Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science

Promoting Scholarly and Public Understanding of the History of Science,
Technology and Medicine

431 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA 19106

News of the Center
Fall 2010

Thomas Eakins, Motion Studies, albumen photograph, 1884
Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

In 2006, the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science was merely an innovative proposal. The Center's organizers held two basic beliefs: first, that our society needs a much better understanding of how scientific, technological and medical knowledge and practices change and the impact these changes have on our lives; and second, this region provides exceptional resources that, if used collaboratively, can significantly advance that understanding. With seed funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, eleven cultural and educational institutions took a leap and established the Center.

Since then, we have made great progress toward our goals of promoting scholarship and encouraging public understanding of the history of science. We have established fellowship programs for resident and visiting scholars, produced events for scholars and for the public, and developed a set of online resources for researchers, our member institutions and the general public. All of these efforts have been undertaken with the generous support and collaboration of our consortium—especially the American Philosophical Society which provides facilities to house the Center. The National Science Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation have provided major grants in support of our mission. The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and several individual and corporate sponsors have provided additional funding.

  Fellowship Program

Dissertation Fellows at the Center

In 2007 the Center welcomed its first six dissertation research fellows to use collections from across the region. In 2008, we added two nine-month dissertation writing fellowships. Fellows have come from across the country to study topics from cartography to nuclear physics to pedagogy, focusing on regions from Asia to Europe to America and eras from the early modern period to the 20th century. The fellows' abstracts and research reports attest to the breadth and depth of area collections. The fellowship applications and evaluations are run entirely online making it possible for more than twenty scholars, annually selected from across the country, to participate in the fellowship selection process.


Participants at the conference on arctic exploration
held at the Academy of Natural Sciences

A comprehensive calendar on our Website lists history of science events occurring within 75 miles of Philadelphia. In 2008, the Center launched its own program of events for scholars and the public with the support of an educational grant from Merck & Co. Our regional colloquium series brings together scholars and students from more than 30 institutions to discuss pre-circulated papers posted on our Website.

In partnership with its consortium members, the Center has sponsored workshops, conferences and public lectures. Our new conference support competition provides another means for members of our community to submit proposals for future conferences.

  Online Resources

Judith Leavitt, Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor, Medical History and Bioethics, History of Science, and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin, speaking at the College of Physicians about changes in American childbirth practices

Our Website went live in 2007 as a single page announcing fellowship opportunities. The site has since grown considerably, supporting all the Center's events and activities as well as the fellowship programs of two consortium members. Web exhibits feature documents and artifacts held at member institutions. In 2009, we launched a community blog, currently featuring Nathaniel Comfort of the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine and Darin Hayton of Haverford College. Over the last year alone, our site has had 58,000 visits and 150,000 page views. In addition, readers can follow the Center's activities using RSS, Twitter and Facebook. More than a thousand have signed up for our mailing list.

The Center recently released a cross-institutional search hub. Using a single, simple interface, researchers can search the special collections of nine member institutions encompassing some 1.4 million catalog records (circulating collections are not included). A second version of the search hub with more options for searching and sorting is already under development.


Directors, officers and staff at the Center's incorporation in 2007
at the Chemical Heritage Foundation—the Board of Directors now numbers 16

The Center was incorporated in 2007 and is governed by a Board of Directors drawn from leaders in the educational, research, cultural, and business sectors. We welcomed Harriet Zuckerman and William H. Helfand as new Directors in May 2010. An Advisory Board with substantial additional expertise and experience held its first annual meeting in April 2010 to review the work of the Center.

  Looking Ahead

The first meeting of the Regional Colloquium in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, held at the Library Company during a blizzard in 2008

After taking that initial leap in 2007, we have established the core programs and basic administration of the Center and engaged an active local community as well as a growing number of partners across the country. Together, these constitute a strong foundation for expanding and refining our research and outreach efforts in the coming years. As the pace of scientific change accelerates, it is more important than ever to engage both scholars and the public in forums that promote an understanding of the ways in which these changes shape our lives. We are firmly committed to our collaborative model of furthering scholarly and public understanding of the history of science, and we welcome your participation. Please don't hesitate to email with your suggestions and comments on our progress.

With best regards,

Babak Ashrafi, Executive Director
Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science
431 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

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