London Calling April 10, 2010Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
Apologies for the slowness in wrapping up the natural philosophy/anthro-cosmology series. My enormous project at AIP, Phase 1 of the Array of Contemporary American Physicists (ACAP) is currently getting the last few wrinkles ironed out of it. In all likelihood, this will launch next week, and I’ll announce it here, among other places. Further, I am getting married on May 1 here in Washington DC, and wedding preparations have started taking up more time. Further, with ACAP and my three-year post-doc position wrapping up, it’s time to be moseying on to the next town. I had until a couple weeks ago thought this would be a metaphorical mosey, as I took up full-time research, based at AIP, on a one-year project on geological and glaciological research in the second-half of the twentieth century (on which I’ve been working very part time). Instead, unexpectedly, it turns out there actually is a next town, and it is called London.
Starting in October, I’ll be taking up a three-year junior research fellowship in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Imperial College London. Short of a tenure-track position, having back-to-back, multi-year, no-teaching positions is a fine luxury (though I actually would like to get the chance to to teach some more at some point…). To date, it has certainly made projects like ACAP and this blog possible. Of course, it’s not easy to leave the Washington area, which has been very good to me—and is not a bad place to hop off the academic history wagon, if it ever came down to that. Still, I’m looking forward to being back in a collaborative academic environment, and for me Imperial is something of a mecca for that. I spent some time there in the spring of 2006, working on my dissertation, and have very fond memories of it, especially the quality of some of the post-seminar discussions at the Queens Arms.
Regular readers of this blog will know that Imperial professor David Edgerton’s work is a big influence on my thinking, and that I view Andy Warwick’s Masters of Theory as a signal accomplishment in historiographical craftsmanship. I am also looking forward to getting to know and working with Andy Mendelsohn, head of the Centre and historian of medicine and life sciences, as well my fellowship sponsor Abigail Woods, who is a historian of veterinary science. The Centre is small, but it is growing in strength, having just started taking on postdocs, including a JRF recipient from last year, Jahnavi Phalkey, who works on scientific internationalism and did a dissertation on nuclear physics in India (good discussion here). As I say, I also remember it as a place having those intangible qualities that magnify the historiographical productivity of its members. Beyond my own very informal assessments, others have recognized the consistent quality of the research that takes place there as well. This is not to mention the wealth of other historians to be found in the London area…. Long story short, I expect the move to be both productive and a lot of fun.
My new project is called “British State Expertise in Food, Construction, and Defence, 1945-1975,” which will survey and characterize state uses of expertise, and grows out of my dissertation/book project on science, operations research, and policy analysis. Of course, the project also entails looking at bio-medical experts, of whom I have little prior knowledge, so I’ll be glad to collaborate with Abigail, Andy M., and Imperial students with expertise in biomedical history. The project is intended to make good use of the time and freedom offered by the JRF, and is specifically designed to develop new ways of presenting an un-narrative, or perhaps multi-narrative, history. Building on ACAP, for example, one thing I hope to do is use the web as a platform for generating a general portrait, around which new local arguments can be built.
As to Ether Wave Propaganda, much of what I try and do here is bring the discussion and ideas that for some reason tend to be confined to small groups and places like the Queens Arms into the open air. While I have no plans to start blogging about evenings at the pub specifically, it is my hope that my new project and new collaborations will reflect here in some way.
Finally, while I try not to talk about personal things on this blog, I do need to say that my soon-to-be-wife Caitlin is a school teacher and has never been in the vicinity of the academic hobo trail before she met the likes of me, and so I just want to say that this move would never have happened if she weren’t a truly kind and adventurous person. She’s eager to do some traveling while we’re in England, so attention friends on the Continent: we may be headed your way, too.