Friday, 14 April 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Audra J. Wolfe, “The Fight for Science and Freedom: Recovering the Role of Science in Cold War Cultural Diplomacy”  

Audra Wolfe’s current book project, Freedom’s Laboratory, explores how the United States attempted to use visions of science as a tool for cultural diplomacy in the Cold War, whether those measures were covert, overt, or something in between. This talk considers the role of science in the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), probably the best known of the CIA’s attempts at covert cultural diplomacy. From its first appearance at the organization’s opening meeting in Berlin in 1950, this strand of the CCF’s agenda continued throughout the 1950s, with a major conference on Science and Freedom chaired by Michael Polanyi in Hamburg in 1953 and three smaller meetings in Paris, Milan, and Tunis. From 1954 to 1961, the CCF’s Committee on Science and Freedom published a bulletin called Science and Freedom. But despite pushes from the CCF’s Paris office, Science and Freedom never lived up to the CIA’s expectations, and the Agency finally cut off funding in 1961 in favor of a more mainstream journal, Minerva. Science never took on the central role in the CCF’s operations that Michael Polanyi originally envisioned for it, but it did play a role, and there is evidence to suggest that U.S. policymakers wanted it to play a larger one.


Audra J. Wolfe is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, and historian. She is the author of Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). Her articles have appeared in both scholarly and more popular venues, including the Washington Post, The, and Slate.

Friday, 24 March 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Chitra Ramalingam, Yale University

“The Laboratory as Camera: Experiment and the Photographic Archive of Victorian Science”

The history of early photography and its relation to science was until recently the history of a handful of famous, beautiful images. As historical scholarship has moved productively toward an understanding of science as visual culture (rather than considering science in relation to visual culture), we are beginning to understand how deeply embedded photography has been, from its inception, into the day to day practices of science. Through examples from To See a Spark, my forthcoming book on the electric spark as a scientific and aesthetic object in Victorian Britain, this paper presents multiple ways of reading a scientific photograph in order to understand photography’s place in the visual and material culture of Victorian science, and to bring more historical specificity to our understanding of nineteenth-century “ways of seeing”.


Chitra Ramalingam is a historian of science and historian of photography at Yale. After earning a PhD in History of Science from Harvard University, she held research fellowships at the Science Museum, London, and the University of Cambridge before arriving at Yale, where she has a joint appointment as Lecturer in History of Science and Medicine and Research Associate at the Yale Center for British Art. Her research, teaching, and curatorial activities center on the history of physics, the early history of photography in Britain, and the visual and material culture of Victorian science. She is author of To See a Spark: Experiment and Visual Experience in Victorian Science (under contract, Yale University Press), and co-editor of William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (Yale University Press, 2013).

Friday, 3 March 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Daniel Jean-Jacques, UT

“Scientific Networks and Legal Truths: Authenticating Knowledge through Forensic Authorities in Late Colonial Southwestern Nigeria”

Daniel Jean-Jacques’s research attempts to apply the methodological principles of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, as well as Bruno Latour’s model of expanding networks of scientific authority, to the case of forensic science in the southwest of late colonial Nigeria. Primarily through an analysis of murder trial proceedings and related documentation, Jean-Jacques attempts to assess the efficacy of such an approach to this specific historical place and moment. As late colonial Nigeria was the site of profound political, economic, and epistemological confrontations, the author hopes that this project will ultimately speak to how scientific and biomedical ideas interact with rival systems of knowledge, and to how science and biomedicine are utilized in exercising authority over individuals and bodies, both living and dead.


Daniel Jean-Jacques is a graduate student in the UT History Department. His area of interest is the history of science in Africa, and his current research centers on forensic science in late colonial Nigeria. Previously, he received his master’s degree in history from the University of Central Florida, where his thesis work explored the historical origins of Somali piracy.