At the next Vossius Seminar Edgar Lejeune and Christoffer Leber will present their research. Edgar Lejeune will give the talk “How did historians scholarly edit for IBM punched cards ? A comparison between two case-studies (France, 1970-1980)” and Christoffer Leber "Science Observed: Recombinant DNA and the Rise of Science Studies in the Era of Détente".
How did historians scholarly edit for IBM punched cards ? A comparison between two case-studies (France, 1970-1980)
Between 1961 and 1989, numerous computer-assisted historical studies were conducted in France. Historians involved in these projects were members of various historiographical programs (history of the mentalities, social history, economic history). They also adopted a wide range of computational methods, used by other social sciences (demography, linguistic, sociology) and they dealt with several types of historical sources (political tracts, charters, censuses, etc.). Moreover, these studies took place in different types of institutions (universities, CNRS, EHESS, laboratories, etc…), which shaped the way in which these historians had access to computers and to computer scientists. However, in these diverse configurations, one element appears to be shared by a large number of these scholars : the storage device used for the recording of the data, IBM punched cards.
My paper aims at comparing two computer-assisted projects on the basis of the text editing methods they developed in relation to that storage device technology. The first one is an international cooperation conducted by Christiane Klapisch-Zuber and David Herlihy between 1966 and 1978. It aimed at creating an edition for the computer of a gigantic late medieval Italian archive : the catasto fiorentino of 1427. The second one is a project conducted at the university Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne by a small group of medievalists, who focused on English political texts from the 13th to the early 16th century. I will show how four different types of elements took shape in the conception of these text editing practices : 1) the collective organization of these groups ; 2) the type of documents on which the study relied and 3) the research goals that these medievalists pursued.
Recombinant DNA and the Rise of Science Studies in the Era of Détente
The 1970s were not only a time of relaxing tensions between East and West (the so-called détente), but also a time of deep social and political transformations in Europe and the US: A new generation of leftwing, strongly politicized scientists participated in the university protests of 1968, founded organizations such as “Science for the People”, and opened a broad discussion about the dangers of scientific innovations for society and the environment. These politically engaged actors and organizations paved the way for a new interdisciplinary field called “Science Studies”. However, not only the political but also the scientific landscape was changing during that period: In the life sciences, new technologies such as recombinant DNA fueled a debate about potential hazards of genetically modified organisms to human health and the environment. These concerns were debated at the now famous Asilomar Conference on recombinant DNA research in 1975.
In my talk, I examine how early pioneers of Science Studies and members of Science for the People responded to the recombinant DNA controversy and the growing commercialization of the life sciences. Focusing on a local controversy about rDNA research in Cambridge (Mass.) in 1976/77, I will argue that observing and reflecting upon genetic engineering formed a central episode in the epistemic development of what we call today Science and Technology Studies.
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