Visiting speaker Frederica Bowcutt finds the OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center
Visiting speaker Dr. Frederica Bowcutt finds rich material for her next project in OSU’s Special Collections & Archives Research Center.

It’s been over a month ago now but I wanted to share some reflections on an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental talk that was organized by graduate students in the College of Forestry and in School of History, Philosophy, and Religion here at OSU. In Jacob Hamblin’s Environmental History seminar last year, I (Tamara Caulkins, PhD candidate, History of Science) had the good fortune to meet forestry PhD candidate Jesse Engebretson. He became involved in a new OSU student group called “Diverse Perspectives in Forestry Group” under the dynamic leadership of Randi Shaw, and a new lecture series was born.

This series aims to bring to the table underrepresented views to the practice of Forestry. Bowcutt’s talk was part of this series which was also sponsored by The OSU College of Liberal Arts “Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative,” under the direction of Prof. Jacob Hamblin.

Our speaker, Frederica Bowcutt, botanist and author of The Tanoak Tree: An Environmental History of a Pacific Coast Hardwood, gave a well-attended lecture in Richardson Hall on May 20, 2016 at noon. Professor Bowcutt spoke about the many ways the tanoak has figured in the history of southwest Oregon and northern California from the use of its acorns by Amerindian tribes for food to the tanning of leather for saddles by sixteenth century Spanish colonists to a complicated role in twentieth century logging. As a historian of science, I get very excited about how what goes in to the making of knowledge – or “scientia” as science was called in the early modern period that I study – so I was thrilled with Dr. Bowcutt’s use of a wide variety of primary sources such as a medieval book of hours that pointed to the European disdain for acorns as a food source even before they encountered Amerindians (these early miniatures showed that only pigs or cavemen ate acorns) or a mid-twentieth century poster advocating mechanical processing of timber that read “you don’t have to pay the man who isn’t there.”

Bowcutt holds degrees in botany from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California at Davis (UCD). She worked for five years as an ecologist for the California Department of Parks and Recreation before returning to earn her PhD in ecology from UC Davis – a degree she designed to include substantial study in the arts and humanities.

She has also worked as an environmental consultant doing rare plant surveys and ecological restoration. Since 1996, Dr. Bowcutt has taught botany in interdisciplinary programs at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. She specializes in floristics, field plant ecology, and plant-centric environmental history. A sample of some of the classes she has taught will give you a sense of the wide range of her interests: Plants, Fungi, and People, European Ethnobotany and Art, and Field Plant Taxonomy and Conservation. Students in Dr. Bowcutt’s course “Picturing Plants” designed and constructed numerous signs across the Evergreen campus, providing historical and taxonomic information on local plants.

Bowcutt is an extraordinary scholar not only for the rigor of her scientific work but for the way she has honored the knowledge of indigenous peoples, loggers, citizen scientists, wood-working craftsmen, and wood products manufacturers. These diverse perspectives are woven throughout her talk on the many aspects of the tanoak tree – considered in different periods as a “beautiful” tree, a “weed” and “trash tree” which audience members more deeply appreciated by the end of her talk. Climate change has affected this tree through increasingly erratic weather which favors the spread of the pathogen P. ramorum. Although the tanoak is not as commercially valuable as other species such as Douglas-fir, the spread of the disease does affect the forest ecosystem more generally. Bringing out these complicated connections is a primary goal of the “Diverse Perspectives in Forestry Group” and offers an excellent example of how schools of science and of humanities collaborating across the OSU campus can enrich our understanding. Bowcutt’s penetrating analysis of timber practices and their consequences for ecological systems in southern Oregon and northern California sparked a lively discussion after the talk.

Bowcutt published her book on the tanoak in 2015 with the University of Washington Press. She has also published multiple floras on state parks in the North Coast Range and Central Valley of California. Her essays have appeared in a variety of journals including Environmental History and Human Ecology  as well as an anthology compiled by Carolyn Merchant entitled Green Versus Gold: Sources in California’s Environmental History. She has taught for over twenty years at Evergreen State College addressing such topics as the interactions between plants and people, European Ethnobotany and Art, and Field Plant Taxonomy and Conservation.

The “Diverse Perspectives in Forestry Group” will be continuing their speaker series. Stay tuned!

On 16 January 2015, the Oregon State University School of History, Philosophy, and Religion celebrated the career of the historian of science, Horning Professor Emerita Mary Jo Nye, in a conference organized by current Horning Professor Anita Guerrini. The following blog, composed by graduate students in OSU’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, recounts this celebration of a life in scholarship.

From Ambika Natarajan:

rockeIn a talk entitled The Indifferent Hypothesis Redux: The Dilemmas of Pierre Duhem, Dr. Alan Rocke explored the philosophy of Pierre Duhem, a late 19th century physical chemist. He emphasized how politics and personal enmity had an impact on theories accepted and promoted by scientists. Dr. Rocke argued that historical, biographical and psychological details play crucial roles in the construction of scientific philosophy.

Duhem opposed atomistic ideas in chemistry on philosophical and personal grounds. Another key opponent of the atomism in chemistry was a contemporary of Duhem, Marcellin Berthelot. Although in the same scientific camp, Duhem did not support Berthelot’s views. In fact, he opposed him due to personal animosities. On the other hand, Duhem favored one of the key proponents of the Atomistic theory at the time, Charles-Adolphe Wurtz. Although they did not agree on scientific grounds, their similar religious affiliations made Duhem an ardent follower of Wurtz. Ironically, he used some of Wurtz’s arguments in support of atomism to oppose atomism in his own papers. Wurtz’s articulation that science can never be satisfied with the fecundity of atomism in the face of the unique and universal first cause, ‘God’, was used by Duhem as an inspiration to his objection to atomism.

In analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Duhem’s arguments, Dr. Rocke pointed to the convergent realism inherent in Duhem’s statements and concluded the lecture with the lingering thought that Duhem’s history reflects a combination of boldness and epistemic caution the prevalent 19th century France.

From Joshua McGuffie:

swannerIn another of the day’s papers, Dr. Leandra Swanner, one of Profesor Nye’s former students, shared her research on the history of the astronomical observatories atop Mauna Kea. Dr. Swanner is now at Arizona State University and her research focuses on the interaction between astronomers and the local communities of environmentalists and others. Her case study for the conference showed how and investigated why some native Hawaiians fought against expansion of the telescope complex on Mauna Kea. Dr. Swanner contends that this discord has forced astronomers to come down off the mountain to “meet the public” and justify their science.

Telescopes on top of Mauna Kea date from the 1960s, when the site was identified as an optimal location for astronomical research on account of its elevation, lack of light pollution, and easy access for the American scientific community. In the 1960s, Federal environmental regulations were more lax than they are today, and the Environmental Protection Agency had yet to be created. The first telescopes on Mauna Kea were approved and constructed with a bare minimum of environmental considerations in mind. Moreover, the sacred nature of the mountain’s summit to practitioners of native Hawaiian religion was not then a decision-making factor in the project. The telescopes themselves were part of the modernist American scientific adventure, the islands were considered as a perfect location for telescopic explorations of the cosmos.

By the 1970s, however, environmentalists began to protest what they perceived to be a cavalier attitude towards Mauna Kea’s fragile mountain ecosystems. The 1980s saw a resurgence in Hawaiian culture and religious practices, a trend that encouraged native Hawaiians to assert the sacred nature of the mountain in contrast to its scientific value. Astronomers, whose science has tended not to inspire controversy, found themselves in the middle of a conflict over how to best use the land in order to search the skies. Dr. Swanner has shown that they have attempted to align modern astronomy with the traditional Hawaiian art of navigation. She also points to their use of educational outreach tools as a means to connect with local communities. These two strategies have met with mixed success. Dr. Swanner’s research is an interesting foray into the politics of science in the age of ecology. She shows that space matters and is worth contesting, for science, for culture, and for the earth.

Matt McConnell, also commenting on Dr. Swanner’s presentation, observed that

Dr. Swanner examined how social pressures have changed the narratives of the research being done there over time, from descriptions of Mauna Kea as an “ideal location,” to the “Umbilical cord to the mysteries of the Universe.” Along the way, we gain insight to the complex issues facing the scientific community when their interests, even in the pursuit of pure science, trespass on the interests of others. Finally, I would suggest that this case serves as an example of the reliance of policy changes in research on long term studies with high confidence intervals that take years to develop. This is a strategy that has been described by Oreskes (Merchants of Doubt) and others as being used by corporate political entities to prevent regulatory measures from being passed concerning their activity. Here we see the same principal at work in a decidedly “left leaning” scientific community.

The astronomers were clearly shocked by the native assertions that the large telescopes (there are at least 12 now) are an extension of colonial domination of the island, symbolic of the rich white man’s lavish lifestyle and wanton disregard for the immediate environment. Their arguments amounts not only to an indictment of the negative aspects of this particular observatory (impeding the prayers of native religious practitioners via its presence, and destroying a rare local species) but also of astronomy writ large. Why, the natives and other protesters wonder, would someone spend so much time looking out at the stars when we can’t even take care of what we have here on earth?

From Elizabeth Nielsen:

gordinIn another one of the wonderful papers presented at the Mary Jo Nye Festschrift, Dr. Michael D. Gordin examined how science and philosophy developed in the career of Arnost Kolman. In drawing parallel lines between his ideas about Kolman and Mary Jo Nye’s book Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science, Gordin portrayed an East/West division in philosophical scholarship during the twentieth century, growing out of the central Hapsburg cities, such as Prague and Budapest.

Born in Prague in 1892, Arnost Kolman grew up in a politically and culturally engaged city. After being captured by the Tsarist forces during World War I, Kolman joined with the Bolsheviks, becoming a lifelong Marxist. This influenced his career, as well. While Michael Polanyi and others turned west to expand their careers, towards Britain and Germany, Kolman turned east, moving to Moscow. Due to his interest in mathematics, his university training, and political status as a Bolshevik, Kolman contributed to the history and philosophy of science in the Soviet Union. He also strongly adhered to the ideas of dialectical materialism in his work.

Kolman is perhaps most well known for appearing in the 1931 volume Science at the Cross Roads, next to Boris Hessen’s “Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia.” Gordin argued that Kolman played a large role as a political representative at the 1931 conference. In addition, Kolman wrote extensively about cybernetics during the infamous Lysenko affair, which demonstrated the significance of Soviet cybernetics as compared with genetics. Lysenko, it seems, was fairly insignificant in the larger picture of the development of Soviet style philosophy of science.

Through examining Kolman, Dr. Gordin contended that the early Soviet Union thrived philosophically, as the confrontation of Marxism fostered a mutual creation of political philosophy and philosophy of science. Dr. Gordin also drew parallels between the exodus of scholars from former Hapsburg cities into the west and subsequent developments in philosophy, and Kolman’s exit into the East. These cities were important in fostering a generation of socially aware scholars interested in the philosophy of their fields. In doing so, Dr. Gordin encouraged scholars to think critically about the development of history of science.

All of the presentations will be compiled and edited into a special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences to honor Dr. Mary Jo Nye.
We wish to thank the Chemical Heritage Foundation for co-sponsoring this celebration and to Professor Mina Carson for the use of her photographs.

by Anna Dvorak*

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia on “Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale”

In his lecture “Laws of nature, historical contingency, and the wolves and moose of Isle Royale,” Dr. John A. Vucetich seeks to explain a new approach to the study of ecology that he uses with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project, which is the largest, continuously running predator/prey study in the world.  In his study of population dynamics on the island, he believes that unlike other scientific fields, like chemistry or physics, ecology is not strictly law-based.  Instead it is better studied like other historical events.  He refers to this as historical contingency and he defines his process in two parts.  This process explains population dynamics through a series of disparate random events, each of which has a legacy that has effects comparable in length to the waiting time in between these events.  Each candidate event is crucial to understanding the predator/prey relationship on Isle Royale and more specifically the predation rate of the moose.  Such candidate events in his analysis include novel disease, catastrophic winter, genetic rescue by introducing new wolves to the island, and the end of positive effects from the genetic rescue.  Periods in between these candidate events are characterized as either top-down or bottom-up.  It is these individual events that can be quantifiably explained and then compared to the laws of nature. Continue reading

by Joshua McGuffie

McGuffie1 With summer drawing to a close, I took the opportunity to ride the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Albany, Oregon to Union Station in Los Angeles. I’d never taken the train for such a long trip, 28 hours each way. On such a long trip landscapes pass by, fixed in their space but transient in the rider’s experience. Each moment on the train creates a snapshot of the land. Being a rider is significantly different than being a driver on the interstate – not having to worry about truck traffic frees the mind to wander. As my mind wandered, four snapshots of human interaction with the passing terrain leapt out at me.

The trip starts in Albany, Oregon. Seat of Linn County (‘The Grass Seed Capital of the World’), Albany quickly gives way to the rural Willamette Valley. Sheep, hay, and grass seed accompany the rider all the way to Eugene. In Oregon’s third city the tracks turn southeast to climb the Cascades through the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. The transition from an agricultural landscape to a logging landscape is abrupt. Evergreen stands of varying ages blanket the landscape along with clearcuts and a web of logging roads. The Willamette played a part in the bitter spotted owl and old growth forest controversies. But, to a layman’s eyes on the train, the forest looks like a forest, not an historically controversial landscape. In this case, the train delves into the depths of environmental conflict but also shrouds it with the trappings of a scenic landscape. One hundred years ago, Einstein used the train to teach physicists the hidden truths of relativity. Today, as the train runs through the forest, it teaches us the often hidden truth that aesthetic beauty can obscure the extent of human alteration to an ecosystem. Continue reading

by Joshua McGuffie*


What images does wilderness evoke? For many, wilderness means pristine landscapes, scenic vistas, quietude, and wide open spaces. Many Americans may be surprised to know that, legally, wilderness has only been enshrined as a public reality for 50 years. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, surrounded by an unlikely coalition of elected officials and preservationists. To celebrate the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project hosted a panel discussion on 2 May to consider the Act’s genesis, life, and future.

Dr. Jacob Hamblin discussed important environmental moments leading up to the act. He particularly singled out public outcry over the Bureau of Reclamation’s Echo Park Project. The Bureau planned to build a series of dams along the Colorado, including within Grand Canyon National Park. Hamblin argued that potential incursions into ‘protected’ federal lands raised popular environmental consciousness and incentivized politicians to support preservation measures. With this background in mind, he asked the question “Is it possible to have a community of sincerity without common purpose?” That the Wilderness Act passed, with a variety of definitions for ‘wilderness’ built into its text, seems to indicate that such a community did in fact coalesce in the early 1960’s. Continue reading

Jon Butler

by Emily Simpson*

On Thursday November 21, Oregon State’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religion was privileged to welcome esteemed scholar of American religious history Jon Butler as part of the Horning Lecture Series.  His presentation God in Gotham is an interesting re-interpretation of the relationship between religious and secular aspects of life in New York City between the 1880s and 1960s.  He provides a variety of evidence to upturn the common idea of New York City’s standing as the capital of American secularism–from the culture of various religious communities, changes in immigration patterns, to the prominence of well-known religious architecture within the city.

New York City is a critical example of a fundamental problem that Dr. Butler sees in interpreting the history of religion.  How do we draw strict lines between what is a secular age and what is a religious age?  To argue against the notion that the world of religion has fallen to secular society, Dr. Butler first re-evaluates the state of harmony that we often see when Western religious influence was at its peak-the medieval period.  According to Dr. Butler, there has never been a point in history where religion was not a disputed issue.  The total unity of ideas within medieval society is a myth.

Continue reading

by Mason Tattersall*


Last Tuesday the Horning Lecture Series was pleased to present James Moore’s engrossing lecture on Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Moore, along with Adrian Desmond, penned one of the classic biographies of Darwin (1991’s Darwin).  As Moore related in his opening remarks on Tuesday, when the two had finished with Darwin, they were left with a nagging question: Given Darwin’s reclusive, gentlemanly, and non-confrontational personality, what could possibly have motivated him to produce and publish a theory so guaranteed to bring conflict down upon his head? In his talk on Tuesday, Moore presented his answer, explained in rich detail in Moore and Desmond’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause (2009).

“Why did Darwin risk his reputation to promote an heretical theory?”

Moore argues that it was Darwin’s hatred of the institution of slavery, instilled in him from early childhood that provided the motivating passion behind the scientific breakthrough. Through expert use of textual and visual materials, Moore led the audience through a brief overview of Darwin’s progress toward his theories of evolution through natural selection and the descent of man and sexual selection from the point of view of his connections to the world of anti-slavery activism.

Continue reading

by Laura Cray*

23793_1As a self-professed library nerd, I was excited to attend Robert Fox’s lecture, Mapping the Universe of Knowledge, on Monday, May 6, 2013.  The lecture focused on work of Paul Otlet, Henri La Fontaine, and Hendrick Christian Andersen and their vision for a world united by knowledge.  Robert Fox is professor emeritus from Oxford University and currently visiting Oregon State University as this year’s Horning Visiting Scholar.  Monday’s lecture was the first installment in his three part series of lectures entitled, Science International: Universalism and National Interest in the Industrial Age.

Having spent most of my life in the age of Google, I think that it is easy to take Otlet’s vision for the Bibliographic Institute founded in Brussels in 1895 for granted.  But, his incredibly detailed Universal Bibliographic Repertory (a variation of the Dewey Decimal System) and the over 15 million entries in his card catalogue represent a vision which extended far beyond his ordered library shelves.  As Fox argues, Continue reading

Reliquaries of St. Elzéar and Bl. Delphine

by Tracy Jamison*

Words are potent. Words can awaken memories, stir emotions and quiet the mind. Words have been used in the creation of groundswells that burst forth to bring down stalwart walls of injustice as well as to buttress vast empires: Word-for-word, Brick-by-brick. In her lecture, Dr. Nicole Archambeau examined the concept of the voice as a relic. How ‘mere words’ of admittedly melodic meter, manifested within the human body, and alleviated physiological and psychological distress during an era rife with mercenary invasions that razed fifteen cities,  populations forced to languish under waves of plague and that eventually saw the erosion of the Treaty of Brétigny and the continuation of the Hundred Years’ War.

After parsing through medieval canonization inquests and Articles of Interrogation in order to divine how people foresaw and negotiated the curative continuum from medico to physico in their attempt to heal and restore the spirit, Dr. Archambeau chose the life of Delphine of Glandèves, more commonly known as the Blessed Delphine, as a paragon of 14th century healing pluralities. Delphine was a countess who was alleged to have the ability to mediate miracles through the melodic meter of her voice. As a miracle mediator, Delphine offered a distinctive healing option from the ‘despairing doctor trope’ that did not sanction the giving of false hope to those suffering from illness. The wife of newly canonized Saint Elzéar of Sabran, Delphine was not a doctrinaire and did not tout that she possessed any medicinal knowledge. Nevertheless, during her canonization inquest, Master Durand Andre testified that through her voice, Delphine touched him from the inside and he felt contrition, compunction and consolation.  As Archambeau articulated in her lecture, witnesses for Delphine’s candidacy for canonization related to the papal court that Delphine ministered miraculous healing that actively managed the care of their soul, a vital part of personal health. Continue reading

Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton

By Jindan Chen*

Before going to Rob Iliffe’s talk on The Newton’s Project on February 28th, I skimmed through this incredibly comprehensive website about Isaac Newton. Absolutely, it is an exciting on-line read.

“The Newton Project” is the name of a non-profit organization which builds up this website. The primary goal of this website is to digitize and publish on-line all Newton’s writings from 1642 to 1727. As of today, the outcome of the goal has been over 5.2 million transcribed words online! The project started in 1998 and was housed at Imperial College London. It secured funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board in UK. It is entirely surprising to find out what a variety of primary sources about Newton this website has put together, which include Newton’s own various notes and letters, scientific or religious, and his friends or rivals’ accounts of him.

It is no doubt that such a website is of enormous research value for historians as it removes the big hassle of reading Newton’s difficult handwritings. The website is just like a vast, handy digital archive. But what gets me really excited about this website is the easy access it provides to the public to get a closer look at the almost symbolic figure of Newton. I would like to assume the design of “Take A Tour” on the home page gives the public a chance to take a quick view of a multi-dimension Newton, a real Newton who they do not get to know before. For example, I was fascinated by the biographical accounts written by Newton’s good friends John Conduitt and William Stukeley, and his Royal Society colleague and competitor John Flamsteed. These texts give me a new perspective to approach Newton as a person less mysterious. In addition, things like Jean-Baptiste Biot’s biography of Newton and Newton’s own letter to John Locke add to a richer understanding of this legendary genius. Continue reading