When you think about the development of science, you might envision a laboratory, but you probably don’t think of a bar, a hotel lobby, or a boat. However, our recent guest speaker, Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, argues that the informal spaces where scientists meet to discuss their work, network, and simply relax are just as important if not more important than formal sites like labs, museums, and universities.
Dr. Sheppard is an Egyptologist and historian of science who specializes in late 19th-century and early 20th-century British and American Egyptology. During her visit from Nov 15th-16th, 2021, she met with the students in STS 201: Introduction to Science, Society, & Society, gave a Brown Bag presentation, and topped off her visit with a STEAM Café talk.
Frank Van Nuys is Professor of History and will be the interim Department Head for Humanities & Social Sciences in Spring 2022.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
I would say that I am a generalist in the history of the American West and not particularly comfortable claiming expertise in any area within that field. I am more confident saying that I am conversant in a variety of areas, including the West, of course, but also environmental history. The nature of my job here at Mines accommodates being both a generalist and having some latitude to develop and teach courses that interest me. Of late, in addition to the surveys in American history and Western Civilization, I have been teaching Westward Expansion of the U.S. and Environmental History of the U.S.
My focus earlier in my academic career was on race and immigration, so, for instance, I did my Master’s thesis on so-called alien land laws in California, which were designed to prevent Japanese immigrants from owning or leasing agricultural land in the early 20th century. My first book, Americanizing the West: Race, Immigrants, and Citizenship, 1890-1930, looked at the Western part of the nation as an important driver in immigration restriction and the Americanization programs of the 1910s and 1920s.
After that, my fascination with wildlife issues and the attraction of a deeper engagement with environmental history shifted my focus. Controversies over mountain lions re-populating the Black Hills about fifteen years ago provided the impetus for my second book, Varmints and Victims: Predator Control in the American West, which was published in 2015.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a chance to acknowledge the history and living culture of Native American peoples. As a science, technology, and society program, this seems a good opportunity to discuss Native science, also called Indigenous science or Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). As the varied names for this indicate, it’s not one monolithic entity but incorporates ideas from many perspectives. It is both traditional, building on Native peoples’ long histories of learning about and sharing knowledge, and contemporary, an ongoing part of living in and with the world.
What is Native Science?
Gregory Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo) coined the term, and he describes Native science as “a metaphor for a wide range of tribal processes of perceiving, thinking, acting, and coming to know that have evolved through human experiences with the natural world.” Cajete says, “Native science is born of a lived and storied participation with the natural landscape. It is the collective heritage of human experience with the natural world” (2). In other words, Native science combines human and nonhuman and describes what humans know by relating to, communicating with, and experiencing the world. It is not a science based on laboratory experiments or anonymous review.
This contrasts with Western ideas of science by emphasizing connection rather than separation, relationships rather than objective distance. Native science sees people as part of the world they’re learning about, not outside it, and therefore people cannot be removed from scientific work. If you’ve been trained to think of science as necessarily objective and tainted by any hint of subjectivity or bias, this may sound unscientific. However, as Leila McNeill points out in a Lady Science interview, “It really just means that it’s grounded in this specific experience of this specific group of people in this specific place, which can actually give us better results than if we were looking at something that is looking at large, broad questions that they’re trying to apply to everything that just kind of obscures the particular.”
“Agrarian” is a loaded term. Literature scholar M. Thomas Inge notes that it is most commonly associated with independence and self-sufficiency, as well as long-running tensions between tradition and industry, community, and agriculture as a “positive spiritual good” (xiv). Americans are likely to associate it with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted line from Notes on the State of Virginia: “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.”
But the history of agrarianism isn’t all community and virtue. From the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s to the Tractorcades of the 1970s, farmers in the United States have drawn on agrarian rhetoric to protest commodity prices, foreclosures, corporate control, and more. This line of protest is seen around the world as well, from multiple movements for migrant worker rights to the ongoing farmer protests in India.
In Spring 2022, I am teaching a topics class on Agrarian Protest (ENGL 392) that will examine a broad swath of these protests. Since I’m a rhetorician, we’ll pay particular attention to the communicative and persuasive discourse of these movements, through examination of both primary and secondary sources. Ultimately, I expect that students will be surprised by the sheer diversity of voices in the last century-and-a-half of agrarian protest. It is easy to assume that farmers’ political interests are simple, unified, and consistent across time. The truth is far more complex and – dare I say – radical.
So in the (apocryphal) words of 1880s reformer Mary Elizabeth Lease, “it’s time to raise less corn, and more hell!”
What is nature? What do you imagine when you think of nature? What are the qualities of nature (better yet, of Nature with a capital N)?
Pause now and think about that for a minute.
What is the image of Nature you hold in your mind? Picture it.
Did you imagine something like that? Maybe not that exact image, but something similar? If so, consider this response more fully. What are the qualities of this representation of nature? It’s beautiful. It has lots of elements of the natural world (I know, that seems circular, but stick with me), like trees, mountains, a lake. It’s pure and untouched. It’s wild. Notably, there are no humans in this image.
How many unique creations can be made from one small piece of steel? The #150mmchallenge asks this question and answers it with a traveling exhibition of 150 metal objects, selected from over 400 pieces created by amateur and professional blacksmiths from around the world. This exhibition is on display at the Apex Gallery now.
The #150mmchallenge began in Hereford, UK, the home of the country’s only Artist Blacksmithing degree course at the Hereford College of Arts. There, tutor Ambrose Burne gave his students three weeks to create something interesting from a small piece of rectangular steel (150mm x 20 mm x 20 mm) without adding anything else. They posted their work to the course Instagram account (@herefordanvils) with the hashtag #150mmchallenge. This challenge caught other blacksmiths’ attention and led to an exhibition that toured Europe and that is now touring the US.
What if athletes could voluntarily replace their limbs with prosthetics to make them faster and stronger?
This question was raised by Otutoa Afu, an STS major in my Intro to STS course. The class has been discussing what it means to be human in a world where technology can radically transform both the human body and the human experience. Some of these advancements have been tremendously positive, such as the blade runner prosthetic that allows amputees to compete in athletic events, but Otutoa’s question highlights the potential complexities that may arise if technological enhancements become more widespread.
Matthew Whitehead is the Director of the Apex Gallery and a Lecturer who teaches Art and Art History classes in the Humanities department.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
I am an artist. I appropriate images and visual experiences from my surroundings and use them as inspiration for abstractions, mostly drawings, paintings, and collages. I work intuitively, paying close attention to composition and craft. My interest in the arts and the effect it has had on my life pushed me to pursue a career in education. I have taught painting, drawing, photography, illustration, design, graphic design, ceramics, stained glass, sculpture, art history, and foundational arts to students of all ages.
The arts have always been an important part of my life. I come from a family of artists and creatives. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a renowned potter, painter, and art professor, and my grandmother was a social worker who now spends her time making traditional braided rugs and hand stitching quilts. My mother is a costume designer and art educator by trade but is also an actress and choir singer. My uncle is a potter, and my aunts are also artists of one kind or another. My grandmother on my Dad’s side was a trained aerial performer and painter. My dad was an actor, then a lawyer, and now he’s back to acting again. Given our family background, my siblings and I had no choice but to go into creative fields. My oldest brother is an actor, director, producer, filmmaker, and a professor of acting while my sister is an artist and landscape architect. Becoming an artist always felt like a natural fit.
This weekend is Halloween! To celebrate, I have two final movie recommendations to share. One is an all-time favorite of mine and probably no surprise to those who know me. The other is one of the scarier recent movies I’ve seen. Their premises are quite different, but both have science and technology at their core.
Classic Movie #5: Jurassic Park
Of course it’s Jurassic Park! Jurassic Park (1993, directed by Steven Spielberg) is an adventure movie featuring dinosaurs, a horror movie with terrifying monster attacks, and a science fiction movie that asks, “What if we could bring a creature back from extinction?” Jurassic Park is such a well-known part of US popular culture that it is a common reference point in discussions of scientific overreach and a familiar critique of the role of money in scientific research. “Spared no expense,” John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) repeats throughout – but the project still fails.
Jurassic Park is a reworking of Frankenstein with dinosaurs, and it is one of the best movies out there for raising important questions about scientific ethics while also being extraordinarily entertaining. If you haven’t seen it, now is the time! If you have already seen it, well, it’s always a good time to watch Jurassic Park again.
Contemporary Movie #5: Host
As Laura Kremmel noted in her recent post “High-Tech Spirits and Ghost Tours,”Host (2020, dir. Rob Savage) has been named as the scariest horror movie. It’s short (only 57 minutes!) and fun, but it definitely gets your heart pounding in that short running time. Host spends less time raising big issues about science than Jurassic Park and focuses more on scaring the audience, but the way it achieves its scares is worth noting from an STS perspective. Those scares are only possible through the technology of Zoom, and the audience’s ability to be scared by spirits via technology is a) definitely not new (as Laura Kremmel points out) and b) perhaps an indication of how mysterious the inner workings of these technologies are to most of us.
Collected Movie Lists
This is the final entry in the series of STS-related horror movies for this season, so I’ll end by combining all the movies recommended and linking to the earlier posts.
The film is about a séance held by five friends and a medium, all in different locations and connected to each other not only through the medium leading them or their shared concentration but also through Zoom, a program we’ve all come to rely on to make us feel connected to each other. As the trailer asks, what if it connects us with something else?