24 March 2023 — 12:00 noon — GAR 4.100 

Jan Todd (UT)

“The Scientist and the Strongman: John Theophilus Desaguliers, Thomas Topham, and the Early Search for the Limits of Human Strength”

J. T. Desaguliers (1683–1744) was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a leading early popularizer of Newtonian science. In the 1710s he became fascinated with the question of human strength when he saw a German strongman performing some lifts that looked to him as if they were mechanically aided, fakery that he described at a Royal Society meeting. In 1733, Desaguliers brought the strongman Thomas Topham to a meeting of the Society. Topham had true strength and this “show and tell” event is recorded in the minutes of the Society. Desaguliers’s interest in strength also led him to invent one of the earliest dynamometers, an important instrument for measuring force.


Professor Jan Todd directs the Physical Culture and Sport Studies Doctoral Program in UT’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. She is also the founder (with her late husband Terry Todd) of the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports and serves as its director. Todd’s research examines the history of exercise and body culture with a special emphasis on the history of strength and sports medicine.  Her most recent book is Strength Coaching in America: A History of the Innovation that Transformed Sports (UT Press, 2019; coauthored with Jason Shurley and Terry Todd).

3 March 2023 — 12:00 noon — GAR 4.100

John Lisle (UT)

Book launch: “The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare”

At this gathering, we will celebrate the forthcoming publication of John Lisle’s new book, “The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War
II Secret Warfare,” due out next week from St. Martin’s Press. In it, John tells how Lovell and other scientists at the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, developed secret weapons, devised spy gadgets, and plotted the assassination of foreign leaders during World War II, while also paving the way for some of the CIA’s most notorious later misdeeds.

Here’s a link to the publisher’s website: The Dirty Tricks Department.


John Lisle earned his PhD from the UT History Department in 2019 with a dissertation on science and espionage during World War II. After a stint teaching in a cybersecurity program at Louisiana Tech, he is now back in Austin and teaching history of science courses in UT’s Core Texts and Ideas program. He was recently awarded a grant by the NEH’s extremely competitive Public Scholars program to support work on his next project, in which he will draw on a trove of documents from the famed civil rights lawyer Joseph Rauh to shed light on the CIA’s shadowy MKULTRA program, which used unsuspecting
Americans as guinea pigs for experiments on mind control and related techniques.