I am a historian living in Los Angeles.
I work as a research fellow in the Center for Applied History at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. I conduct oral histories and archival research for a project focused on the history of several California research laboratories, examining the role of private and public funding in the practice of twentieth-century science.
I am writing a book about the thermometer’s history in American medicine, showing how it laid the intellectual and material foundations for our current approach to self-tracking technologies. I follow the thermometer from its introduction into the home in the 19th century through to its 21st century incarnation as a smartphone appendage. This project reveals the origins of the personalized Big Data approach in medicine: women who charted their children’s fevers and used natural family planning to chart their fertility. Fertility tracking systems, both on paper and in software, were the direct historical antecedents to contemporary tools of the quantified self.
In addition to my own research, I consult on historical projects, give lectures to general audiences and academics, and think a lot about what we are all learning about science and technology from popular media.
When I was eight years old, my mother took my younger brother and me to see Jurassic Park and we both promptly became obsessed. Our obsession focused first on dinosaurs and computers (naturally), but my interest gradually became centered around the work of one particular character: Dr. Ian Malcolm.
Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I couldn't, in fact, grow up to be a Chaos Theorist.
Although at first I enjoyed Dr. Malcolm’s presence purely for his contrariness and great glasses, I eventually realized that what I enjoyed most about him (and Jurassic Park more generally) was the way that he made it possible for me, even as a small child, to start thinking a little bit critically about science and technology. When Malcolm scolds John Hammond’s research agenda, not only was it the first time that I thought about the fact that scientific work was actively organized and directed, it was also the first time I’d thought about whether or not scientific discovery was unquestionably an agent of social progress. (Plus, when you’re eight, dinosaur chase scenes really help to keep your attention.)
While my thinking has become more sophisticated since then (and I have become more critical of the agendas that the movie and many of its characters serve), much of my research is still motivated by the questions that Jurassic Park helped me to ask for the first time. What are the vast network of unintended consequences of science and its tools? How is it that we come to know what is happening inside bodies, and how is that we come to manipulate them? What is our relationship to the past? And perhaps most importantly, what are our responsibilities with respect to the knowledge and the technologies that we create?