Brown Bag Lecture:  “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard”

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Date: April 2, 2013
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by Henry Cowles and Michael Barany

As both pedagogical technology and evocative image, the blackboard’s omnipresence over the last two centuries has been matched only by its striking elision as an object of sustained attention in histories of modern sciences. We press the historically situated blackboard, both as a specific locus of scientific activity and as a metonym for a broader approach to the history of science, toward a reassessment of some fundamental historiographical questions about the sites, modes, and nature of scientific knowledge. For us the blackboard poses and frames the problem of coordination as a central explanandum in the history of science, with the history of pedagogy as its most promising mode of analysis. Presenting theories and practices alike as pedagogy-laden, we offer a diagnosis for what Daston has recently characterized as “the rich but scattered and fragmented materials” of contemporary historiography of science. We suggest that the blackboard—broadly construed—promises a methodological way forward and that, in a sense, the writing has been on the wall all along.

Michael J. Barany is a third-year Ph.D. candidate and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Princeton’s Program in History of Science. His wide-ranging work on the history and sociology of modern mathematics (broadly construed) can be found at

Henry M. Cowles is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate and former NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Princeton’s Program in History of Science. His dissertation connects the history of science to the history of philosophy (via Darwin and the scientific method) in the decades around 1900.

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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