Book Review: Hunter Heyck, Age of System

Jason Oakes reviews Hunter Heyck, Age of System: Understanding the Development of Modern Social Sciences (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)

Jason Oakes is a postdoctoral scholar in the philosophy department at UC Davis, where he works on the history of growth models in 20th century biology and the human sciences. We asked Jason to review Hunter Heyck’s new book on the social sciences in the mid-twentieth century. Here’s what he had to say.

You can reach Jason at oakes(at)ucdavis(dot)edu


There exist tree or root structures in rhizomes; conversely, a tree branch or root division may begin to burgeon into a rhizome.
-Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (1981)

The notion of “system” is a commonplace background concept. Many research specialties have a systems name for one of their problems areas, and it lives in popular and public cultures as well. There is the financial system, the ecosystem, the solar system, and the social system, sometimes simply called “the system,” standing in for social arrangements that feel stultifying yet seem outside of immediate personal control. The idea’s continued presence in the early 21st century makes it difficult to remember that not too long ago it was even more pervasive. Hunter Heyck’s Age of System: Understanding the Development of the Modern Social Sciences, re-acquaints us with the span of time from the interwar period to the Ford Administration when “system” was not just a piece of familiar intellectual furniture, but one of the central organizing concepts in economics, anthropology, sociology, and political science.


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New Feature: AmericanScience Re-reads the Classics; or, Teddy Bear Patriarchy in 2016

The AmericanScience team is back from winter break! To start out the New Year, we’re putting down our ice skates and hot ciders (okay, our piles of grading and overdue chapters) and introducing a new feature to the blog. Besides our regular posts and reviews—and science links, which we’re Tweeting daily—we’ve decided to re-read The Classics in the discipline. Returning to some classic HOS texts and discussing them as a team, we hope, will be a way to both rethink old ideas and, on a more practical note, to read some texts that we haven’t looked at since generals.

To start out the series, we’re beginning with one of the most famous, and most famously impenetrable, essays in the field: Donna Haraway’s “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1938.” First published in Social Text in the winter of 1984-85, the piece became a key chapter in Haraway’s later 1989 masterpiece, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy,” and Haraway’s work in general, has become some of the most influential writing in the history of science, in postmodern readings of biology, and in critical gender and race theory. Over the course of a few weeks this fall, the AmericanScience team took some time with the essay, and came together to discuss our experiences with it, where it fits into current scholarship, and whether it really is impenetrable. We invite you to join the conversation in the comments section or on Twitter. On a purely aesthetic note, we’d like to point you to our current header—a timely, we think, image of none other than Carl Akeley working on his taxidermy at the AMNH in the 1930s.


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Exhibit Review: “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life” @PMA

As a new transplant to Philadelphia, I’ve been reveling in the city’s myriad science museums and historical institutions—from the Franklin Institute to the Please Touch Museum (which I’ve written about for the blog), from the Chemical Heritage Foundation (newly merged with the Life Sciences Foundation!) to the Mütter Museum. Philadelphia, in short, is a historian of science’s dream city. A few weeks ago, though, I took an artistic turn to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s stunning new special exhibition “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life.” More than one hundred works of still life cover the exhibition’s dark grey walls, ranging from natural history illustrations of the eighteenth century to pop art installations of the 1960s. Lured into the exhibit by promises of Audubon’s enormous birds and taxidermied specimens, I was absolutely entranced by the range and variety of the works, which came together to paint a persuasive picture of the inextricable links between art and science in America.

John James Audubon, "Carolina Parakeet," c. 1828

John James Audubon, “Carolina Parakeet,” c. 1828

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Last-week-of-term links


Edmund D. Fountain, for the New York Times

HSS 2015: A Roundtable Review

hss_logo_verticalTwo weekends ago, under (surprisingly) sunny Northern California skies, hundreds of historians of science met in San Francisco to share their research, debate central questions in the field, and – perhaps most importantly – spend time with friends, both old and new. Three members of the AmericanScience team were present to take in the sights and sounds of this annual HSTM gathering (and even found time to catch up with each other in the flesh!) After taking a week to digest our conference experiences, we present to you our thoughts on HSS 2015.

As usual, with such as massive program, a single review does not do the conference justice. And so, we opted for a review in the round, providing three perspectives on the meeting. It just so happens that we also focused our reviews on the roundtable, a format not new to HSS but unusually prominent on this year’s program. Without further ado, we begin our spin around HSS 2015 with Evan’s favorite panel of the weekend:

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Links for your Thanksgiving airport travel


A tardigrade. Cute, isn’t it? (via

Return of the Sextants: Guest Post

Today we’re featuring a guest post from Sarah Pickman, a PhD student in the History Dept. at Yale. Sarah works on the history of exploration, field collecting, and natural history museums, and anthropology in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her past work has focused on the material culture of expeditions, from field provisions to Polar gear. Sarah comes to Yale from New York, where she earned an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture at Bard College.

Any casual observer can see that there’s a certain vogue for retro technology in the air. So dust off your home canning system, pull out your vinyl records, and break out your…sextant?


Double-bridge sextant, c. 1798. Collection of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, NAV1107

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