2008 Prize Winners


Ronald Numbers and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS Awards CeremonySarton Medal: Ronald L. Numbers

The Sarton Medal is the highest honor conferred by the History of Science Society, in recognition of a lifetime of exceptional scholarly achievement by a distinguished scholar, selected from the international community. The recipient of this year's Sarton Medal is my long-time friend and colleague, Ronald Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, at the University of Wisconsin.

I would be surprised if anybody in this room has come from an academic background as humble as Ron's. The son of a fundamentalist preacher, Ron attended tiny elementary schools in eastern Canada and the West Indies, a rural boarding academy in the vicinity of Bugg Hollow (Tennessee), and fundamentalist Southern Missionary College, outside Chattanooga, best known as "home of the Little Debbies."

After being brushed off by Wisconsin's History of Science Department, Ron found his way to the History Department at Berkeley, where he earned the Ph.D. with a dissertation on American science. He moved onward to a teaching position at Loma Linda University (a Seventh-Day Adventist school), where he wrote a controversial study of the life of Ellen G. White, one of the 19th-century founders of the 7th-Day Adventist church. This is a brilliant, pioneering examination of an episode in the historical relationship of "unorthodox religion and heterodox medicine" (as one reviewer put it). The Loma Linda administration was not pleased and fired Ron as a trouble-maker (as far as I know the only Sarton-Medalist to be fired for his scholarship). I should add that Ron and the 7th-Day Adventists separated long ago.

One more interesting thing about Ron, before we leave the early Ron Numbers. You may judge this trivial, but I think you need to know the real Ron Numbers. Ron enjoys answering his phone: "Ron Numbers" whereupon the caller, as often as not, says: "Oh, I'm sorry," and hangs up. Well, enough of that!

Between phone calls, Ron has built an international reputation for scholarly excellence in several different areas. The Creationists (recently reissued by Harvard University Press in a 3rd, expanded edition that includes Intelligent Design), reveals a magisterial grasp of the intellectual, social, political, and religious issues surrounding one of the major public 20th-century debates. Frank Turner, in a review of Ron's book, praised The Creationists as "a major, . . lasting contribution to American intellectual, religious, and scientific history. This volume [will] become one of the monuments of American cultural history. No one concerned with either the history [of evolutionary theory] or current debates should fail to read and ponder this work." Ron (who was not finished with creationism) published another book, Darwinism Comes to America; and two edited volumes, Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender; and Creation in Twentieth-Century America: A Ten-Volume Anthology of Documents, 1903-1961).

A second cluster of publications dealt with aspects of medicine, mostly American: Ron and his Wisconsin colleague, Judy Leavitt co-authored Almost Persuaded: American Physicians and Compulsory Health Insurance, 1912-1920); followed by a co-edited volume: Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health . A slew of edited volumes followed: The Education of American Physicians: Historical Essays; Medicine in the New World: New Spain, New France, and New England; Compulsory Health Insurance: The Continuing American Debate; Caring and Curing: Health and Medicine in the Western Religious Traditions (with Darrel Amundsen)- and more.

A third area of research pioneered by Ron is the historical interaction of science and religion (some of which was already visible in his earlier work on creationism). The first volley was fired in the 1980s with the publication of God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science; continued in a more recent collection, addressed to a broader reading public, When Science and Christianity Meet (both books edited by Ron and his friend, Lindberg).

Ron's output continues to astonish me - 7 books (with another well on its way) - 22 meticulously-edited volumes, and another half-dozen edited volumes in progress. Given this level of scholarly productivity, Ron might be forgiven for taking a pass on the committee and organizational work of the several professions to which he belongs. But he has done no such thing. Ron has held two of the highest offices in the History of Science Society: President and Editor of Isis (only the second person, I believe, to serve in both of those capacities). He has left his stamp on HSS in many ways. For example, the "Society Lecture" (now known as the "Distinguished Lecture") was Ron's idea. Other Numbers presidencies were the Society of Church History, the American Association for the History of Medicine, and currently the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science / Division of History of Science and Technology.

Ron has been recipient of many awards, too many to mention, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has delivered the Sarton Lecture and the Garrison Lecture. He was a Founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of AAAS.

Finally, Ron has not neglected local responsibilities. He has been a driving force and reliable citizen in UW's history of science and history of medicine programs.19 Ph.D. dissertations have been completed under his direction, with more on the way. To step backwards for a moment: when Ron applied for an open position at UW in 1974, the department had shrunk to half a dozen active members. I was the incoming department chair at the time, and cast the deciding vote in the decision to hire Ron. That was the best and most important executive decision I have ever made. For the past 25 years, Ron and I have dreamed and schemed (joined by new colleagues along the way) as we moved toward our current count of 14 professorial appointments. Ron, you did good. Congratulations on winning the Sarton Medal! You've earned it.

- David C. Lindberg

Deborah Harkness and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS award ceremonyPfizer Prize: Deborah Harkness

The Pfizer Prize Committee has unanimously awarded the prize for 2008 to Deborah Harkness for her outstanding book, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution, published by Yale University Press. Hers is a study of naturalists, apothecaries, botanists, and entomologists, of competing medical practitioners, of instrument makers, and of mathematical practitioners of various sorts in London’s streets and neighborhoods in Elizabethan England. Harkness uncovers nascent forms of “big science,” internationalism, commercial knowledge and military patronage that were part of this intellectual and social world. Her account is rich in detail, with a well-crafted argument, and based on extensive and widely scattered primary source research. The Jewel House pulls its reader back into life in London about 1600. Harkness argues that the urban center’s vibrant, genuinely international culture allowed and encouraged empirical and experimental attitudes that were essential to the Scientific Revolution. The texture of social and intellectual life in London’s busy, competitive streets is captured through the experiences of those she identifies as “minor vernacular figures” and of more familiar ones like John Dee and Francis Bacon. Booksellers, instrument makers, and apothecaries formed distinctive residential and commercial clusters. So too did the naturalists in the international neighborhood around Lime Street. There plant hunters, gardeners, rock and fossil collectors and scholars shared common interests and their material evidence of marvelous and manifold nature. Using snippets of correspondence, bequests in wills, acknowledgments in texts, and records of specimen exchanges, Harkness situates the systematics of the naturalists even as she demonstrates the web of connections that reached to the Netherlands, Italy and beyond.

The unfamiliar local pathways of her characters, intricately situated in their social, economic, and geographic milieu, become increasingly familiar to the reader. Her mathematicians, naturalists, barber-surgeons, printers, and other practitioners bought, sold, and exchanged books, specimens, artifacts, techniques, and insights. Their relationships opened them individually and in small groups to possibilities that were framed and constrained by an emphasis on data and experiment. Harkness skillfully reintroduces us to Francis Bacon’s Salomon’s House. Subtly and then extensively, she demonstrates that his published complaints about unbridled enthusiasms of unschooled contemporaries correlate perfectly with the chaotic world of practitioners she documents. Bacon’s colleague in the residence quadrangles at the Inns of Court, Hugh Plat, was also interested in nature and his approach provides a telling contrast. Plat, fascinated by all that he could learn from rustic people and ingenious citizens as well as from books, compiled what he learned into small notebooks. He distilled some of his facts into a text entitled, Jewell house of art and nature (1594). The eclectic Plat was simultaneously curious and skeptical (even of a source as well renowned as John Dee) and unlike Bacon appreciated the fellow Londoners who were also fascinated by nature, mathematics, and medicine. Bacon, revealed as an impecunious and desperate careerist, only obliquely understood the potential of science (a term Harkness demonstrates is contemporary) around him. Plat’s (and Bacon’s) London is uncovered and analyzed in this outstanding book. Deborah Harkness stays in textual conversation with colleagues in the history of science as she persuasively argues that studying a broad range of practitioners is essential to any historical understanding of the scientific revolution. Vividly written, with a thoughtful, careful argument documented in exquisite detail dependent on an astonishing range of meticulously situated archival sources, The Jewell House is a refreshing and compelling contribution to the field.

– M. Susan Lindee
– Pamela O. Long
– Sally Gregory Kohlstedt (chair)

Helen Rozwadowski and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS MeetingWatson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize: Helen Rozwadowski

Fathoming the Ocean presents a scientific and cultural history of the process of exploring the deep sea depths. This wonderfully written book tells the story of nineteenth-century sailors and scientists combining to create a new territory for research. Helen Rozwadowski moves fluently from classic accounts of ocean voyages to the laying of a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, by way of maritime novels, deep-sea soundings, and seaside holidays. The open ocean, for centuries either a route of passage or a barrier, became for the first time a destination, a workplace, and the object of scientific inquiry. The Davis panel judges were delighted by the scope and insight that Rozwadowski brought to bear on this fascinating material. We greatly enjoyed her deft interweaving of many lines of argument and the liveliness with which she presents key concepts in the history of science. We felt this was a captivating read that will engage considerable interest in our field, a very worthy winner of the Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize that honors books in the history of science directed to a wide public (including undergraduate instruction).

Rozwadowski is Coordinator of Maritime Studies at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point campus. She has worked in the past both as a public historian, including writing for Discovery On-line. She won the Ida and Henry Schuman Prize from the History of Science Society.

– Kenneth R. Manning
– Roger H. Stuewer
– Janet Browne (chair),
– Nancy Siraisi

Daryn Lehoux and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS Awards CeremonyDerek Price/Rod Webster Prize: Daryn Lehoux

The committee congratulates Daryn Lehoux, Associate Professor of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Queens University in Kingston Ontario, on winning the Derek Price/Rod Webster Award for his outstanding article, “Observers, Objects, and the Embedded Eye: or, Seeing and Knowing in Ptolemy and Galen," Isis (2007) 98:447-467, written while he was on the faculty at Manchester University. Lehoux draws in the reader with a beguiling question. Why does a mirror reverse left and right but not top and bottom? He then shows, with wit and erudition, how two iconic figures of the ancient world, Ptolemy and Galen, wrestled with the problems of optics and visual perception.

In the tradition of his subjects, Lehoux poses deceptively simple propositions that ultimately lead us to reconsider what we might otherwise take for granted. He vividly recreates the epistemological context in which Ptolemy and Galen pursued their independent but complementary inquiries, from different sides of the eye and from fundamentally different assumptions. In what we might call an ancient variation on the uncertainty principle, what you ‘see’ depends on where you look, to mathematical optics or to physiology. Through Lehoux, we learn to see the world as Ptolemy and Galen saw it, and so understand the larger philosophical issues at stake in the study of vision. Here the Skeptics and Aristotle become living antagonists. Lehoux is especially attentive to the subtleties of language, tracing what may have been lost, or at least reinterpreted, in translation. As Lehoux explains, for Ptolemy’s Optics: “the only text we have is a Latin translation of a lost Arabic translation of a lost Greek original, with a possible Syrian intermediary between the Greek and the Arabic”! Lehoux often provides his own translations, and reminds us how problematic these ancient texts can be. Lehoux’s article is a classic, in every sense. And yes, he does explain the paradox of the mirror, but why spoil the ending?

– Stuart W. Leslie, Chair
– Sachiko Kusukawa
– Benjamin Elman

Laurel Brown and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS Annual MeetingNathan Reingold Prize: Laurel Brown

The Reingold Prize Committee awards the 2008 prize to the essay "The Transmission of Arabic Astronomy to Europe and East Africa,” written by Laurel Brown, of Columbia University. The committee described the paper as a promising study of a challenging topic. The research was made using primary sources in the original language (Arabic), which required highly specialized linguistic skills. Importantly, the analysis of Arabic astronomy is not limited to the result of the transmission of data as is often the case, but examines also the modes of the transfer. In so doing, it ventures into the difficult field of comparative history of sciences as it examines the impact of the diffusion of Arabic astronomy both on European and East African cultures. The Committee was impressed by this first essay. It opens new paths and brings a fresh approach to a fascinating topic.

– Alain Touwaide (chair)
– Marcos Cueto
– Kristin Johnson

Sara Schechner and Jane Maienschein at 2008 HSS MeetingJoseph H. Hazen Education Prize: Sara Schechner

The Joseph H. Hazen Prize Committee of the History of Science Society is proud to award the 2008 Prize to Dr. Sara Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. Dr. Schechner’s educational activities have been extraordinarily broad, encompassing many of the categories suggested for the Hazen Prize. She is involved in museum work, the organization of educational programs, writing, innovation in instruction and pedagogical materials, and public outreach. The members of the Prize Committee were impressed with how Dr. Schechner “creates hands on experiences with technology from the past, thus giving material and tactile access to the history of science in this way,” how she has shown “great creativity and broad outreach in sharing the Collection for Historical Scientific Instruments,” and the amount of energy she has devoted “to a great range of successful educational activities in relatively short time frame.”

– Kathy Cooke (chair)
– Graeme Gooday
– Fritz Davis

Hannah Landecker and Jane Maienschein at the 2008 HSS MeetingSuzanne J. Levinson Prize: Hannah Landecker

It is with great pleasure that the committee awards the Suzanne J. Levinson Prize for the best book in the life sciences and natural history to Hannah Landecker for Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Landecker’s book is an interdisciplinary synthesis featuring the history of cell and tissue culture, but also uses fresh anthropological and philosophical perspectives to show the redefinition of what it means to be a biological entity. The practice of contemporary biological science continues to redefine such central terms as hybridity, individuality, and immortality. The manipulation of cells outside the organism is leading biologists to surprising conclusions linking biological technology and philosophical and ethical understandings of what it means to be alive, to be human and to be of value.

Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies is a worthy winner of the Suzanne J. Levinson Prize and we feel sure this book will be recognized as a creative work that moves the disciplines of the history of biology and natural history forward.

– Muriel L. Blaisdell
– Richard (Chip) Burkhardt
– Manfred Laubichler

Sara Stidstone Gronim and Jane Maineschein at the 2008 HSS MeetingMargaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize: Sara Stidstone Gronim

In “What Jane Knew: A Woman Botanist in the Eighteenth Century,” Sara Stidstone Gronim examines how Jane Colden not only became one of the first women to contribute to Linnean botany but how she did so from her place in the scientific outpost of colonial New York. Drawing convincingly from scholarship in literary studies and the history of science, Gronim offers a nuanced discussion of how Colden (1724-1760) skillfully intersected the practices of botany with eighteenth-century expectations for female decorum to make herself a respected contributor to the network of Linnean botany. Carefully argued and beautifully written, “What Jane Knew” offers a compelling picture of the multiple understandings of gender that both enabled Colden to be an active producer of scientific knowledge in colonial America and led to the subsequent disappearance of her contributions from the botanical record.

– Judy Johns Schloegel (chair)
– Ida Stamhuis
– Zuoyue Wang

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