January Links Round-Up

Erstwhile blogger Caroline Grego compiles a short list of history-related news links from the past month, which may or may not be exactly from January.

The Virtue of Scientific Thinking by Steven Shapin

For those history of science folks out there, Shapin explores the roots of scientific thinking, tracing its meaning and how it has informed morality from the Greeks to Galileo to Darwin to 21st century scientists. This is admittedly a bit out of the wheelhouse of historical thinking, but it brings important questions to bear that translate easily to our discipline: what is the difference between knowing about the world (and its history) and knowing what is right? How can we learn about history in a way that makes us conscientious within our current political contexts? Shapin argues that there is danger in scientists separating their work from moral questions, just as there is danger in the public holding scientists as objective—the same could be said of historians.

Genetic Testing and Tribal Identity by Rose Eveleth

Eveleth delves into the ethical questions surrounding genetic testing of American Indians: given the complex history of often exploitative practices of scientists, researchers, and academics towards American Indians, American Indians today find themselves torn over new scholarly methods like genetic testing. Some find the need for scientists and other academics to discover where American Indians are “truly from” unnecessary and in conflict with their own knowledge of themselves as a people; others (who may share similar views—again, there is no monolith of thought among American Indians on the topic) can understand the need for genetic testing in the context of health surveys, but want to ensure that the researchers collecting information have a nuanced understanding of the tribe in question and a solid, ongoing working relationship with that tribe. Within this particular issue are questions for us historians to consider: what does “working with” American Indians look like for us within the discipline? What do we need to be mindful of? How can we alter our practices and give back, should we work with a topic within American Indian history?

This Day in Labor History by Erik Loomis

Now for some southwestern history! On February 2nd, 1848, the U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Erik Loomis weighs in on the outcome of the treaty, in particular the distribution of land grants to former Mexican citizens. Often, the process ended in dispossession of Mexican land, forcing many former farmers into wage labor farmwork. Loomis argues that this contributed to the Chicano movement in New Mexico in the 1960s, for which a central issue was the repossession of lost land.

Here’s What a Depression-Era Cartoonist Had to Say About The Anti-Vaccination Movement by Katherine Brooks

Yes, it’s HuffPo; but it’s also got some images that illustrate how old the controversy over vaccination is, both in the U.S. and Great Britain. And it also folds nicely into…


Don’t Blame Anti-Vaxxers for the Measles Outbreak. Blame American Culture by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Bruenig makes the provocative argument that American culture has fueled anti-vaxxers: ‘thanks to freedom of choice, consumer primacy, individualism, self-determination, and a dim, almost cynical view of common goods like public health,’ she says, we see upper-middle class and wealthy Americans in ostensibly “liberal” enclaves like the Pacific Northwest rejecting vaccinations. This seemingly contradictory play between liberal values and anti-scientific prejudices are, in fact, at relative ease with each other because of central tenants of American society and the “laissez-faire” attitude incurred by wealth. Bruenig gestures towards the origins of these attitudes and values—how can historians further excavate their roots, and assess her argument?

Restaurant Reviews from John Muir, Conservationist by Mallory Ortberg

And, finally, a light-hearted link from The Toast’s witty Mallory Ortberg. How would John Muir relate to restaurants?

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