Public History of Science and Technology Conference, York 15-16 May

Join us for the Society’s next conference in conjunction with the Science Museum Group, on the public history of science, technology and medicine, 15-16 May 2020, at the National Railway Museum, York. Twenty-three presentations will explore the ways in which science’s past has been, and is, represented to the public, assaying the state of the art and asking questions about past and current practice. Tickets will shortly go on sale and the programme can be found here.

BSHS Annual Conference 2020, 8 to 11 July Aberystwyth

You are invited to attend the Society’s 2020 Annual Conference, being held this year from Wednesday 8 to Saturday 11 July in Aberystwyth, home of the National Library of Wales and Aberystwyth University. The organisers have received in excess of 150 offers of papers, mainly in organised sessions; it promises to be, socially and intellectually, a must-attend event, with the opportunity to meet new contacts, catch up with friends in the discipline and hear about their latest work. Booking opens very soon; please go to the website.

The conference will, as previously announced, include two round table sessions on practical and intellectual aspects of the state of the HPSTM / STS discipline.

It will also provide the venue for the Society’s annual EGM, where you get the chance to vote for the officers and for four new members to join the Council from the October meeting, as others stand down after their periods of service.

For further information about the annual conference, please see the BSHS Annual Conference 2020 Website.

BSHS seeks new BJHS Themes Editor

This summer, Simon Werrett plans to stand down as Editor of BJHS:THEMES. We are very grateful to him for the time, effort and critical support he has given to both the issue editors and the contributors to our annual journal over the three years of his tenure. Along with the journal’s first editor, Jon Agar, he has helped to create a remarkably innovative space within which critical and original aspects of the history of science can be addressed by a collaborative team of authors. We invite those interested in taking this project forward to apply for the position of THEMES editor by contacting [email protected].

News from Council

Council has decided to experiment with holding its meetings outside London; the first in a long while will take place straight after the postgraduate conference in Leeds in early April. We also plan to hold a short Council meeting during the conference at Aberystwyth, so as to ensure the Society’s business isn’t held up by the six-month break between meetings in the spring and autumn.

Council’s last meeting commenced with a presentation from Amanda Rees, new editor of BJHS; you can read about her plans for the journal at the end of this Newsletter.

Council also discussed an interim report on the changes to Open Access publication proposed by the consortium, representing many foundation and governmental research funders, responsible for the scheme called ‘Plan S’. Most people agree with the principle that all scholarship should be freely available to read, and not stuck behind pay walls. But there are many details to be negotiated before this transition can be effected if long-term harm is not to occur to the ecology of academic publishing. The issues are significant for the BSHS because of the umbilical connection between the Society and its journal. In the language of Open Access, BJHS is a ‘hybrid’ journal, that is one that publishes a mixture of a small proportion of pay-to-publish articles (so-called ‘gold’ open access) and others published without payment by the author, where there is the obligation to make a version of the article freely available online, often after an embargo period (‘green’ open access). The consortium behind Plan S does not favour hybrid journals. Members can be confident that the editor and other Society representatives are working closely with the journal’s publishers, Cambridge University Press, to negotiate the best possible outcome for journal, society and members. We will publish updates on this situation in future issues of this Newsletter. Members interested in learning more on this issue will benefit from reading the work of the Royal Historical Society: https://royalhistsoc.org/policy/publication-open-access/

New Council Members’ Interests: The president and vice president have instituted a new tradition of informal conversations with members of Council, especially those who are new to the role, with the aim of maximising the effectiveness of the Society in service of its membership and our discipline. These conversations also provide an opportunity for ‘ordinary’ members to highlight, whatever their institutional location, aspects of the pursuit of the history of science where they would like to assist the Society to enhance its effectiveness and relevance to members.

Council discussed the Society’s website and, as a result, we have set up a small sub-committee to decide whether to update, or even replace, the current website, which is not only showing its age, but also plays host to a large archive of archaic pages. We hope to announce plans in the next Newsletter.

Membership: I have recently sent an email to people whose membership has recently lapsed. By definition, if you are reading this Newsletter your membership is intact, as we are obliged to remove ex-members from this mailing list. But where membership has lapsed, it is often because individuals have simply failed to make the annual payment. May I remind all that it is possible to pay by direct debit and then you need never again risk accidentally losing your membership! Go to: https://membermojo.co.uk/bshs

Singer Prize Announcement

You still have time to submit your essay for the Singer Prize 2020.  The prize, of up to £500, is awarded every two years to the writer of an essay outstanding in research, novelty and expression, based on original research into any aspect of the history of science, technology or medicine. It is intended for recent entrants into the profession. Candidates must be registered for a postgraduate degree or have been awarded such in the five years prior to the closing date (30 April 2020).  All nationalities are welcome. Essays must not exceed 8,000 words, should be submitted in English and adhere to BJHS guidance to authors. The prize may be awarded to the writer of one outstanding essay, or may be awarded to two or more entrants. Publication in the British Journal for the History of Science will be at the discretion of the Editor. Essays under consideration elsewhere or in press are ineligible. I will announce the winning essay will in a future issue of this Newsletter, and the announcement will also be posted on the BSHS website. The author may well be asked to give a lecture based on its contents at the BSHS Annual Conference or on another mutually convenient occasion.

Please send your submissions to https://awardsmanager.awardsplatform.com by the deadline of 30 April 2020.

Council Actions on Climate Emergency

As reported in previous newsletters, Council has been discussing ways to mitigate the environmental impacts of the Society’s work and activities. For grants, we have agreed to see expenditure of Society funds on air travel as the exception to the rule against; if applicants propose to use air transport in the delivery of their projects, they must make the case why this is necessary. Conferences are the other aspect of Society business where Council sees the opportunity for reducing our impact. The Society’s successful and wonderful Twitter Conference held on 12th February was a case in point; an experiment in ‘meeting’ without the carbon costs of travelling to a venue. For the Annual Conferences, Council is making recommendations for remote attendance and against bottled water or single use plastics. We are recommending vegetarian catering, with opt-in for meat options. Some of the changes we will need to make will be easy, and others will be difficult and require experimentation and changed expectations. But members can be confident that Council is taking the issues seriously. It has agreed a statement that will appear on the website and in the Society’s ‘Policies and Procedures’ rulebook:

BSHS understands and accepts the seriousness of the climate emergency as outlined by the IPCC.  As historians of science, we are unusually well placed to understand the epochal changes underway and the human systems that are necessary to embed empirically derived facts as social realities.  Our ambition is to halve our emissions by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050 as the IPCC advises.  We are working in the areas of conferencing, catering, travel and investment to minimize our impact.  We recognize the pain, frustration and inconvenience in ceasing ‘business as usual’ and ask for patience and creativity from our members in finding new and sustainable ways of working. 

Hughes Prize

The 2019 BSHS Hughes Prize for the best book in the history of science which is accessible to a wide audience of non-specialists has been awarded to James Delbourgo for his book Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British MuseumIn this intensively researched and elegantly written book, Delbourgo explores the way modern science and collecting are intertwined with empire and slavery. He uses these connections to paint a rich, complex and fascinating picture of the era. ‘Collecting the world’ is not an exaggeration, as Delbourgo shows how the British Empire absorbed and redefined, through its collections, the natural and cultural life of the world, and presented it in London for all to see.

The jury for the BSHS Hughes Prize 2019 awarded this prize in recognition of James Delbourgo’s achievement in historical scholarship and its potential to contribute to important debates of today. The Jury also enthusiastically recommend this book to readers with interest in global history, museums and collecting, Restoration England, the history of the medical profession or the history of international trade.

The BSHS Hughes Prize (formerly the BSHS Dingle Prize and renamed in memory of our beloved late colleague Jeff Hughes) is awarded every two years to the best book in the history of science (broadly construed) published in English which is accessible to a wide audience of non-specialists.

Ayrton Prize

The 2019 BSHS Ayrton Prize for outstanding web projects and digital engagement in the history of science, technology and medicine (HSTM) was awarded jointly to the Darwin Correspondence Project (University of Cambridge) and to Excavating AI, (Kate Crawford and Trevor Paglen). These two projects, whilst extremely different, both used digital media to best advantage to bring HSTM ideas and methods to new audiences.

  • Excavating AI took a creative approach to critical technology studies, providing audiences with tools to explore the social legacies that shape contemporary tech practices. Their impact on the public understanding of the history of machine-learning and AI is likely to be significant and lasting.
  • The Darwin Correspondence Project is exemplary in generating digital access to archives. The platform is engaging and easy to use, and the team’s careful work in tracking users has allowed them to continuously expand visitorship and use of the material.

The jury also awarded ‘Highly Commended’ to two projects.

  • The Genetics Unzipped podcast enriches discussions of contemporary genetics research with well-researched and referenced historical material. This engaging series, commissioned by The Genetics Society, UK and produced by Kat Arney, has been hugely appreciated by a committed audience.
  • The University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedian in Residence project is an inspiring example of how academic institutions could use their educational and public digital infrastructures to augment public history of science. The jury particularly appreciated the project’s focus on celebrating under-recognised achievements of women in science, and its commitment to the co-production of Wikipedia content as a mode of civic engagement.

The full set of nominations for the 2019 Ayrton Prize included many more truly excellent projects. Look out for more information on this wider range of exciting digital HSTM activity over the coming months.

Plans for BJHS: New Editor, Amanda Rees Writes:

I want to begin my tenure as BJHS editor by again recording my profound thanks to my predecessor, Charlotte Sleigh, and to the Managing Editor, Trish Hatton. Not only did they both make the transition very easy for me, but Trish’s ongoing support, attention to detail and long experience makes the job of editorship manageable. As we’ve noted in other communications, I want to build on the recent innovations that Charlotte made in journal content: the introduction of ‘New Perspectives’, ‘Science in Translation’ and ‘Retrospectives’. These were aimed at encouraging our readership to reflect on the history of our discipline, as well as making a contribution to the decolonisation of the history of science. I want to add a fourth innovation – ‘Dialogues’ – which I hope will contribute to the future of the history of science. Here, I want to see historians in conversation with practicing scientists and figures from industry and commerce, discussing how the history of science can make a difference to present-day practices and plans.

All four new endeavours have now been combined into the journal’s new section, ‘Forum’. I very much welcome suggestions for material that should be translated (which might include stories and poems alongside research articles), as well as suggestions (or volunteers) for participants in ‘Dialogues’ and thoughts about which key texts or areas could benefit from reappraisal in ‘New Perspectives’ or ‘Retrospectives’. Please do contact me at [email protected] with any ideas you have. I’m particularly keen to hear from early career researchers/postgraduates who would like to be involved in ‘Dialogues’, and about non-European texts that you think the membership would benefit from reading.

Our ongoing discussions with Cambridge University Press regarding the journal’s position with regard to Open Access have been reported on elsewhere in this newsletter – I would only like to add that the discussions have been very positive so far, and CUP is keen to work with us to reach a mutually agreeable position.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions for ‘Forum’

Dr Tim Boon
BSHS President