Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Advice for Graduate Students from the Chronicle's New "Vitae" Column

The Chronicle of Higher Education, one of our resources for insight into the well-being (or lack) of the academic job market, is in the process of launching a new column, "Vitae," exploring the vicissitudes of the market and the professional skills needed to navigate it. A recent column "Advice for Graduate Students" provided a refreshing change of pace from the more detail-oriented articles about how to tailor your cover letter or how to strategize campus visits when you have childcare concerns, highlighting instead a big-picture state of mind  that helps us keep our studies and research and job search in perspective.

One caveat: It would be easy to take the author's reflections as platitudes, but I think that she is offering an important observation, that our psychological well-being is an important part of our professional toolbox and appeal as a candidate. In our search for the minutiae that will help us nail down that dream job, it's easy to forget the bigger picture of the life of the mind, and the passion that drew us to graduate studies in the first place.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What we built at OWOT: Serendip-o-matic.

Well, it's been an intense week here at One Week | One Tool, but we've built something, and it works! We're proud to announce the launch of Serendip-o-matic, the serendipity engine where your sources are your search.

The idea is simple: we wanted to restore some of that serendipity-in-the-stacks feeling to the digital research process. As historians, we're used to keyword or subject searching for materials, but with Serendip-o-matic, you can use your own materials — whether a web page, a bibliography, your CV, a paper you've written, or an article you like — as your query. Serendip-o-matic processes your text, extracts a random set of key terms, and returns results from the collections at the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, and Flickr Commons. Try it for yourself and see what you get. It's pretty fun.

You can watch the video of our live launch broadcast at One Week | One Tool.


Monday, July 29, 2013

A dispatch from One Week | One Tool.

Hello HoSTM folks! I'm reporting from the field here at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, where I'm attending One Week | One Tool, a digital humanities barn raising in which I and eleven other academics, programmers, designers, students, and librarians are working to conceive, design, and implement a digital humanities tool in just under seven days. The first step: figuring out what that tool is going to be.

We had our big brainstorming session this afternoon, and are now opening up the floor to you, the public, to send us your feedback. We've set up a site where you can vote on the potential tools we've come up with, as well as to comment on our ideas. Voting closes at 10 a.m. eastern time tomorrow, Tuesday 30 July 2013, so make your voice heard!

You can follow our progress on twitter by paying attention to #owot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

6th Annual CHE Graduate Student Conference - Pictures!

This past weekend was the 6th Annual CHE Graduate Student Symposium, which had a strong History of Science presence, both faculty and students. It was a great success!

Professor Rick Keller, giving the kickoff address
Graduate Student Alex Rudnick presenting
on her dissertation proposal

Graduate Student Melissa Charenko presenting on
Evangelicalism and Environmentalism
Hipster Jesus

Graduate Student Anna Zeide, Professors Gregg Mitman, Sue Lederer, and Lynn Nyhart

The brave souls who made it through the whole day, capping off the conference with a
keynote address from recent Geography PhD and current University of Minnesota
faculty member, Dr. Abby Neely
(Photos courtesy of Brian Hamilton)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation and the Public Health

The selection for UW Madison's common reading program this year is Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. Ebling Library's librarian and curator, affiliate of the department, and always fabulously bescarved Micaela Sullivan-Fowler designed an accompanying exhibit for the Ebling Library Historical Reading Room entitled "Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation and the Public Health." This past week, the evening of February 7, the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library sponsored a tour of "Fallout" with Micaela and a guided discussion hosted by History of Science Department's own Dr. Richard Staley.
Despite the wicked weather, intrepid visitors - many of them Friends of the Library - traced the story of the discovery of radiation and its mixed blessings for public health. Case by case, Micaela told the story of the Curies, the discovery of radioactivity, the initial medical promise (and the consumer products) that x-rays and radium inspired, the practical and professional ramifications of radiation through WWII, and the discovery of the atomic bomb and its use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Throughout, Micaela deftly draws out the tensions between the advancing science of radioactivity and its impacts on public health. As in other exhibits, she makes a point of drawing attention to ways that UW was connected to this unfolding history. UW Professor of chemistry Dr. Norria F. Hall, for example, was trained by Marie Curie when he was part of the American Expeditionary Corps in 1919. 

Alongside the collection of texts from Ebling's vaults, "Fallout" includes rare objects of material culture from the history of x-ray and radiation technologies, freshly dusted from the basements of UW Hospitals.  In addition to the medical apparatus, "Fallout" provides the chance to see The Switch, normally tucked away in University Archives.  The Switch comes from Julian Mack of UW's Physics Department, who served as head of the optics unit at Los Alamos and was in charge of photographing the first bomb test. The Switch was used at Los Alamos to turn the power on and off during the explosive work carried out there (note the fantastic big red OFF button). A Special thanks goes to David Null, UW archivist for pulling it out of the University Archives' cabinet of extraordinary objects.

It should be noted that Micaela always puts together a provocative collection of objects and texts in her exhibit work, but she hit this event particularly hard with the awesome stick. First of all, there was swag, and who doesn't like atomic swag?  Glow in the dark bracelets, collectible quotes on radioactivity and the atomic age from Pierre and Marie Curie, postcards with the exhibit poster design, and a raffle for x-traordinary copies of Redniss's book, courtesy of the Friends. Visitors toured the cases literally glowing, pockets stuffed, munching on Bomb Shelter Browies and Gamma Ray Grapes, sipping Atomic Punch.

Following the tour, Dr. Staley began the discussion with a few remarks that drew parallels between Micaela's exhibit work on "Fallout" and Redniss's collecting strategies as she prepared to write Radioactive, which she disclosed during her campus visit in October. (Video and transcript of Redniss's visit available here.)  Staley touched on the idea of a graphic novel addressing two invisible central themes: love and radioactivity. The discussion noted how the pace of reading changed from page to page, how Redniss guides the story and its themes through the use of visual tools of color, image, typeface. There were, as ever, questions about the sourcing of objects in the exhibit: where they come from, where they are kept, how they cooperate to tell the story of radioactivity and public health.

As a karmic reward for his troubles, Dr. Staley won not one but two raffled copies of Radioactive for the kids. You may not be quite so lucky if you visit the exhibit on your own, but I bet Micaela has a stash of glowing bracelets to wear during your tour. Make the trek to Ebling, whatever the weather, to visit "Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation and the Public Health." 

More information about the exhibit and how to find it is available at the Ebling Library website.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sixth Annual CHE Graduate Student Symposium

Many graduate students and faculty in the UW-Madison History of Science Department are also affiliated with CHE (the Center for Culture, Humans, and Environment). We even share a building with them! So, it should come as no surprise that the upcoming CHE Graduate Student Symposium features several of our own. Please join us Saturday, February 9th to here from Professor Keller, Alex Rudnick, Melissa Charenko, and many more. Here is the program:


9 February 2013 · Science Hall 175
An interdisciplinary showcase of graduate research around issues of culture and environmental change, bringing together history, geography, literature, science, and action.

8:30 AM Breakfast
Coffee and bagels provided, Science Hall 175

Symposium Kickoff
9:00 Dr. Richard Keller, Medical History and the History of Science
“Toward a World History of the Environment”

Moderator and Commentator: Brian Hamilton, History
9:30 John Suval, History, “Of Squatters and Statesmen: The Chocchuma Land Sale and the Nature of Jacksonian Democracy” 
9:50 Alex Olson, History, “Byzantium’s Eastern Border: Ecology, Mentalities, and the State”
10:10 Alex Rudnick, History of Science, “Diets and Landscapes of Deficiency: Pellagra, Sacks of Corn Meal, and Economic Underdevelopment in the American South, 1907-1940”
10:30 Comment and Discussion

10:50 20 Minute Break
Poster on view:
Kaitlin Rienzo-Stack, Entomology/Holtz Center, and Amy Alstad, Zoology
“If you build it, they will come: testing paradigms of restoration ecology using a historical dataset”

Moderator and Commentator: Nathan Germain, French and Italian
11:10 Noah Theriault, Anthropology, “Saving Souls, Forests, and Traditions: The (Neo)Colonial Genealogy of a ‘Last Frontier’”
11:30 Melissa Charenko, History of Science, “The Second Coming and Environmentalism: The Historical DebateAbout End Times and Environmental Action Among Evangelical Christians”
11:50 John Porco, History, “Second Growth: Changing Notions of Economic Value in Northern Wisconsin’s Forests”
12:10 Comment and Discussion

12:30 Lunch
On your own in Madison

Moderator: Kaitlin Rienzo-Stack, Entomology/Holtz Center
1:35 Bethany Laursen, Forestry and Nelson Institute, “The World is Made of Stories of Atoms: Narratives and Networks in Driftless Area Landscape Governance”
1:45 Amanda McMillan, Community and Environmental Sociology, “Ghosts of Farming Past and Future: Narrative and the Graying of Agriculture”
1:55 Kara Cromwell, Limnology, “Telling Science Stories: When It Gets Ugly”
Comment and Discussion

Keynote Address
2:45 Dr. Abby Neely, University of Minnesota, Geography, Environment and Society
“Research and Writing Through Teaching”
3:30 Reception, Science Hall 175 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

HSS 2012

UW-Madison's History of Science, Medicine, and Technology program was well represented at the History of Science Society Meeting in San Diego this year. We had many alumni and current students presenting, so we organized a little dinner before the Graduate and Early Career Caucus mixer on Friday night. From left to right: Camilo Quintero, Megan Raby, Dana Freiburger, Paul Erikson, Matt Lavine, Meridith Beck-Sayre (hiding behind Bridget Collins), and Andrew Stuhl.

Monday, October 15, 2012

HSS Climate Survey

 Check your inboxes! If you are a current or former member of History of Science Society (HSS), you should have received a link to a survey from the HSS Executive Committee and Women’s Caucus yesterday evening. As I understand it, the survey is intended to be a first step toward a better understanding of where HSS stands with regard to fostering diversity and inclusiveness at our Annual Meeting. At the last HSS meeting, the Women's Causcus had a conversation about the question of how much the position of women and women's history has changed in our field since the publication of the Report on "Women in the History of Science, 1973 to 1981." A significant number of members expressed an interest in expanding our conversation about equity in the society to include race, sexual orientation, and disability. There was agreement that a survey was needed to bring the issue to the broader HSS community and to provide an empirical basis for any further action.

I strongly support this action and I hope you'll take the time to complete the survey. I  found the process of responding to be a really enlightening process. I found myself thinking in a broader way about the challenges that face our field and about the cultures of annual professional meetings. Although I enjoy and have found HSS meetings very productive, I definitely think there is room for improvement. Although the history of science supports diverse viewpoints, it is no secret that in other areas, particularly racial diversity, our homogeneity is plain to see. The Graduate Student and Early Career Caucus has done a great job improving the experience for more junior members of our society, but more efforts in this direction are also needed and, I think, would complement efforts toward increasing diversity. I was impressed by the degree to which the survey solicited written responses for clarifications and further thoughts, and I know those involved in putting it together would appreciate as full a response as possible.

Many thanks to Georgina Montgomery and our own alumna Erika Milam for spearheading this effort as the co-chairs of the Women's Caucus, and to Lynn Nyhart and the Executive Committee for their sponsorship. Many thanks as well to the graduate students who helped to organize and provide feedback early on, including our own Meridith Beck Sayre and Scott Prinster.

If you are a new student and have not yet joined HSS, there's no time like the present!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kepler in Space

Just wanted to share my first blog post over on my website. Did you know that space travel was a popular theme in early-modern fiction?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sneaky CAPTCHA images contribute to the digitization effort

Recognize this image?  Of course  you do.

These goofy CAPTCHA images serve as the gatekeeper on many websites such as Facebook, Amazon, and Ticketmaster. Part of their function is to prove that the user is a human rather than a spamming computer, but thanks to the work of Luis von Ahm, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, the CAPTCHA is also contributing to the digitization of  books and periodicals. Somehow I hadn't heard about this additional function, although I've filled out perhaps hundreds of these little boxes in the past several years... I blame my dissertator tunnel vision for this.

Despite advances in Optical Character Recognition (OCR), computers are not yet able to match the human mind's amazing ability to recognize symbols such as text, even when they are inconsistent, distorted, or poorly reproduced. Von Ahm has developed a version of the CAPTCHA program, called reCAPTCHA, in which the user is asked to type in two words instead of one. One of these words serves to confirm that the user is human, but the other is an image from a book or periodical, and our response helps to translate the image into text. Several users are given the same image, and if they consistently interpret the image as the same word, it is considered successfully converted to text.

Here's an article from the NPR website with more information about this program: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93605988

and also an article in <i>Science</i>: