AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXII, No. 1, Spring 2000

 

New Start for the Joint Atlantic Seminar in the History of the Physical Sciences

Please click on the photo to view an enlarged version.

After being dormant for nearly a decade, the Joint Atlantic Seminar in the History of the Physical Sciences has resumed with a meeting September 17-19, 1999. The meeting opened with a reception at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, followed by two days of talks and discussion at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Historians of PhysicsAs with the earlier Joint Atlantic Seminars in the History of Physics (and the like-named Joint Atlantic Seminars in History of Biology), the conference’s purpose was to gather graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from across the East Coast and to provide a forum for them to present their work to an intimate audience of their peers and a few senior colleagues. At this year’s conference, participants considered existing trends in scholarship in the history of the physical sciences and explored new directions in the field during the last decade.

Delivering the opening remarks, Stephen Brush from the University of Maryland discussed the range of current historiography in the field. On Saturday, eight papers were presented by up-and-coming scholars in the field, including David Kaiser, Elizabeth Paris, and Jimena Canales of Harvard University, Christopher Smeenk, Christopher Martin, and Gualtiero Piccinini from the University of Pittsburgh, Voula Saridakis of Virginia Tech, and Patrick McCray of The George Washington University. The papers covered a wide range of topics, including a philosophical analysis of a specific scientific theory, biographies spanning three centuries and several different approaches, and institutional histories of recent large projects. The presentations and discussion echoed Brush’s assertion that the points of contrast between the various historiographical approaches have become less distinct.

On Sunday, Paul Forman of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History gave a provocative commentary on the papers. He noted a preponderance of studies of unsuccessful endeavors and a prevailing narrative strategy focusing on biography, thus sparking discussion of broader issues facing historians. Finally, Kathryn Olesko of Georgetown University and Michael Sokal of the National Science Foundation discussed issues of professional development. Olesko described the pre-tenure years, including the process of applying for jobs. And Sokal described both the variety of NSF grants available and tips on successfully obtaining these awards.

The meeting’s organizers, Alexei Kojevnikov, Anne Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth Paris, and Steven Weiss gratefully acknowledge the following institutions for their generous support: the Dibner Institute for History of Science; the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics; and the Center for History of Recent Science and the Vice President for Academic Affairs, both of The George Washington University.

The 2000 Joint Atlantic Seminar in the History of the Physical Sciences will take place next fall at the University of Pittsburgh. Further information can be found on page 10. Questions regarding this meeting should be directed to gupst1@pitt.edu.


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