2012 Dissertation Prize: Perrin Selcer, “Patterns of Science: Developing Knowledge for a World Community at Unesco,” University of Pennsylvania, 2011.
In 1946, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was charged with a grand internationalist vision: to use science to engineer a peaceful and prosperous world community. (We write UNESCO now, but in the first decades it was Unesco.) Science would contribute “technologically, by changing the material conditions of life, work and production; and intellectually, by changing the way in which men think.” Perrin Selcer’s dissertation explores both strategies by carefully considering four of Unesco’s environmental and social sciences programs during the 1950s and 1960s: the Unesco Education for International Understanding Program in the Los Angeles School District; the study of carrying capacity of deserts in the Natural Sciences Department’s Arid Zone Program; the establishment of a university Chair of Race Relations in Rhodesia; and the making of the FAO-Unesco Soil Map of the World (FAO is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization).
Selcer not only tells the story of these Unesco projects; he also sets each of them in a very broad context of the history of associated sciences and social sciences. Together they illuminate Cold War science in ways that the textbooks generally miss—focusing as they naturally do, on physics and the arms race. The international program in Los Angeles schools evoked frontal attacks from local and national McCarthyites; although President Eisenhower was able to avoid the banning of Unesco, damage was already done, and then the Soviet Union formally joined Unesco in 1954. The conservation studies of the Arid Zone Program, by contrast, involved a great deal of international cooperation to solve scientific problems, with important contributions from both the US and the USSR. The Soil Map of the World was relatively free of Cold War interference, but the problematic story of the Rhodesian professorship is set against the broad historiography of imperialism and race.
This dissertation serves as a rich reminder that organized efforts in science often seem to fail; their accomplishments are forgotten as the scientific work is absorbed by institutions that have a better chance of continuing it and enjoying more general recognition for it. “Although often mired in controversy or dismissed as naïve, Unesco’s work produced an international community of experts and global social and environmental knowledge that proved crucial to the emerging imperative for sustainable development in the early 1970s” (p. v). It may be too early to say the same about internationalism and race.
The FHHS Dissertation Prize Committee considered some fascinating and well-crafted studies among the entries for this year’s award; they contribute a great deal to our understanding of history of human science. Selcer’s work was distinguished from others, not only by the profoundly human endeavors under scrutiny (even in agricultural and environmental science), but also by the way human interests were reflected in the very work of the science itself. Even epistemological values can be, perhaps must be, broadly political.
2012 Dissertation Prize Committee: David K. Robinson (chair), Jamie Cohen-Cole, Jill Morawski
2010 Dissertation Prize: Daniel B. Bouk, “The Science of Difference: Developing Tools for Discrimination in the American Life Insurance Industry, 1830-1930,” Princeton University, 2009.
Life insurance, like other ubiquitous features of modern life, evolved in tandem with the growing application of scientific techniques over the last two centuries. In his dissertation, “The Science of Difference: Developing Tools for Discrimination in the American Life Insurance Industry, 1830-1930,” Daniel B. Bouk brilliantly analyzes the technical foundations of the U.S. life insurance industry as they sought to rationalize their rates. The dissertation was completed in 2009 at Princeton University, and was supervised by Daniel T. Rodgers.
In a cogent historiographical introduction, Bouk uses American historian Daniel Boorstin’s 1973 work on the development of “statistical communities” as a foil, setting up his own analysis as a form of cultural history of science. By following tools — the invention and deployment of various mathematical instruments for specifying differences — Bouk is able to plumb the changing variety of ways to discriminate among the population and assess how risk was conceptualized and calculated across time.
Starting with the adoption of the British “life table” based on mortality data, American insurers employed actuaries to make ever-finer discriminations, first on policyholder age and then on a variety of criteria. Company mathematicians developed technical rationales to support higher rates applied to the South and West in the 1840s and 50s. After the Civil War and the depression of the 1870s, companies started insuring wageworkers and used race as a variable in calculating mortality risk. When race classification was made illegal around the turn of the century, companies turned to the catchall term “impairment” to encompass a wide assortment of conditions that had some relation to longevity. Company medical doctors were key players in the emergence of this regime. Bouk closes his analysis with reflections on the co-evolution of the insurance industry and the public health infrastructure in the United States.
Bouk’s close reading of the esoteric details of rate calculations supports his discussion of his large theme: discrimination had important consequences in a host of arenas affecting individuals and families. Risk class determined whether one could purchase life insurance and at what economic cost. Because insurance could be used as a form of collateral, it affected access to credit. With death benefits, it facilitated cross-generational transfer of wealth. These subthemes and many others are handled with attention to empirical detail and placed within a rich cultural context.
The FHHS Dissertation Prize Committee was faced with a wealth of riches in the nominated dissertations. Daniel Bouk’s The Science of Difference rose to the top on the basis of its elegant conception, articulate argument, robust use of sources, and graceful writing style. The committee welcomes a fresh voice in the history of the human sciences and congratulates Daniel Bouk on a receiving this signal honor from our community of interest.
2010 Dissertation Prize Committee: James H. Capshew (chair), Leila Zenderland, Richard Keller
2008 Dissertation Prize: Laura Stark, “Morality in Science: How Research is Evaluated in the Age of Human Subjects Regulation,” Princeton University, 2006.
Stark’s dissertation is an ambitious historical and ethnographic study of the development of ethical standards in contemporary American psychological and medical research. Using a novel mix of archival sources, interviews, and participant observation, Stark shows how human subjects panels have operated less on the basis of a set of deductive rules, than by relying on a collection of locally negotiated, case-based practices. Her combination of historical and sociological methods allows her to effectively historicize both scientific practice and ethical judgment, revealing that the human sciences have served not only as a tool of public policy, but also as a resource for identifying moral ends in contemporary society.
Laura Stark received the Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University in 2006 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Science in Human Culture at Northwestern University from 2006-2008. She is a Stetten Fellow in the Office of NIH History for 2008-2009.
2008 Dissertation Prize Committee: Greg Eghigian (chair), Jamie Cohen-Cole, David Valone
2006 Dissertation Prize: Jamie Cohen-Cole, “Thinking About Thinking in Cold War America,” Princeton University, 2003.
Cohen-Cole approaches some of the broadest themes in the modern history of the human sciences. This dissertation explains the sudden emergence of strikingly different notions of human nature and mentation during the Cold War, breaking with extant understandings of the rise of cognitive psychology. His study shows cybernetics and computer technologies to be less important to this development than some historians have claimed; instead, he demonstrates how the on-the-ground psychology of postwar America dynamically and substantively informed the development of cognitive models of the person. By keeping the focus on very particular intellectual communities, including the Harvard Department of Social Relations and the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies, he traces in detail the institutional dimensions of thinking about thinking and uncovers how the ideals of scientific reflexivity and interdisciplinarity introduced novel perspectives on a field that is generally held to have evolved through mechanistic theory and experimental findings. The resulting study illuminates how conceptions of mind were attached to diverse public and intellectual projects at a time of national mobilization and international ideological struggle.
2006 Dissertation Prize Committee: Ellen Herman (chair), Jill Morawski, David Robinson
2006 Dissertation Prize: Dana Jean Simmons, “Minimal Frenchmen: Science and Standards of Living, 1840-1960,” University of Chicago, 2004.
“Minimal Frenchmen” offers a strikingly original interpretation of the historical origins of constructs often taken to be unproblematic: minimum standards of life. Simmons examines minimum standards for food, air, and wages in France over an extended period of modernization, locating their origins in research on nutrition, housing, and labor. She draws on ideas in chemistry, medicine, and architecture and illuminates the significance that the categories of ration, prison cell, and budget had for new forms of government. Her main argument — that the stories of “minimal Frenchmen” belong to the history of political economy — approaches the phenomenon of consumption from the bottom up rather than concentrating on accumulation, leisure, or the emergence and expansion of the middle class. This work suggests the centrality of human science, economically marginal populations, and regulation to consumption, one of the most defining features of western modernity and one more typically associated with autonomy and abundance than with dependence and scarcity. “Minimal Frenchmen” shows how needs once believed to be irreducibly minimal and determined by nature actually evolved as subjects of social consensus and mobilization, a process in which the human sciences played key roles.
2006 Dissertation Prize Committee: Ellen Herman (chair), Jill Morawski, David Robinson
2004 Dissertation Prize: Sarah E. Igo, “America Surveyed: The Making of a Social Scientific Public, 1920-1960,” Princeton, 2001
From a field of very impressive entries, the committee has unanimously decided that Sarah Igo is the winner of the 2004 FHHS Dissertation Award. “America Surveyed: The Making of a Social Scientific Public, 1920-1960″ (Princeton, 2001) is an impressive history of social surveys, developed through a masterful examination of three exemplary instances: the Middletown study of Muncie, Indiana; the political polls created by Roper and Gallup; and Alfred Kinsey’s famous studies of American sexual behavior. Igo shows that these studies fit together beautifully, offering a panoramic view of public uses of social knowledge in America and proving the significance of that knowledge in relation to a broad social and cultural history. The archival collections used by Igo included letters and clippings that allow her to make her history reciprocal. The public is not merely an object of social science here, but is also a participant (or a multitude of participants), one that helps to shape the studies, and then talks back in response to them.
We were highly impressed not only by the level of research, but also by the quality of the writing, which made the dissertation a delight to read. Would it be rash to anticipate that a movie might be made about one or another part of this work? At the very least, this work will make an excellent book, and it is highly deserving of this award.
2004 Dissertation Prize Committee: Hunter Crowther-Heyck (chair), Richard Keller, and Theodore Porter
2002 Dissertation Prize: Richard Keller, “Action Psychologique: French Psychiatry in Colonial North Africa, 1900-1962,” Rutgers, 2001.
Richard Keller’s “Action Psychologique: French Psychiatry in Colonial North Africa, 1900-1962″ places North Africa and the figure of the mentally-ill Muslim at the center of the intellectual and professional development of French psychiatry in the twentieth century. Skillfully integrating the historical literature on European colonialism with an analysis of the power/knowledge constellation in psychiatric practice, Keller shows that French psychiatrists absorbed the orientalist assumptions of France’s “civilizing mission” and viewed North Africa as an open space for building psychiatric institutions and testing psychological theories and treatments. Indeed, the colonial world provided a kind of outlet for French psychiatry as the profession saw its former dominance in Europe challenged by its German counterpart. Concerned with practices as well as institutions, the dissertation is attentive to the voices of the colonized and shows the deep interconnections between resistance to colonialism and opposition to the racialist psychiatry that inhered in the French colonial project. Keller examines psychological warfare during the Algerian War (action psychologique) and the background of the revolutionary theorist Franz Fanon, then a psychiatrist working in that environment of colonial ethnopsychiatry. Thus Keller brings his local subject well into the mainstream of modern history and illuminates origins of anti-colonial and anti-psychiatric movements. The dissertation lies in a crucial, but understudied area in the history of the human sciences. It is based on an impressive amount of primary research in French and Tunisian archives, and it contributes greatly to the history of psychiatry and psychology and to the study of European colonialism.
2002 Dissertation Prize Committee: Peder Anker, Paul Lerner, and David K. Robinson
2000 Dissertation Prize: Peder Anker, “Ecology of Nations: British Imperial Sciences of Nature, 1895-1945,” Harvard University, 1999.
This dissertation was published as Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: The Environmental Order of the British Empire, 1895-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).
Anker’s dissertation offers a fascinating exploration of the interconnections between the history of ecology and British imperial policies in the first half of the 20th Century. It focuses on a group of scientists who hoped to aid imperial administrators by conceptualizing the Empire’s natural and human resources in broad ecological terms. Such ideas led to a marked expansion of ecological research, both geographically and conceptually. During these decades, Anker shows, ecological studies were undertaken in environments that stretched from Spitsbergen and Greenland in the north to the very southern tip of Africa at Cape Town. At the same time, ecological thinking also expanded from botanical studies to studies of forests, fish, birds, and animals, and finally to studies of human social relationships, planned economies, and international politics.
Anker’s thesis focuses in particular on the conflict between two radically different and competing ecological theories that emerged in these decades. Promoting one theory were Oxford ecologist Arthur George Tansley and his followers; opposing them were the followers of South African botanist and political leader Jan Christian Smuts. While Tansley’s ecosystem theory emphasized a mechanistic approach toward controlling material and human resources, Smuts promoted an idealistic ecology that would address South Africa’s environmental, social, and racial problems. Both theories, Anker proves, were deeply influenced by the social as well as the natural sciences of the day, for Tansley was fascinated by Freudian psychology, while Smuts’ version of holism blended ecology with romantic philosophy and political theory. Anker frames these debates within a broader context of scientific and political developments, for his study begins with the publication of Eugenius Warming’s important conceptual work on ecology in 1895 and ends with ecologists helping to shape the charter of the United Nations in 1945.
A century after its introduction, Anker argues, ecological science continues to be an important means of organizing and synthesizing knowledge, framing environmental questions, and addressing social issues. By offering a subtly argued and carefully nuanced examination of the ways that an earlier generation of ecologists tried to integrate human beings into their scientific frameworks, Anker’s study of “The Ecology of Nations” offers a valuable and highly original contribution to the history of the human sciences.
1998 Dissertation Prize: Paul Lerner, “Hysterical Men: War, Neurosis, and German Mental Medicine, 1914-1921,” Columbia University, 1996.
In his dissertation Lerner examines the response of German psychiatrists and neurologists to the epidemic of male hysteria during and after the first World War. He places the doctor’s preference for the diagnosis of hysteria in the context of rapid industrialization, accident insurance legislation, and medical critiques of social welfare, arguing that their newly “rationalized” system of medicine, modeled on industry, channeled neurotics from the battlefield to the clinic and back into the labor force. As the doctors reestablished hysterics’ control over their own bodies, they also gained increasing control over their patients. Lerner considers patient resistance to rationalized care and concluded that the male hysteria diagnosis furthered neuropsychiatry’s professional claims, subordinating patients to industrial rationalization while freeing them from the dangers of combat and military punishment.
1996 Dissertation Prize: Richard Weikart, “Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein,” University of Iowa, 1994.
The prize committee (whose members this year were Mary Flesher, Ellen Herman, and David Valone) respectfully submitted the following citation: “We found the dissertation to be well focused, a skillful blending of ideas derived from archival resources and previous scholarship, clearly written, and sustained in analysis. It brings together a solid understanding of the history of German socialism with a nice exposition of Darwinian evolutionist. The author’s analysis of the work of Marx, Engels, Lange, Bebel, Kaustsky, and Bernstein are persuasive illustrations of the cultural authority of scientific theory and scientific findings within 19-century German radical social thought. The dissertation provides an empirical basis for historians of the human sciences to pursue our conversation about science’s dual roles as truth and authority as well as to ponder the relationship between the physical sciences to the human cultural imagination and its products.”
1996 Dissertation Prize Committee: Mary Flesher, Ellen Herman, and David Valone
1995 Dissertation Prize: Lynette Schumaker, “The Lion in the Path: Fieldwork and Culture in the History of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, 1937-1964,” Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1994.
This dissertation was published as Lynette Schumaker, Africanizing Anthropology: Fieldwork, Networks, and the Making of Cultural Knowledge in Central Africa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).
“The Lion in the Path” is a study of the first research institute for social and cultural anthropology in southern Africa, founded in 1937. In her study, Lynn Schumaker deliberately takes an approach opposite to that taken in more traditional historiography of science in colonial settings. Previous accounts of the Rhodes-Livingston Institute emphasized the Institute’s “Output,” particularly the contributions of its founders to the Manchester school of functionalist social anthropology in the 1940s and 1950s. In contrast to the “metropolitan” perspective, Schumaker offers an Africa-centered history, employing locally available archival materials as well as some oral history accounts by Africans who worked with or were studies by the Institute.
The thesis provides a subtle account of the interactions and role confusions between anthropologists and colonial administrators. Especially innovative is a detailed analysis of what Schumaker calls “the material culture of fieldwork,” including the symbolic significance of tools, camping equipment, clothing, even the choice of campsites for fieldworkers as well as the social composition of research teams. Important and attractive is Schumaker’s reminder that what “the natives” let the anthropologists do and wear could be just as important for research as what the researchers though they were “getting” from “the natives.”
The dissertation opens up provocative new perspectives that will surely be important not only for the history of the human sciences, by also for the general history of science in colonial settings.
1994 Dissertation Prize: John Carson, “Talents, Intelligence, and the Construction of Human Difference in France and America, 1750-1920,” Ph.D. Princeton University, 1994.
This dissertation has been published as John Carson, The Measure of Merit: Talents, Intelligence, and Inequality in the French and American Republics, 1750-1940 (Princeton University Press, 2006).
The Forum awarded its first Prize for the best dissertation in the history of human sciences to John Carson, for his thesis “Talents, Intelligence, and the Constructions of Human Difference in France and America, 1750-1920″ (Department of History, Princeton University, 1994). There were three entries, all of which were of high quality. The decision was difficult, but the committee consisting of Ellen Herman, Richard von Mayrhauser, Paul Jerome Croce, and Mitchell Ash was able to reach a unanimous decision.
Paul Croce, commenting on the decision, wrote that “Carson’s work shows an unusual breadth of knowledge and interpretation: as a cross-cultural analysis, it is conversant with both French and United States history; in its broad coverage, it spanned the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries; and in its facility across disciplinary boundaries, it effectively integrated history of science and cultural history.”
1994 Dissertation Prize Committee: Ellen Herman, Richard von Mayrhauser, Paul Jerome Croce, and Mitchell Ash