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'Birthplace of science studies in America' turns 25

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Melissa Osgood
Bruce Lewenstein
Robert Barker/Cornell Marketing Group
Bruce Lewenstein, chair of the Department of Science and Technology Studies and professor of science and technology studies and communication, speaks at the S&TS 25th anniversary.

Faculty, staff and students gathered Sept. 9 in Morrill Hall to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Department of Science and Technology Studies (S&TS) and the department’s move into new space in Morrill.

Marilyn Migiel, senior associate dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of Romance studies, said S&TS had been the first new department in Arts and Sciences in 20 years and began with affiliated faculty from 23 departments and six colleges. “S&TS is truly arts and sciences, sometimes seen as social sciences or as humanities, with ties to science,” she said. “S&TS scholarship and teaching are central to the liberal education mission at Cornell.”

Deputy Provost John Siliciano, professor of law, quoted from the 2013 field review of the department in his remarks. These in-depth reviews are done every seven to 10 years, he explained, with input from external experts. The report said Cornell’s program was “the linchpin for the development of this interdisciplinary field, and continues to define its agenda,” and called S&TS “the birthplace of science studies in America.”

S&TS began as a program, in space carved out of the physics department in Clark Hall. The program moved to Rockefeller Hall and also had offices elsewhere on campus, with graduate students and faculty in separate buildings. Faculty at the anniversary event praised the new space in Morrill Hall, noting it was much easier to interact with graduate students when they were on the same floors as faculty.

“Klarman Hall is being rightfully celebrated for being the first new humanities building on campus in 100 years, and while we’re not in that building, the game of departmental dominoes that it enabled has finally brought us all together here in Morrill Hall,” said Bruce Lewenstein, S&TS chair and professor of science and technology studies and communication. “So while the ‘humanities’ is only one part of how we define ourselves, we’re glad to be part of the physical improvement that building brought.”

S&TS was initiated in the mid-1960s with a group of scientists interested in thinking about science and society, who eventually founded the Science, Technology and Society Program. In the 1980s, science historian L. Pearce Williams joined with astronomer Martin Harwit and others to create a graduate program in history and philosophy of science and technology (renamed science and technology studies in 1991), now ranked among the best in the nation.

The first director of the S&TS program, Frank Long, was a chemist long active in the arms-control movement, and many early S&TS faculty also focused on arms-related issues. In 1970, the Peace Studies Program was established through the joint sponsorship of S&TS and the Center for International Studies (now the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies). S&TS faculty continue to be involved with Peace Studies, which was renamed the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. As S&TS Professor Emerita Judith Reppy explained: “The original thrust of Peace Studies was on technical issues of arms control, while the S&TS program had a broader emphasis. Once the Peace Studies Program was established, the arms control issues migrated to that program.”

Marilyn Migiel
Robert Barker/Cornell Marketing Group
Marilyn Migiel, senior associate dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of Romance studies, speaks at the gathering in Morrill Hall.

Another change in S&TS since it began as a program 50 years ago, said Trevor Pinch, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Science and Technology Studies, is that “by the time S&TS became a department, many faculty were no longer primarily scientists interested in the social impact of science, but people with backgrounds in history, the social sciences and the anthropology of science – as well as the sciences.”

The Sept. 9 open house celebrated another anniversary as well: creation of the biology and society undergraduate major 40 years ago in 1976. The interdisciplinary, cross-university major is now a collaboration among Arts and Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Human Ecology. Lewenstein noted the department today has almost 300 students in its biology and society and science and technology studies majors. “We’ve graduated more than 1,600 students since the department was founded in 1991,” he said.

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