Author Archives: Evan Hepler-Smith

About Evan Hepler-Smith

Historian of science and technology. Resident of Newark, NJ.

What is the regional history of American Science?

“There is a growing feeling hereabout,” wrote an Ohio State chemist in 1913, “and also in other localities west of the Alleghenies that Central West Chemists do not have to submit to any humilities from the Eastern crown.”

I came across this quotation on a trip to archives at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign last spring. I might not have thought much of it, but the drive from Newark, NJ – thirteen lonely hours through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, via interstates 78, 76, 70, 74, and, if you want, 72 – had served me notice that the Midwest was something to be reckoned with. Continue reading

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Links: Mammoths, Profanity, and GMOs

Good morning!

Let’s start off with a plug: the MIT History, Anthropology, and STS Program (HASTS) has a Twitter account run by a different member of the community each week, on the model of @sweden. It’s called @HASTS_MIT and for the next seven days, David Singerman is up.  Check out what he has to tweet! Continue reading

Links: Space, the Internet, and Playmobil

Good morning!  After a hiatus for conference wrap-ups, the Weekly Roundup is back with an extra-large helping of links.

Hey, have you heard, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander is on a cometChatty status reports from the lander itself, and a succinct one from xkcd. Is the Rosetta mission important for the future of the EU? Continue reading

HSS Recap Part 2: Humans, Pain, and Philosophy

Yesterday, Leah took us on a tour of this past weekend’s HSS annual meeting: visibility and invisibility, epistemology and ontology, bounded rationality in history and the historical baggage of historians’ modes of reasoning. What’s left?

The cover to the HSS-PSA 2014 program: a word cloud drawn from the titles of papers presented at the meeting.

Continue reading

What is Big Data? Part II: Heterogeneous Materiality

If I’ve learned one thing from the history of science and technology, it’s that the way people ask questions shapes that way that they answer them.

With this in mind, I’m continuing my discussion of the nature of Big Data – or, rather, of different ways in which we can ask the question: “What is Big Data?”

Yesterday, I discussed an essay in which sociologist Nathan Jurgenson tackles Big Data as a “cultural ideology.” I thought that this framing yielded some useful critical insights; I just wasn’t sure that they were insights that told us much about Big Data as a category of technical practice.*

Today, I’m going to examine how the historian-ethnographer Hallam Stevens frames this question in his 2013 book Life out of Sequence. I think that Stevens offers an especially useful model for how to investigate the role Big Data in making authoritative knowledge. Continue reading

What is Big Data? Part I: “Cultural ideology”

What is Big Data?

Lots of people are asking and answering this question. (This  blog  included).  Scholars in various fields, including the history of science and technology, have begun to tackle it as well.

For good reason. Gobs of private and public funding, influence over policymakers, civil liberties, the future of the planet and the people on it, and, oh yes, the practice of science are (reputedly) at stake.

The most familiar answers to “What is Big Data?” fit into three categories: Continue reading