberg won the Nobel Prize for his work on Hepatitis B, derived from blood samples of indigenous peoples of the Pacific. As a NASA administrator, Blumberg harnessed a language of “new frontiers” – exploring where no one had yet gone – and language of basic science – seeking the unknown and following curiosity. He imagined a scientific exploration, the extraction and classification of new material, as capital to be realized in some biological future.
Radin elsewhere theorizes the temporalities involved in cryogenics, the freezing of biological matter. In this article, she explores a spatial scaling, from terrestrial colonial outposts to distant planets, from “indigenous human to the alien in biological science.” In keeping with her sensitivity to space and refoldings of the colonial past, Radin ends with a call, via Ursula Le Guin, to stop, turn one’s gaze from a frontier future and look down at one’s own roots.
2017 Burnham Prize Committee: Dana Simmons (chair) and Katja Guenther
2015 Prize: Katja Guenther, “Monkeys, Mirrors and Me: Gordon Gallup and the Study of Self-Recognition”
Katja Gunther’s essay examines the case of behavior psychologist Gordon Gallup’s research on animals, in particular primates, at Washington State University in the 1960s and 1970s. Guenther makes two important and persuasive arguments.
First, Guenther shows, using the example of Gordon and his milieu, that “operationalism” was a vestigial assumption endemic to behavioral psychology that allowed Gordon (and others) to integrate work on internal states into their research once behavioral psychology started to fall out of favor during the cognitive revolution. This is an important argument because it helps to answer the question of what became of behavioral psychologists during this moment of crisis in the field. Was the decline of behaviorism accomplished solely by attrition? By studying a behavioral psychologist caught in the moment of the field’s decline, Guenther shows how contemporary behaviorists could fold into the cognitive revolution by using specific conceptual tools.
The most exciting contribution of the article, however, is its exploration of a physical tool: the mirror. Guenther argues that Gallop’s research on internal states—which specifically produced his theory of self-concept—was not an answer to an abstract research question. Instead, it was an answer to a seemingly mundane practical question: What usefully can be done with mirrors in laboratory research? It was a question borne of tight budgets and limitations of space at a specific moment in time. And it mattered. Guenther shows that Gallop’s experiments on monkeys were as much experiments on mirrors—and the catalyst of the two yielded his theory of self-concept because he came to regard the mirror as a suitable (and even superior) reinforcer and, eventually, stimulus. Mirrors (or rather the reflections they produced) were dynamic, not static, and they were cheaper, more sanitary, and less prone to injure that the main dynamic alternative, ie other animals. Guenther’s emphasis on Gallop’s ruminations on mirrors as a research tool provides the grounds for this article’s important methodological insight for historians. Attention to the material culture of psychology shows that scientists’ research and their “discoveries” were the product not only of intellectual puzzles, but of their efforts to manage—and make use of—the physical constraints of their research settings. The piece joins a body of scholarships that takes seriously the simple tools of knowledge-making (eg ink blots) and offers a way to link history of the human sciences with history of technology. Most of all, it suggests new ways of approaching—and of answering—foundational questions for our field, namely, through attention to material culture.
Finally, Guenther joins her analysis of material culture to an emphasis on the social psychology of a group of researchers—who happen to be psychologists. In the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, the post-WWII era was marked by a “spirit of bricolage,” she argues, contributing to Gallop’s creative work with a mundane object: the mirror.
2015 Burnham Prize Committee: Laura Stark and Ben Harris
2014 Prize: Susan Lamb, “Residual Effects and Early Manifestations: Intersections of Neurasthenia and Subconscious Conflict as Explanatory Models for Functional Disorders in Pre-war America”
The Forum for the History of the Human Sciences is pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 competition for the FHHS/JHBS John C. Burnham Early Career Award: Susan Lamb, a postdoctoral fellow in History and Classical Studies at McGill University. The title of her winning essay is “Residual Effects and Early Manifestations: Intersections of Neurasthenia and Subconscious Conflict as Explanatory Models for Functional Disorders in Pre-war America.”
Through examination of an extensive inventory of individual case studies, Susan Lamb explores the transition from somatic (or ‘near somatic’) models of psychiatric disorders to psychological models. Lamb draws her evidence from patient records of the Phipps Clinic, then directed by Adolf Meyer, an early advocate of a “psychoanalytic” approach. She uses individual case studies to illuminate the disjunction between patients’ self understandings of their conditions and Phipps practitioners’ diagnosis and treatment. Whereas many of these patients spoke the language of neurasthenia or related somatic theories of nerve disorder, the doctors diagnosed their conditions as caused by intra-psychic conflict. Lamb’s case analyses also show how the transition from one model to another was fraught with disagreement, resistance, and confusion. Thus, in demonstrating the temporary tensions resulting from a radical transformation in psychiatric knowledge, her essay, “Residual Effects and Early Manifestations,” not only illuminates the transition from somatic to intra-psychic perspectives on mental illness but also makes an important contribution to understanding the effects of psychiatric knowledge on individuals’ life experiences. Lamb is cautious in making claims, acknowledging that the Phipps situation comprises a “narrow” case and avoiding simple interpretations of the actors’ language. Her analysis does not evade the disagreements among experts or the failures of the new internal conflict theory. Given this rich, judicious investigation and the light it shines on the dynamics of psychiatric knowledge, one yearns to hear more: we look eagerly look forward to Lamb’s future researches.
2014 Burnham Prize Committee: Jill Morawski (chair), Hamilton Cravens, Nadine Weidman
2013 Prize: Peter Sachs Collopy, “Race Relationships: Collegiality and Demarcation in Physical Anthropology”
Mr. Collopy’s essay is a smoothly written and skillfully argued piece in which he asks how personal relationships, emotions like anger and admiration, and professional competition shape scientific controversies, alongside disciplinary boundaries, divisions within the human sciences, and political advocacy in a liberal democracy. He shows that three mid-century giants on the race question, geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, physical anthropologist Carleton Coon, and anthropologist M.F. Ashley Montagu, engaged in a complex, multilayered conversation, at first over Coon’s The Origins of Races (1961) but in fact about the issues of racial formation and hierarchy among them. Mr. Collopy shows how Coon’s book—and his typological and racist ideas—were considered legitimate in physical anthropology after 1945 but were excluded fro the anthropological canon in the 1960s. Mr. Collopy’s essay is thus a cautionary tale to those who would explain such sensitive controversies as involving either this or that influence. Complexity and layers of meaning constitute the key to understanding such developments. Mr. Collopy carries the reader through these complexities with sure use of the relevant original sources and secondary accounts.
2013 John C. Burnham FHHS/JHBS Early Career Award Committee: Hamilton Cravens (chair), Ellen Herman, Susan Lanzoni
2012 Prize: Chris Renwick, “Evolution, Mind, and Society: L.T. Hobhouse’s Spencerian Philosophy and Social Science”
In his paper, “Evolution, Mind, and Society: L.T. Hobhouse’s Spencerian Philosophy and Social Science, Chris Renwick places the Spencerian psychologist L.T. Hobhouse in the broader framework of late nineteenth and early twentieth century science. Renwick shows, with great force, that Hobhouse, who has often been ignored by historians of social science, reshaped Spencerian philosophy, endowing it with a more active, vigorous conception of the relationship between humans and evolution. This was now a conception that allowed its champions to shape and harness evolutionary forces. Renwick uses his narrative about Hobhouse’s revised Spencerianism to make a larger point—that philosophical practice has changed dramatically over time, and that Spencerian dogmas and bromides were just as malleable and transformable as any other bundle of ideas in the history of philosophy. In that sense, philosophy was just as dynamic as any of the sciences—or any branch of knowledge, for that matter. Renwick argues his case clearly and with great organizational skill. He demonstrates great knowledge of the relevant primary sources and secondary accounts in the history of philosophy and the history of the social sciences. This piece is a most successful and original intervention into both historiographies.
Beyond his excellent paper, Renwick is a deserving recipient of the Burnham Early Career Award because of the many accomplishments he has achieved so far since receiving his Ph.D. in 2009. He is the author of six articles, with two more forthcoming, including one in Isis, the premier journal of the History of Science Society. Renwick’s publications conference and workshop papers, and teaching record all amply show that he possesses a wide and enviable range of scholarly interests and talents.
2012 John C. Burnham FHHS/JHBS Early Career Award Committee: Hamilton Cravens (chair), Greg Eghigian, Cecelia A.Watson
2011 Award: Cecilia Watson (University of Chicago), “Drawing from Life: The Influence of John La Farge’s Theory of Art on William James’s Psychology”
In “Drawing from life: the influence of John La Farge’s theory of art on William James’s psychology,” Cecelia Watson offers a well-argued and novel interpretation of William James’s psychology and philosophical pragmatism by tracings their resonance with contemporaneous aesthetics.
This essay documents the friendship between James and the painter John La Farge beginning in 1859 and their mutual influence over subsequent decades. In excavating their relationship, the essay reminds readers as well of a road not taken in modern psychology: a now forgotten theory that reconciles mechanical reductionism with generative, experiential philosophies. Both La Farge and James came to hold and share an appreciation of the import of the mechanical reproduction of life, of copying and mimesis, along with an ingenious premise that humans are also granted the capacity to experiment, to invent. Consciousness and choice became, for James, key both to the constructive capacities of human nature and also to the limits of associationism.
Watson decisively links an aesthetic tradition with a psychological (and epistemological) one through their mutual concerns with the question of the objective and the subjective. The committee was impressed with the interdisciplinary nature of the article as Watson brought together the history of nineteenth-century art theory and psychology to show how the contemporary meaning of “science” and truth informed each. Exemplifying the close reading of written and visual texts, this article offers an exciting new vantage point to better understand the intertwined histories of psychology, philosophy, and aesthetics.
2011 John C. Burnham FHHS/JHBS Early Career Award Committee: Michael Pettit (chair), Jill Morawski, Laura Stark
2010 Award: Laura Stark (Wesleyan University), “The Science of Ethics: Deception, the Resilient Self, and the APA Code of Ethics, 1966-1973”
The 2010 Burnham Award Committee is pleased to award this year’s prize to Laura Stark, of Wesleyan University, for her original and compelling essay “The Science of Ethics: Deception, the Resilient Self, and the APA Code of Ethics, 1966-1973.”
Stark’s paper offers a fascinating recreation of the process by which the American Psychological Association (APA) arrived at ethical guidelines for human research. Expertly taking advantage of little-known archival resources, the author examines how a special committee was created, how it collected survey responses from thousands of American psychologists during the 1960s, and how it arrived at its recommendations. She convincingly argues that the committee members were influenced in their reading of the survey results by their own experience as researchers.
The main issue of contention was whether it was ethical to use “deception” during psychological experiments. Two models of human nature were at stake in this debate. Were subjects “resilient” and able to handle the fact that the psychologist had not disclosed the aims of the experiment? Or were they “fragile” and likely to be permanently harmed by being fooled by authority? Having employed deception in their own research, committee members were inclined to interpret the evidence of the surveys as supporting the “resilient” model. Thus, the committee’s make-up and their professional network played a significant role in closing the debate within the profession about the contentious issue of deception.
A case study in how professional bodies arrive at their ethics guidelines, Stark’s paper is well-written, persuasive, and capable of appealing to a non-specialist audience. It is a worthy example of scholarship in the history of the human sciences.
2010 Burnham Award Committee: Daniela Barberis (chair), Joy Rohde, Jeff Pooley
2009 Award: Stéphanie Dupouy (École Normale Supérieure, Paris), “Darwin, Observer of Expressions”
The 2009 John C. Burnham Award Committee is delighted to award this year’s prize to Stéphanie Dupouy for her essay “Darwin, Observer of Expressions.” In her persuasive, original, and clearly argued essay she presents a nuanced picture of Darwin’s strategy in his 1872 The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, challenging the received wisdom that Darwin’s book constitutes an evolutional ‘break’ in the study of emotional expression. Dupouy notes that this conventional interpretation is not only complicated by Darwin’s lack of discussion of natural selection, but more pointedly argues that Darwin’s originality lies in his rejection of a sentimentalist account of expression. This sentimentalist view, common to much nineteenth century scientific writing on the emotions, understood expression as the privileged and uniquely human manifestation of the interior or intimate self. For Darwin, however, sublime or elevated human emotions were either not conveyed in expressive gestures, or were, as Dupouy puts it, “ironic remnants of our animal origins.” Dupouy also sees Darwin’s treatise as marking a methodological break from his forebears in his reliance on particular observations for study, his use of photographic evidence, and his rejection of imagination, memory, and sympathy for the scientific study of emotions. Dupouy reads Darwin’s private notebooks in concert with the published text of the Expression of the Emotions, and places Darwin’s work within the rich context of early nineteenth century scientific and aesthetic writings on the expression of the emotions, including the work of anatomists Louis-Jacques Moreau de la Sarthe, Charles Bell, and Louis-Pierre Gratiolet. Dupouy’s close reading, comprehensive engagement with the historiography, and compelling presentation of her analysis made this essay a pleasure to read.
Stéphanie Dupouy is Instructor, Department of Philosophy, École Normale Supérieure, Paris
2009 Burnham Award Committee: Susan Lanzoni (chair), Daniela Barberis, Mark Solovey
2008 Award: Perrin Selcer (University of Pennsylvania), “The View from Everywhere: Disciplining Diversity in post-WWII International Social Science”
The 2008 Burnham Award Committee is delighted to award this year’s prize to Perrin Selcer for his essay “The View from Everywhere: Disciplining Diversity in post-WWII International Social Science.” Focusing on the social scientists associated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he examines these practitioners’ definitions of their role as scientists. The award committee was particularly impressed with how Selcer’s work goes beyond the often national scope of much research in the history of science. He details the history of those social scientists who did not tie up their professional project with national destiny, but rather with creating international networks. These internationalists fostered certain cultural values (such as empathy and subjectivity) and character traits of the scientist (such as partiality), which are not usually associated with the social sciences. Arguing that such movements represent more than just American hegemony or Western cultural imperialism, his analysis highlights the challenges involved as these social scientists attempted to craft a truly internationalist epistemology, “the view from everywhere.” Drawing on numerous archival sources, Selcer offers a fruitful way of reconceptualizing the geography and scope of the human sciences in the twentieth century.
Perrin Selcer is a graduate student in Penn’s Program in History and Sociology of Science.
2008 Burnham Award Committee: Michael Pettit (chair), Hans Pols, Nadine Weidman
2007 Award: Howard Hsueh-Hao Chiang, “Effecting Science, Affecting Medicine: Homosexuality, the Kinsey Reports, and the Contested Boundaries of Psychopathology in the United States, 1948-1965”
The 2007 Burnham Award Committee is pleased to award this year’s prize to Howard Hsueh-Hao Chiang of Princeton University for his engaging submission, “Effecting Science, Affecting Medicine: Homosexuality, the Kinsey Reports, and the Contested Boundaries of Psychopathology in the United States, 1948-1965.” “Effecting Science, Affecting Medicine” adds texture and complexity to the story of the American Psychiatric Association’s famous decision in 1973 to de-pathologize homosexuality. Without rejecting the standard argument that the change in classification must be seen as a triumph of the gay rights movement, Chiang persuasively argues that shifts internal to medicine were also an important part of the story. In particular he notes that a number of mental health professionals — especially within clinical psychology — had begun during the 1950s and 1960s to worry about, and some to become completely skeptical of, claims that homosexuality was a pathological condition. A key factor preparing the way for this shift, Chiang argues, was Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 bombshell, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which revealed levels of homosexual practice theretofore scarcely imagined within the mainstream medical community. Chiang uncovers a number of psychologists and even psychiatrists who, he demonstrates, found in the Kinsey report a direct challenge to their understandings of homosexuality, and who slowly changed their minds, coming to see homosexual sex as just another variant in human behavior. “Effecting Science, Affecting Medicine” does a fine job of revealing and documenting this growing challenge during the 1950s and 1960s within the mental health community to the pathologization of homosexuality, and of explicating the scientific and medical ideas underlying the initial categorization as well as the challenges to it. Well documented and richly footnoted, Chiang’s submission is a worthy recipient of the 2007 Burnham Award.
Howard Chiang is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in History of Science at Princeton University.
2007 Burnham Award Committee: John Carson (chair), Paul Lerner, and Deborah Weinstein
2006 Award: Michael John Pettit, “The Unwary Purchaser: Consumer Psychology and the Regulation of Commerce in Modern America”
Deception in the marketplace, the chief topic of Michael John Pettit’s work, offers a fascinating gallery of rogues along with the legal, bureaucratic, and scientific actors who worked to try to identify, classify, and suppress public dishonesty. Pettit focuses on the United States from the Civil War to the Great Depression, a distinct period, he suggests, during which new forms of deception and new strategies of control were linked to a vast expansion of commercial culture. Ranging through an impressive variety of sources, his paper examines the legal effort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to protect consumers from products that were marketed in such a way as to create confusion with a better-established product. In fact, however, as he persuasively argues, this was mostly about protecting established brands against upstarts and imitations. The paper also investigates the marketing of psychology, which came before the courts peddling objective methods for determining when consumers were being misled. However, as petit explains, judges generally rejected this form of expertise, preferring their own untutored ability to recognize a deceptive product over the pretensions of science. In Petit’s hands, this rebuff of legal psychology becomes a revealing episode in the history of social science in the public domain, suggesting the limits to the authority of experts before a professional public.
2005 Award: Courtenay Raia, “Ether Theories and Ether Theologies: Mind, Matter and Meaning in the Late Victorian Physics of Sir Oliver Lodge”
The 2005 Burnham Award Committee is delighted to award this year’s prize to Courtenay Raia’s “Ether Theories and Ether Theologies.” With verve and creativity, Raia’s essay tracks the biography of Sir Oliver Lodge in order to illuminate larger themes related to the birth of “modern” science, religion, and philosophy. Her case study of Lodge — a British experimentalist and theorist — reveals a scientist who was authentically engaged with psychical phenomena, and suggests that many of his contemporaries also understood such investigation to be an important part of their mandate. At the intersection of the body and the soul, the scientific and the religious, Lodge’s investigations into the ether aimed at a unitary scientific explanation of all physical things on the boundary between mind and matter. Moving convincingly from late-nineteenth-century accounts of the mysterious powers of an Italian laundry woman to epistemological questions about the nature of matter and energy, Raia paints a compelling portrait of the Victorian “fraternization between physics and metaphysics.” Rather than seeking to reduce the supernatural to the material or mundane, Raia shows, Lodge hoped to elevate science to a more profound spiritual plane. In so doing, she reanimates a key transition point in the history of science before the investigation of physical and metaphysical forces were considered virtually antithetical. The Committee was impressed by the depth of Raia’s research across published and unpublished sources as well as her ability to move fluidly between physical and psychical science — much like her protagonist.
Courtenay Raia is a History Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
2005 Burnham Award Committee: Ellen Herman, Sarah Igo, and Deborah Weinstein
2005 Award, Honorable Mention: Jamie Cohen-Cole, “Making Minds and Social Relations for a Democratic America: The Politics of Thinking”
In a break from tradition, the Burnham Committee also wishes to award an Honorable Mention to Dr. Jamie Cohen-Cole for his stimulating essay on the perceived problem of mid-twentieth-century specialization, in both intellectual circles and American society at large. Examining Harvard’s 1945 General Education in Free Society, The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and the struggle waged over the structure of social scientific disciplines at Harvard in the mid-1940s, Cohen-Cole documents academics’ convergence around a solution: cultivation of the “right-thinking individual,” a broad-minded, flexible, democratic subject able to withstand, and thrive in, modern American society.
Jamie Cohen-Cole holds a 2003 Ph.D. in History of Science from Princeton University and is currently a Lecturer in the Department of History and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Fishbein Center for the History of Science at the University Chicago.
2005 Burnham Award Committee: Ellen Herman, Sarah Igo, and Deborah Weinstein
2004 Award: Sarah E. Igo, “Roper, Gallup, and the ‘Man in the Street’: Producing the Public Through the Polls, 1936-1953”
The human sciences promise a better understanding of human behavior, human thought, and human choice. Championing the predictive power of their objective methodologies, the practitioners of human science have offered forecasts of future developments, as well as informed analyses of past events. The winner of the 2004 FHHS/JHBS John C. Burnham Early Career Award goes to Sarah Igo of the University of Pennsylvania, on the strength of a study that addresses crucial issues in the development of an area of human science that has played an important role in American politics and culture since World War II, the public opinion poll. The Burnham Award is awarded annually to a scholar in early career whose draft article is judged best by a committee of FHHS members; The Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will publish the winning paper with a notice about its award, and the publisher will provide the author of the paper an honorarium of US $500.
In “Roper, Gallup, and the ‘Man in the Street’: Producing the Public Through the Polls, 1936-1953,” Igo has given historical perspective to a scientific activity that still demands attention and scrutiny, and now not only in North America. Igo goes beyond the observation of previous scholars, that “social and political polling . . . was inextricably tied to commercial research,” to provide a more intimate examination of just how this social scientific methodology operated and developed in the first three decades of its existence. Igo explains important shifts in the methodology — for example, from quota sampling to more random probability sampling — as well as the personal efforts of the Roper and Gallup interviewers, who were mostly middle-class women. The author carefully documents how the assumptions and prejudices of the 1940s and 1950s colored the “scientific data.” She also indicates essential failures of the social scientific community, who began to scrutinize the methodology only after the pollsters’ miscall the 1948 presidential election threatened the reputation of their fragile new industry. Only a historian who understands the broad social and political trends in the USA, as well as statistics, social psychology, and political theory, could write such a convincing account.
The research is deep, broad, and complex. It draws on the popular press as well as technical literature and personal papers; it shows the intimate connection that polling had with commercial advertising (its essential origin) and the democratic and scientific ideals of the founders, whose names still grace today’s polls. The article is a cautionary tale about social and human sciences. It is ironic, for example, that Roper, whose background was pure business, was actually more sensitive to methodological problems and issues of minority opinion, than was the famous Dr. Gallup, with his Ph.D. in applied psychology. What seems clear is that the pollsters, with their good intentions to use science for democracy, could not divert the very strong currents taking American culture toward homogeneity and corporatism. Ultimately they could only aid in the process and help create that “man in the street.”
2004 Burnham Award Committee: Debbie Weinstein (chair), Hamilton Cravens, and David Robinson
2003 Award: No prize awarded
2002 Award: Deborah F. Weinstein, “Culture at Work: Family Therapy and the Culture Concept in Postwar America”
Deborah F. Weinstein has written an original and deeply researched investigation of the uses and abuses of the culture concept, which anthropologists developed in the early 20th century as a category apart from nature, unlike 19th century anthropological practice. Culture meant, in the simplest formulation by the Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas and his students, the totality of habits of thought and conduct that people acquired as the consequence of belonging to society. If culture had become, in the 1930s and 1940s, a free-floating concept, divorced from nature, biology, and biological processes, nevertheless psychologists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists felt obliged to create a new unified concept of culture and personality, with social role being the connection between the individual and society. It is the great merit of Dr. Weinstein’s work to show how this culture concept was imported into family therapy, and how it was recast, stretched, and contorted into various distinct meanings, not all of which had much to do with one another. From the notion of culture and personality the family therapists imported culture into what became the family system and, eventually, the family network as a series of nodes from one point to another, thus undercutting the notion of a unified family or culture. To show, and to a great extent explain, this historical process is a very impressive scholarly accomplishment, deserving of our award.
2002 Burnham Award Committee: John I. Brooks III, James Capshew, Hamilton Cravens, Harro Maas, and Richard von Mayrhauser