Drift 25, Rm. 301 26 Jul 2019 Contributed Papers
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science 13:30 - 15:30

Anthropology, Peyote-Eaters, and the Shifting Morals of Intoxication (1880-1919)
13:30 - 14:00
Anthropologists studying American Indians groups in the 1880s and 1890s occasionally remarked on community sects dedicated to the consumption of peyote (Lophophora williamsii) for spiritual purposes. These “peyote cults,” which spread from Mexico into the central US in the late nineteenth century, were first seen negatively, as anthropologists worried the hallucinogenic drug would cause significant cultural disruption, akin to the effects of alcohol. This paper evaluates the developing picture of peyote cults in Native American communities from the perspective of visiting ethnographers, tracing the evolving justification for peyote use that practitioners conveyed to inquiring anthropologists. Over time, some anthropologists came to see peyote use as actually beneficial to stabilizing Native communities they studied, as a replacement for alcohol. In this paper, I show how the growing discipline of anthropology’s acceptance of the “Peyote Religion” was linked to a broader re-evaluation of spiritual syncretism and its place in the anthropology of religion. Specifically, I argue that ethnographic fieldworkers such as James Mooney recast understandings of indigenous spiritual “purity” by studying the consciousness-altering effects of peyote among their Native hosts. Mooney’s advocacy of peyote-eating culminated in his support for the practice’s formalization in the Native American Church (1919)—ratified, ironically, on the eve of Prohibition—which legally protected peyote use for church members while also ensuring (from the perspective of anthropologists) greater social stability in dry Indian communities.
"More French Than the French": John Herschel and Musical Standardization in Nineteenth-Century France and Britain
14:00 - 14:30
Between 1858 and 1859, Emperor Napoleon III’s government determined a national pitch to which musicians should tune their instruments. The following year, the British Society of Arts attempted to emulate this standard. Amid tense Anglo-French relations, however, British audiences interpreted the French pitch as a measure of the country’s political autocracy. As a result, British mathematicians attempted to mobilise nature itself as a resource in redefining what musical standard Britain should adopt, but this raised profound concerns over the cultural authority of those with scientific credentials. Through the controversy of standardizing musical pitch during the 1850s, this paper explores how these ambiguities over cultural authority shaped disagreements between instrument makers, musicians, and mathematicians. From the late-1850s, discussions over the regulation of musical pitch revealed that while natural philosophy and mathematics might provide acoustic knowledge, they could exert little influence over music itself. For musical practice, standardization, that most essential of Victorian scientific concerns, remained firmly in the hands of musical communities. Pitch was, in effect, the measure of science’s limits. While controversies over standards for electricity, heat, and time were resolved in the laboratory and observatory, a standard for music remained elusive. Despite John Herschel’s campaign for a standard C of 512 vibrations, which he claimed had mathematical credentials, it was Britain’s musical elites who determined how the nation’s music would be ordered.
Interglacial Victorians: Ice and the Natural End of Time
14:30 - 15:00
This paper explores how naturalists in the nineteenth century used ice to understand geologic timescales. Further, it considers the broader cultural representations of the past and future of the planet, in which ice was deployed as a register, index, and interlocutor of geologic time. I focus on Britain in the late-nineteenth century, when the temporal agency of ice was leveraged by geologists, physicists, and authors of popular literature to make claims about the past—and future—of the earth. As geologists read the earth and imagined a world that had once passed through an Ice Age, physicists, wielding the second law of thermodynamics, asserted an inevitable and final return of ice: as energy dissipated, the universe would cool, rendering earth a frozen and barren place. Victorians were thus positioned as ‘interglacial beings,’ existing precariously in a fortuitous moment of melt, and ice was cast as an apocalyptic threat that—unlike earlier theist prognostications—was based on laws of nature (Wood, 2018). These scientific assertions had wide cultural ramifications: the trope of ice as a natural enemy of humanity proliferated, particularly in the nascent genre of Scientific Romance, the precursor to science fiction. These early Scientific Romances, normally seen as evidence of industrial optimism or anxiety, reveal a growing popular preoccupation with environmental threats operating on deep temporal scales. I thus argue that ‘Interglacial Victorians’ were deeply engaged with the relationship between human and geologic temporalities—a relationship that is often seen as unique to late-twentieth century environmental consciousness.
Experimental Abstraction: Francis Galton, John Venn, and Cambridge Anthropometry, 1887-1891
15:00 - 15:30
The story of statistics before 1900 is one of a logic common to every science that emerged from the interplay of two developments: the combination of observations and the use of probability mathematics. Both having separate beginnings, these two developments intersected in the first decades of the 19th century, only to spread as a single method horizontally – across scientific disciplines – and vertically – in terms of technical sophistication. This neat story comes at the prize of a loss of historical accuracy. The main reason is its focus on abstract concepts and lack of attention to the material and local aspects of the interplay between observations and mathematics needed to establish sufficiently abstract statistical knowledge. The present paper draws on original archival research to describe a remarkable, yet hitherto little-known episode in the history of statistics: Francis Galton’s collaboration with John Venn, between 1887 and 1889, in an unofficial psychometrical laboratory at Cambridge. Its focus is on the various difficulties Galton and Venn in their joint endeavor, which ranged from choosing a suitable room and weighing the reliability of instruments to aligning statistical techniques with measurement results. In doing so, Galton and Venn were forced to use their polymathic skills to come up with hands-on ways to find out what were relevant statistical associations. The paper concludes by placing the Galton-Venn laboratory into the context of the emergence of psychology at Cambridge and by considering its importance for the discipline of statistics in the 1880s-1890s.

Speakers
University of Michigan
University of Cambridge
History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
Utrecht University
Moderators
Oregon State University

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