Mar. 26: Perpetual Handmaidens: Creating Knowledge in the Shadows


Thursday, March 26, 2015

6-8 PM

Knox Hall, 606 W 122nd St., Room 509

Read a list of names from publications in many fields of American science in the early to mid-twentieth century, and male authors dominate in nearly all cases. But look at photographs of research labs or of field expeditions in that same period. Then one often discovers women actively involved in science: making calculations, cataloguing species, doing laboratory measurements, or digging out dinosaur bones from exposed rock faces in Wyoming. Historians of science have long known that women often were unacknowledged and invisible partners in the production of knowledge. But it has been harder to understand what the experience meant for them. Oral history allows us to explore the contrasting experiences of male and female researchers. In this workshop, we will review the stories of women in science (broadly defined) in the mid-twentieth century, utilizing recent collections of interviews that include not only women researchers but the science-trained (but non-employed) spouses of male scientists. How did women scientists stake out claims for their achievements? What roles did women play in sustaining close-knit research communities? How can we gain new insights into the social dynamics of scientific practice through such interviews?

Ronald E. Doel teaches the history of science and technology at Florida State University. He began interviewing scientists and engineers even before entering graduate school, but first undertook large-scale projects while a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. Since then, while writing on the history of international scientific relations, the military’s fascination with the physical environmental sciences during the Cold War, and the documentary evidence captured by amateur and professional photographers who recorded scientific practices since the Civil War era, Doel has pursued several oral history programs involving scientific elites. Author of “Oral History of American Science: A Forty Year Review,” Doel is currently writing a book that integrates archival evidence with material gained through nearly 60 interviews made through Columbia University’s “Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory” oral history project.

SPONSORS: This talk is part of the “Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series,” co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR) and the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA). Support from the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) is provided for programming that embodies late Professor Paul Lazarsfeld’s commitment to improving methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.

INFORMATION: For more information, please email Amy Starecheski at aas39(at)