Abstracts & Bios

TINA ADCOCK (Simon Fraser University)

Scientist Tourist Sportsman Spy: Boundary Work in Eastern Canadian Arctic Exploration

From 1925, under the newly-created federal Scientists’ and Explorers’ Ordinance, all scientists and explorers wishing to conduct fieldwork in the Northwest Territories had to obtain a permit from the federal government. The ordinance was meant to solve the political problem of unauthorized foreign incursions into the High Arctic. It provided the government with a means of controlling entry into the region, and thus reasserting its sovereignty there. However, it unintentionally created an epistemic problem, in that civil servants now had to define what Arctic science and exploration looked like in practice. They were especially concerned about sportsmen or spies masquerading as scientists or explorers in order to gain permits. Their fears reflect long-standing difficulties in distinguishing science from other similar practices in the field. This paper explores the political and epistemic boundary-work surrounding exploration in the interwar Eastern Arctic through a close reading of the events and aftermath of two expeditions in 1926 and 1933. Both were undertaken under the captaincy of the Newfoundlander, and later American Bob Bartlett. To civil servants, both looked like bona fide scientific excursions, with backing from reputable institutions and the inclusion of qualified personnel. Yet both expeditions engaged in illicit sport hunting and furtive behaviour, if not quite espionage, and led to diplomatic incidents that strained Canadian-American relations. Even as they defended the political territory of the Canadian Arctic against suspect foreign activity, government officials also defined and defended the legitimate epistemic territory of Arctic science and exploration in its pre-professional era.

Tina Adcock is an assistant professor of history at Simon Fraser University. She studies the history of the modern Canadian North, especially travel and sojourning in the region. Her current book manuscript examines the culture of northern Canadian exploration in roughly the first half of the twentieth century. Her other current research interests include the history of fur trapping by sojourners in the western Canadian Arctic and Subarctic; the histories of northern field science, travel, and tourism; and American military understandings of northern environments in the mid-twentieth century. She is the co-editor (with Peder Roberts) of a forthcoming special forum on northern environmental history in the Journal of Northern Studies. She sits on the advisory board of Scientia Canadensis, and is involved in an editorial capacity with two Canadian historical blogs, The Otter ~ La Loutre (Network in Canadian History and Environment) and Findings/Trouvailles (The Champlain Society).


KATHARINE ANDERSON (York University)

On Airs, Waters and Data Networks

In 1947, the Bermuda Sky Queen, a Boeing 314 airliner carrying some five dozen passengers, was forced by strong headwinds to land in mid Atlantic, about 500 miles east of Newfoundland. With a Douglas DC-4 belonging to Trans Canada Airlines circling overhead as a communication relay, the Sky Queen passengers and crew were eventually safely rescued by U.S. Coast Guard and their weather ship Bibb. The episode seemed to demonstrate the value of the ocean observation stations that had been established after the war, part of a set of new global data regimes and institutions in meteorology. But should the job of modern science include search-and-rescue? The debate about the weather ship network in the late 1940s and early 1950s gives an interesting picture of some of the continuities accompanying the transformation of meteorology by aviation – the labour of international networks, especially within the triangle relationship of U.S., Canada and Britain, the tradition of the heroic observer, and above all the tensions between humans and instruments as scientific resources.

Katharine Anderson is a historian of science interested in both airs and waters. She has written on history of meteorology in Victorian Britain (Predicting the Weather, Chicago University Press, 2005). Her oceanic interests include work on hydrography and ‘voyage narratives’ in the nineteenth century, which emerged from an annotated edition of the 1839 Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of HMS Adventure and Beagle (the volumes written by Captains King and FitzRoy and not that of the naturalist companion). She is co-editing a forthcoming collection of essays on the history of oceanography to honour Eric Mills with Helen Rozwadowski. She is also writing on a book about oceans and scientific expeditions in the 1920s that ranges from coral reefs to weather ships.


STEPHEN BOCKING (Trent University)

Landscapes of Science: Linking the History of Canadian Science and Environmental History

Some of Richard Jarrell’s earliest work, including A Curious Field-Book, the reader he co-edited in 1974, exhibited an interest in understanding the history of Canadian science in terms of the places and landscapes in which naturalists and scientists have worked.  Since then, numerous historians have explored this scholarly terrain, examining how landscapes have influenced the practices and products of Canadian science, and conversely, how science has shaped how Canadians manage, transform and sometimes protect their territory.  In this paper I survey this historical scholarship.  I identify various themes evident in recent work on the history of Canadian science and Canadian environmental history, some relations between Canadian scholarship and work in the international history of science and environmental history communities, and questions worth further study.  These questions concern such topics as the relations between scientists’ practices and their material cultures, the historical geography of Canadian science, and the relations between Indigenous knowledge and science, particularly in northern Canada.

Stephen Bocking is Professor of environmental policy and history, and Chair of the Environmental and Resource Science/Studies Program at Trent University. His research interests include the environmental history of science and the roles of science in environmental politics, which he is examining in a variety of contexts, including the salmon aquaculture industry, biodiversity conservation, and northern Canada. He has published many scholarly articles, and a few books: Nature’s Experts: Science, Politics, and the Environment (Rutgers University Press, 2004); Biodiversity in Canada: Ecology, Ideas, and Action (Broadview Press, 2000); and Ecologists and Environmental Politics: A History of Contemporary Ecology (Yale University Press, 1997).


DOROTEA GUCCIARDO (King’s University College)

“Let the Sunshine In”: Ultraviolet Light as Emerging Medical Technology

When ultraviolet (UV) light emerged as a therapeutic technology, medical practitioners widely embraced its potential for treating a variety of conditions. Developments in UV light therapy came on the heels of electrotherapy, which was based on the idea that exposure to electric light could treat countless symptoms and afflictions. By the 1920s electrotherapy had fallen out of favour with the medical community as practitioners began to question its merit as a remedial agent. But when scientists discovered that UV light triggered vitamin D synthesis in the skin, ultraviolet therapy gained legitimacy as a treatment for a variety of chronic disorders. Further discoveries of ultraviolet radiation as a sterilizing and disinfecting agent (especially in operating rooms) ensured that the technology would forever change the standard of medical treatment. My paper will explore ultraviolet light as an emerging medical technology in Canada. Before the link between increased exposure to UV radiation and skin cancer was fully understood, the medical community’s support of ultraviolet light as a preventative treatment helped shape popular opinion toward an acceptance of sunbathing as a therapeutic activity. This created a demand for at-home “sun-lamps”, which promised to mimic the health-giving rays of the sun. However, reports published in the 1930s linking exposure of ultraviolet light with skin cancers, led the Canadian Medical Association to establish regulations for the use of UV light as a therapy. While sunbathing transformed into a popular leisure activity, a new market emerged in the 1940s for a product that would mitigate the risks of sun exposure — sunscreen. My paper will trace the evolution in medical opinion toward ultraviolet light and will explore the long-lasting unanticipated social and medical impacts of UV therapy.

Dorotea Gucciardo is a graduate from the Department of History at Western University. She is currently working on a manuscript entitled Modernizing Canada: Electricity and Everyday Life for University of British Columbia Press, and has recently guest edited a special issue on Consumer Technologies for Scientia Canadensis. She is the Secretary of the Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association, and teaches History at King’s University College in London, Ontario.


JAN HADLAW (York University)

“Mysteries of the New Phone Explained”: Introducing Dial Service to Bell Canada Subscribers

The years between 1910 and 1920 saw the rapid diffusion of the telephone in Canada’s rural and urban areas, and in businesses and private homes. During this period, Bell Canada’s advertisements anthropomorphized the telephone, portraying it as a dependable employee in the office and helpful servant in the household, and telephone operators were instrumental to giving substance to these representations. In order to place a call, a subscriber need only pick up their telephone receiver and ask the operator to make the connection.
Automatic switching, or dial service, which mechanically completed the process of connecting subscribers to one another and eliminated the need for an operator, had been patented in 1889 but Bell Canada had little interest in introducing dial service and doing away with its ‘hello girls.’ While Bell was always disinclined to implement changes that would make its systems and inventories obsolete, its reluctance to introduce automatic service was also due to a concern that subscribers would be unwilling to place their own calls or incapable of doing so without compromising network operation. When Bell Canada finally decided to introduce automated exchanges in the 1920s, it addressed these concerns by implementing a sophisticated campaign to promote dial service to the public and to train its subscribers how to use it.
This paper examines the massive year-long educational and promotional campaign that led up to the opening of Bell’s ‘modern dial office’ in Hamilton in 1929 and suggests that it not only taught Canadian telephone subscribers how to use dial telephones, but also initiated them into a new and decidedly modern relationship with the telephone in which each subscriber functioned in harmony with, or even as a part of, the telephone system—‘working’ to insure the reliability and smooth functioning of the telephone system.

Jan Hadlaw is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Design and Science & Technology Studies at York University. Her research focuses on the history of modern technological artifacts and the imaginaries that have shaped their design and meaning. She is currently working on a research project that examines of the role played by design and technology in the performance of Canadian national identity during the post WWII years. She is co-editor (with Andrew Herman and Thom Swiss) of Theories of the Mobile Internet: Materialities and Imaginaries (Routledge, 2014). Her study on “The Modern American Telephone as a Contested Technological Thing, 1920-39” is forthcoming in Leslie Atzmon and Prasad Boradkar (eds.), Encountering Things: Design and Thing Theory.


JAMES HULL (University of British Columbia)

The Second Industrial Revolution in Canadian History

I suggest in this paper that attention to the second industrial revolution, the rise of science-based industry, in a Canadian context could be a very useful means whereby historians of Canadian science and technology could bring greater clarity to their own work, suggest the significance of that work to other aspects of Canadian history and as well help to bring greater clarity to the concept of the second industrial revolution itself. The paper briefly examines some important aspects of that revolution, identifying strengths and weaknesses in the existing historical literature. I conclude by suggesting that Canada was an early and highly successful participant in the second industrial revolution thanks in part to a remarkably flexible and responsive higher education system, the easy movement of people among industry, university and government played an important role, the existence of some sectors that really were “world class” – hydroelectricity, pulp and paper – which acted as not just investment frontiers but high-tech industrial frontiers too and Canada’s relationship with the United States, a relationship which in terms of applied science and technology is ill-described in terms of dominance or dependence or derivativeness.

James Hull is a member of the History department at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus. He is also an Affiliate of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. With Richard Jarrell he edited the collection Science, Technology and medicine in Canada’s Past. From 2011-2014 he was Editor-in-Chief of Scientia Canadensis. He is a member of the editorial boards of Left History and Spontaneous Generations and a consulting editor of History of Intellectual Culture.


EDWARD JONES-IMHOTEP (York University)

Paris-Montreal-Babylon: The Modernist Genealogies of Gerald Bull

In the mid-1980s, not long after his release from a U.S. prison, Gerald Bull — the former McGill engineering professor turned international arms dealer — sat down to write two redemption stories: a thousand-page autobiography designed to exonerate him of his alleged crimes; and a technical genealogy that linked his controversial research with an icon of early twentieth-century modernity, the Paris Guns. The German long-range guns that shelled Paris in the spring of 1918 were marvels of engineering and symbols of scientific and industrial power. Deployed as weapons of psychological warfare against “the capital of modernity,” their shells were the first human-made objects to reach outer space. Bull saw them as the antecedents of his own ambiguous inventions — gargantuan cannons that straddled the line between scientific instruments and illicit weaponry. Conceived in Montreal, deployed in Barbados, redesigned and sold to South Africa, and eventually enlarged and destined for Saddam Hussein’s Project Babylon, they would ultimately lead to Bull’s assassination at the hands of government agents outside his Brussels apartment. This paper examines Bull’s attempts to situate his ambivalent technologies and soaring ambitions in a larger history of modernist projects from the Paris Guns to Project Babylon. It illustrates how that imagined genealogy linked his Montreal-based research to the broader anxieties of the modern age.

Edward Jones-Imhotep is Associate Professor of History of Science and Technology at York University. He is currently completing a manuscript exploring the intersection of nature, technology and identity in Cold-War Canada. His current project, Reliable Humans, Trustworthy Machines, explores the emergence of technological reliability through a social and cultural history of the technological self. He serves on the advisory board of Scientia Canadensis.


SEAN KHERAJ (York University)

The Canadian Horse Disease, 1872-73

In early October 1872, a mysterious illness swept through the urban horse population of Toronto. The Globe first reported the phenomenon on 5 October 1872, noting that “[f]or some time past a large number of horses in the city have been affected with disease of the respiratory organs, but during the present week another disease has prevailed to an alarming extent among the horses in this district.” Horse owners and other observers were perplexed and assumed the disease to be a “catarrhal fever.” Horses throughout the city, particularly those kept at the street railway company stables, suffered from sore throats and hacking coughs which kept them from working for up to two weeks. It was, as Dr. Andrew Smith from the Ontario Veterinary College wrote, a “considerable loss and annoyance to owners of horses and to the community generally.” The outbreak of disease among the horses of Toronto in the autumn of 1872 was the beginning of a continent-wide pandemic known as “The Great Epizootic.” Following the events in Toronto, the disease spread throughout North America, reaching as far south as Cuba. This paper will trace the origins of this disease, eventually thought to be a virulent strain of equine influenza, and its impact on urban life in North America in 1872-73 as it spread from Toronto to all of the major cities on the continent. The Great Epizootic not only illustrated the centrality of domestic animals to the functioning of nineteenth-century North American cities, but it also demonstrated that these cities generated unique ecological conditions and a networked disease pool capable of producing animal disease environments that were distinctly urban in character.

Sean Kheraj is an assistant professor in the Department of History at York University. His research focuses on Canadian environmental history, urban history, and the history of oil pipelines. He is editor-in-chief of the Network in Canadian History and Environment (http://niche-canada.org) and the producer of Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast


EDA KRANAKIS (University of Ottawa)

Patents, Plants, and Globalization: The Case of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola in Canada

Monsanto has become the biggest seed company in the world, and its most important seed products have been its patent-protected Roundup Ready series. Yet when Monsanto first developed these GMOs, there was resistance in many areas to the principle of patenting plants, and Monsanto’s rights were challenged in both Canada and Europe. In principle, Canadian law did not allow patents on higher life forms like plants, and European law did not allow patents on plant varieties. This paper tells the story of how Monsanto secured strong patent rights for Roundup Ready GMOs in both Canada and Europe, despite strong legal challenges in both places. Paradoxically, Monsanto’s success in Canada and Europe depended on opposite paths to the same end. In Canada, the Supreme Court (in 2004) deemed Monsanto’s Roundup Ready patent to be valid—despite the legal ban on plant patents—on the grounds that the invention covered only the cells of plants and of plant seeds. In Europe, the European Patent Office (in 2005) deemed Roundup Ready GMOs to be patentable—despite the ban on plant variety patents—on the grounds that Monsanto’s invention encompassed multiple plant varieties. Thus, in Canada, Monsanto secured IP rights below the level of plant varieties, while in Europe it secured IP rights above the level of plant varieties—but in both cases, in practice it got the same thing:  strong IP protection for its Roundup Ready plants. And in both cases, the legal arguments that produced these results stretched logic and common sense to the breaking point.

Eda Kranakis is Professor in the Department of History at the University of Ottawa and is currently serving as President of the Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association (CSTHA/AHSTC). She also serves on the editorial boards of Technology and Culture and of Engineering Studies, and on the Executive Council of the Society for the History of Technology. Her research has spanned topics in the history of science and technology in Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries including. Her most recent publications include Cosmopolitan Commons: Sharing Resources and Risks Across Borders, co-edited with Nil Disco (MIT Press, 2013) and “Business TRIPS: American Corporations and Patents Head to the Global South, 1950-2010,” in Graham Dutfield and Stathis Arapostathis, eds., Knowledge Management and Intellectual Property: Concepts, Actors and Practices from Past to Present (Edward Elgar, 2013), pp. 273-292.


DANIEL MACFARLANE (Western Michigan University)

Negotiated High Modernism: Canada and the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project

The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, built jointly by Canada and the United States between 1954 and 1959, is renowned as one of the greatest engineering feats of the twentieth century. This study explores what the envirotechnical history of this megaproject reveals about the concept of high modernism, most prominently attributed to the work of James C. Scott, in the mid-20th century Canadian context. Scott contends that fully (or ‘ultra’) high modernist projects only take place in authoritarian states with weak civil societies, and that such projects inevitably fail in capitalist democracies. I seek to recalibrate the high modernist concept to take into account the early Cold War North American setting, contending that the St. Lawrence megaproject was not only fully high modernist, but not an inevitable failure (at least not in the eyes of its high modernist planners). To account for the way that high modernist projects were achieved by the state in liberal democracies such as Canada, I propose the term negotiated high modernism. Lacking the autocratic authority to simply impose grand schemes without some measure of approval from civil society, the various involved governments had to repeatedly adapt, negotiate, and manufacture consent in order to achieve a veneer of democratic legitimacy, which allowed them to realize their high modernist St. Lawrence vision.

Daniel Macfarlane is an Assistant Professor of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He received a PhD in History in 2011 from the University of Ottawa, and is a former Banting Fellow and Fulbright Visiting Research Chair. Daniel’s research looks at the envirotechnical and policy history of Canadian-American border waters, particularly in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin. He is the author of Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway (UBC Press, 2014). His current research projects include the transnational history of modifying Niagara Falls, a co-edited volume on the history of Canadian-American water relations, Great Lakes water quantity/quality policies, and the history of the International Joint Commission. 


DAVID PANTALONY (Canada Science and Technology Museum)

Physics and the Modern on the Canadian Prairies

Many roads in Canadian physics lead back to the Prairies. During the post-World War II period, the Department of Physics at the University of Saskatchewan was a leader in spectroscopy, plasma physics, nuclear physics, space and atmospheric science and medical physics. Manitoba became well-known for the study of atmospheric science, nuclear physics and mass spectrometry. In this talk, I look at the origins of these physics communities. In particular, surviving historic instruments allow us to explore experimental and teaching traditions, a mixture of influences from Germany, Britain and the American Midwest, and highly skilled local instrument-making cultures. These developments were part of a confident, challenging and influential modern prairie culture in several areas – the government of Tommy Douglas created the first universal health care program; American and Canadian Abstract Expressionists found a welcoming context in the Emma Lake Workshops; Architects at the University of Manitoba School of Architecture adapted their own form of modernism on the Prairies.

David Pantalony is the Curator of Physical Sciences and Medicine at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. He specializes in the history of scientific instruments, with an active research interest in Post-World War II science in Canada. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Department of History, University of Ottawa, where he teaches a collections-based seminar. He holds a PhD in the history of science from the University of Toronto (2002). In 2012 he won the Paul Bunge Book Prize for his book on Rudolph Koenig’s acoustical workshop in 19th century Paris. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.


BETH A. ROBERTSON (Carleton University)

Cosmic Nucleus: Re-Enchanting the Body in Canada’s Atomic Age

Taking up Richard Jarrell’s challenge to look beyond official narratives of science, this paper offers a new perspective of atomic energy in twentieth-century Canada by investigating embodied, occult understandings of the period. Although peripheral to dominant scientific institutions, occultists can nevertheless reveal much about the center of the empirical project. Viewing science as a valuable resource of knowledge, occultists drew upon contemporary theories to explain the invisible energies that made their pursuits possible. While at times hearkening back to nineteenth-century ideas, certain individuals from the 1930s to the 1950s began to reconceive paranormal forces in light of twentieth-century understandings of atomic theoretical models. These new explanations of energy and matter particularly affected discourses of the body, which many occultists viewed as the key organism that enlivened the dynamic intersection of psychical and atomic structures. This paper will explore how occult understandings of the body in twentieth-century Canada engaged with emergent theories of atomic energy by focusing on one particular group in Kitchener, Ontario. The medium of the group, Thomas Lacey, delivered a series of lectures from the 1930s to the 1950s while under the alleged influence of paranormal forces. Drawing upon contemporary, even cutting edge scientific theories of atomic life and forces, he explained the inner workings of spirit, the universe and, in turn, the human body. While advocating the belief that such scientific discoveries marked the dawn of a new age, Lacey’s teachings reveal the multiple ways materiality itself was being reconstituted in Canada’s atomic age.

Beth A. Robertson is an historian of gender, sexuality and the body who teaches with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her work investigates the margins of science and technology in twentieth-century Canada and beyond. Robertson is currently pursing the publication of her manuscript that emerged from her SSHRC funded dissertation. Tentatively entitled In the Laboratory of the Spirits: Gender, Embodiment and the Scientific Quest for Life Beyond the Grave, 1918-1935, this study examines a transnational network of interwar psychical researchers from the perspective of feminist technoscience and queer theory. Her latest project focuses on how unidentified flying objects in Cold War Canada enflamed anxieties over nation, technology, gender and the family that prevailed throughout the era.


EFRAM SERA-SHRIAR (York University)

A History of Inuit: Richard King, Monogenesis and Travel Narratives in Early British Ethnology

In 1848 the ethnologist, surgeon and Arctic explorer Richard King (1810-1876) published a three-part series on Inuit in the Journal of the Ethnological Society of London. This series provided a detailed history of Inuit from the eleventh century to the early nineteenth century. It incorporated a mixture of King’s personal observations from his experience travelling to the Arctic as a member of George Back’s expedition (1833-1835), and the testimonies of other contemporary and historical actors who had written on the subject. The aim was to historicise Inuit through the use of travel reports and show persistent features among the race. King was a monogenist and his sensitive recasting of Inuit was influenced by his participation in a research community actively engaged in humanitarian and abolitionist causes. The physician and ethnologist Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) argued that King’s research on Inuit was one of the best ethnological approaches to emulate and that it set the standard for the nascent discipline. If we are to take seriously Hodgkin’s claim, we should look at how King constructed his depiction of Inuit. There is much to be gained by investigating the practices of nineteenth-century ethnologists because it strengthens our knowledge of the discipline’s past and shows how modern understandings of races were formed.

Efram Sera-Shriar is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Institute for Science and Technology Studies at York University, Toronto. His research examines the intersection of race, travel, science and medicine throughout the British, French and Spanish Empires from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. He completed his PhD at the University of Leeds in 2011 and has previously held academic positions at the University of Leeds and Brock University. He is the author of the monograph, The Making of British Anthropology, 1813-1871, which was published through Pickering and Chatto in 2013.


BLAIR STEIN (University of Oklahoma)

Canada’s North Stars: Climate, Identity, and Technological Mythmaking

How does Canada’s imaginary status as a cold-weather nation change the way we tell stories about our technologies? From the “We the North” basketball advertisements to the lyrics to Acadian Driftwood, the ability to survive in cold weather has always been part of Euro-Canadian national identity. This cultural association with northern-ness and coldness is rooted in Early Modern biological racism and climatic determinism, but it is largely imagined in its modern iteration. Confederation-era Canadian politicians saw Euro-Canadians, because they lived in the cold, as superior to the temperate British and the “tropical” Americans. Today, most Euro-Canadians live in the nation’s southernmost regions and have little physical contact with the Northern Territories. However, Canadians have reached towards their imagined northernness whenever their national identity is in question or flux, especially in comparison to Great Britain and the United States. The daring exploits of interwar bush pilots servicing growing Northern communities, for example, captured the imagination of Canadians looking for truly homegrown heroes. Cold-weather survival became a point of pride for state-run airlines such as Trans Canada Air Lines (now Air Canada,) who advertised their ability to fly in all weather conditions including 2013’s “polar vortex.” However, once airliners were sufficiently powerful to allow non-stop travel to warm-weather destinations, the cold became something to both embrace and escape. Using a variety of examples from Canadian aviation history, I will show that Canadians have become more ambivalent about their cultural northernness as they have become further distanced from their actual northernness.

Blair Stein is a doctoral student in the University of Oklahoma’s History of Science program. She focuses on national identity and technological discourse in Canadian culture, especially in terms of civilian aviation. Her work has appeared in Technology and Culture, The Journal of Religion and Culture, and the Journal for the History of Astronomy.


DAVID THEODORE (McGill University)

Small Science: Trained Acquaintance and the One-Man Research Team

In 1970, Christopher Thompson started a new job at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Holding a master’s degree in physics from Otago University in New Zealand, and fresh from a stint working on gamma ray spectroscopy for Atomic Energy of Canada, Thompson took on the task of programming and operating a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-12 minicomputer. Using documents and photographs held in Thompson’s private collection, supplemented by published institutional histories, newspaper items, and journal articles, I want to examine how this one person and one machine formed the central node of an ambitious and influential program to incorporate computing in clinical research. Interdisciplinary teamwork is a major theme in the history of postwar science. Scholars have elaborated methodological concepts such as trading zones, platforms, and boundary objects, taken from anthropology and sociology, in order to describe what makes possible constructive interactions between disciplines and scientific communities. Thompson, however, formed a one-man interdisciplinary research team. His laboratory operated as the site of small science, with a limited number of disciplines and instruments in play. His intriguing career highlights an important type of education, close to what cybernetician Norbert Wiener called “trained acquaintance,” in which explicit skills and knowledge are acquired through contingent need rather than through disciplinary training. What role does interdisciplinary small science play in transitional moments in Canadian science and technology?

David Theodore holds a PhD in the History of Architecture, Medicine, and Science from Harvard University. His recent scholarship focuses on early uses of electronic computers in design and medicine. His research has received support from SSHRC, CIHR, The Graham Foundation, and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. He has co-published on the history of healthcare architecture in the Social Science & Medicine, Technology and Culture, Scientia Canadensis, and the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. An active design journalist and critic, he is a regional correspondent for Canadian Architect, a contributing editor at Azure, and a contributor to The Phaidon Atlas of 21st-Century World Architecture. He is currently Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture, McGill University.

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