Henry Schmidt

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley

2021 to 2022
Research Fellow

Social Scientists, Industrial Evolution, and the Study of Artefacts in Progressive Era America

I will use my time as a CHSTM Fellow to research early scientific studies of human industries their objects, and their evolution in time. By reconstructing a research program led by curators and anthropologists mostly based at the Smithsonian Institution and focused on the concept of ‘invention’ and its products, I will explain an important early episode in how social scientists construed human technology and its evolutionary development as objects of expert knowledge. That entails close attention to the intellectual and institutional contexts of ethnological research, the curatorial practices by which objects were invested with meaning, and the broader political and legal significance imputed to inventions and their management. I will initially focus on a few core figures like Otis Mason, John Wesley Powell, Lester Ward, Franz Boas, and Franklin Seely. I aim to understand their importance in the development of scientific understandings of technological life.