Friday, 20 October 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Rodolfo John Alaniz, UT-IHS

“Denizens of the Deep: Biological Specimens and the Nineteenth-Century Evolutionary Debates”

Deep-sea invertebrates, especially the Crinoidea, appear in most major nineteenth-century evolutionary texts. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the French transmutationist, employed crinoids to establish his philosophical study of living beings. Charles Darwin used crinoids to describe species diversity in The Descent of Man, his book on race and sexual selection. Wyville Thomson, leader of the Challenger Expedition, attempted to dismantle Darwin’s theory with an analysis of crinoid distribution. Time and again, elite naturalists turned to deep-sea invertebrates to adjudicate evolutionary questions, and, consequently, a science studies analysis of these specimens is essential for understanding the history of nineteenth-century evolutionary theories. This introductory presentation explores the rise of these ubiquitous specimens and their role in the fate of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.


Rodolfo John Alaniz earned his PhD at UC–San Diego in 2014 and was a visiting faculty member at UC-Berkeley from 2015 to 2017. He holds the 2016–2017 Ritter Memorial Fellowship of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is a postdoctoral affiliate at the University of Texas at Austin Institute for Historical Studies. He is currently completing a monograph entitled Darwin in the Deep: Marine Invertebrates, Evolutionary Methodologies, and the Nineteent-Century Debate over Natural Selection.

Friday, 13 October 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

John Lisle, UT

“Scientists or Spies: The Origins of America’s Science Attaché Program”

In 1949, the U.S. Department of State tasked physicist Lloyd Berkner with evaluating its strategic policies pertaining to science. The resulting report, Science and Foreign Relations, established the “science attaché” program with the ostensibly primary aim of facilitating travel and communication among scientists. Henceforth, the Department of State would send scientists as envoys to embassies in foreign countries. However, years prior to Berkner’s report, the CIA proposed sending science attachés under the guise of State Department foreign service officers to collect information on foreign countries’ atomic energy programs. What was the true purpose of America’s science attachés?


John Lisle is a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Texas. He is currently conducting research for his dissertation, which is on the history of America’s science attaché program.


Friday, 6 October 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Henry Wiencek, UT-IHS

“‘One spark…will blow us all to Kingdom Come’: The Environmental Disaster (and Social Spectacle) of Louisiana’s Oil Field Fires, 1901–1930”

In the first decades of the 20th century, North Louisiana experienced an oil boom that brought new wealth to Shreveport, gave birth to Oil City and other boomtowns, and devastated much of the surrounding countryside. Oil well fires were an especially dramatic manifestation the petroleum boom, and when such fires lit up the night sky around Oil City, Shreveport residents would actually pay to come out to see them. Shreveport and Oil City both fed off the same industry, yet their landscapes were radically different. Were the sources of this difference simply natural, or were they instead rooted in engrained attitudes toward the empherality of boomtowns and the disposability of the countryside around them?


Henry Wiencek is a historian of the modern United States who explores the intersections of race relations and natural resource extraction. In May 2017, he defended his dissertation, “Oil City: The Social, Economic and Environmental Anatomy of North Louisiana’s Oil Boomtowns, 1901-1935,” which he wrote under the guidance of Jacqueline Jones. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at UT’s Institute for Historical Studies. As a graduate student at UT, he contributed to several digital history initiatives, including servied as Graduate Editor of Not Even Past and guest host on the podcast 15 Minute History. As a postdoctoral fellow, he is presently teaching an undergraduate seminar and revising “Oil City” into a monograph.