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Campus & Community

Two University Professors appointed

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Laurel Ulrich and Peter Galison recognized as ‘individuals of distinction’

Two members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) have been appointed to University Professorships.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, currently the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, known for her work on daily life in late 18th and early 19th century America, has been appointed the 300th Anniversary University Professor. Peter Galison, the Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, best known for his studies of 20th century microphysics, has been named the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor.

The University Professorships, first created by the President and Fellows in 1935, are chairs intended for “individuals of distinction … working on the frontiers of knowledge, and in such a way as to cross the conventional boundaries of the specialties.” There are currently 17 active University Professors; the two new appointments will bring the number to 19.

“Laurel Ulrich and Peter Galison are both extraordinarily bright lights in the universe of Harvard scholarship and teaching,” said President Lawrence H. Summers in announcing the appointments. “Laurel has vividly illuminated the history of colonial America and the early republic through the imaginative and painstaking exploration of ordinary lives. Peter has artfully shaped new ways of understanding 20th century physics by expounding the powerful role of tools as well as theories in driving scientific discovery. Both are thinkers of remarkable creativity and reach, and it’s a pleasure to recognize their contributions in this way.”

“What a well-deserved honor for two such superlative scholars and citizens of this University,” said William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Laurel and Peter each, in their own distinctive way, have found ways to render eloquent mute objects and historical texts. They have taught us to look deeply, and then connect broadly, across disciplines and across time, with their own elegant reconstructions of social, intellectual, and material history. They each combine a fierce intellect with a congenial personality and a dedication to our students. I congratulate my colleagues on this honor.”

Ulrich is a pre-eminent historian of early America and of the history of women. Her innovative and widely influential approach to history has been described as “a tribute to ‘the silent work of ordinary people’” – an approach that, in her words, aims to “show the interconnection between public events and private experience.”

Ulrich said she was surprised as well as pleased by the honor. “It was not something I’ve anticipated,” she said.

A University Professorship fits well with her interdisciplinary approach to history, however.

“One of the nice things about history is that it allows a lot of scope. Everything has a history, so you can approach things from many different perspectives. I’ve always been interested in reaching beyond a particular discipline, and that’s something I’ve tried to do my whole career.”

Ulrich’s 1990 book, “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812,” probes the life of an obscure Maine midwife and in so doing creates a vivid portrait of life in the early republic, including the role of women in the economy, the nature of marriage and sexual relations, aspects of medical practice, and the prevalence of violence and crime.

One of the most highly regarded works written about early American history, the book was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for History, as well as the Bancroft Prize, the John S. Dunning Prize, the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize, the Society for Historians of the Early Republic Book Prize, the William Henry Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the New England Historical Association Award, among others.

“A Midwife’s Tale” was developed into a documentary film for the PBS series “The American Experience,” with Ulrich serving as a consultant, script collaborator, and narrator during her time as a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (1992-97).

Her 2001 book, “The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth,” explores the production and consumption, as well as the social meanings, of textiles and Native American basketry produced in pre-industrial New England. Through careful case studies of various objects associated with women’s needlework or weaving, she elucidates the material culture of ordinary New Englanders in early America.

The book bears out her observation that “sometimes the most useful insights come from pondering the harnesses and treadles that move the interlocking threads of daily life.” Ulrich is currently completing her next book, “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” to be published by Knopf. She is also the author of “Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750” (1982) and numerous scholarly articles.

She is also a leading scholar of the history of women at Harvard, as the editor of “Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History” (2004), the author of “Harvard’s Womanless History: Completing the University’s Self-Portrait” (published in Harvard Magazine in 1999), and a leader of the November 1998 conference “Gender at the Gates: New Perspectives on Harvard and Radcliffe History,” sponsored by Harvard’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History and Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

Ulrich is currently teaching a course with Ivan Gaskell, the Margaret S. Winthrop Curator at the Fogg Art Museum. Students in the course study objects in the Artemas Ward House, an 18th century farmhouse in Shrewsbury, Mass. The course will culminate in an exhibition at the Fogg Museum.

Ulrich served as director of the Warren Center from 1998 to 2004, and was named a Walter Canning Cabot Fellow in 2002 in recognition of eminence in history, literature, or art. She received her B.A in English in 1960 from the University of Utah, her M.A. in English from Simmons College in 1971, and her Ph.D. in history from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in 1980.

She began her academic teaching career at UNH in 1980 as an assistant professor in the humanities program, and was ultimately promoted to professor of history there. She joined the Harvard faculty in 1995, and has served since then both as the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History and as a member of the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies (now the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality).

She has been a Guggenheim Fellow (1991) and a recipient of the Charles Frankel Award of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1993) and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award (1994). A member of both the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she has served on a blue- ribbon panel for the National Museum of American History and as a consultant to numerous American historical societies and foundations (including Canterbury Shaker Village, Colonial Deerfield, Plimoth Plantation, Lancaster [Pa.] Heritage Center, New Hampshire Historical Society, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and the Strawbery Banke Museum).

A dedicated teacher, she has been awarded prizes at Harvard both for outstanding undergraduate teaching (the Harvard College Professorship) and for graduate student mentoring (the Everett Mendelsohn Mentoring Award, presented by the GSAS Graduate Student Council). Her undergraduate courses include two Core Curriculum offerings, “Pursuits of Happiness: Ordinary Lives in Revolutionary America” and “Inventing New England: History, Memory, and the Creation of a Regional Identity.”

Peter Galison is one of the leading historians of science of his generation and is widely viewed as one of the most intellectually eclectic and creative members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Galison’s work focuses on 20th century microphysics (atomic, nuclear, and particle physics). In particular, he examines the complex interaction among what he regards as the main subcultures of modern physics: experimentation, instrumentation, and theory.

He is perhaps best known for a distinguished series of three books on these topics – the first focused on experimentation (“How Experiments End,” 1987), the next on instrumentation (“Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics,” 1997), and the last on theory, and in particular how Einstein’s experience with clocks influenced his theory of relativity (“Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time,” 2003).

“It is an enormous honor to have been named a University Professor – a bit intimidating given the list of current and past holders,” Galison said in a phone interview. He is currently on leave and living in Paris, where he serves as a visiting professor at L’École Normale Supérieure and the Center for Sociology of Innovation, L’École des Mines.

“For me, the University Professorship represents a special, enormously valued crossroads where I can meet with people and ideas from different terrains of thought,” he said. “One of the greatest joys I’ve had at Harvard over these last years has been the chance to work with colleagues across disciplinary lines. It is particularly important for me because so much of what I study has to do with the ways in which science moves – from laboratory to laboratory, from science into technology and back, back and forth between secret and open domains.

“These concerns have made co-teaching absolutely essential for me. I’ve learned enormously from teaching, at different times over the last years, with Robb Moss (Visual and Environmental Studies), with Hilary Putnam (philosophy), Martha Minow (law), and Antoine Picon (design). In each case it was a delight in part because the cross-listed courses drew such remarkable students from very different backgrounds.”

Besides exploring questions at the intersection of history, philosophy, and physics with remarkable insight, Galison has undertaken several projects examining the powerful crosscurrents between physics and other fields. These include his co-edited volumes on the relationship of science to art and architecture, “Picturing Science, Producing Art” (1998) and “The Architecture of Science” (1999).

The author of more than 70 scholarly articles, he is also co-editor of “Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research” (1992), “The Disunity of Science: Contexts, Boundaries, and Power” (1996), “Atmospheric Flight in the Twentieth Century” (2000), and “Scientific Authorship” (2003). His interests further extend to film, and he has served as historian for the PBS production “Mysteries of the Universe: A Science Odyssey” (1998) and as producer of The History Channel’s “Ultimate Weapon: The H-Bomb Dilemma” (2000). He and Robb Moss are currently working on a film, “Secrecy,” about the vast world of classified information.

He has recently turned his attention to two book projects – a history of scientific objectivity with Lorraine Daston of the Max Planck Institute for History of Science (Berlin), and a book tentatively titled “The Assassin of Relativity” about Einstein’s friendship with physicist, philosopher, and political assassin Friedrich Adler.

Galison’s numerous awards include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1997-2002) and the Max Planck Prize given by the Max Planck Society and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (1999). His courses at Harvard have included “History and Philosophy of 20th-Century Physics,” “History and Philosophy of Experimentation,” “Fascism, Art and Science in the Interwar Years,” “Scientific Realism,” “The Einsteinian Revolution,” seminars on critical history and on the history and philosophy of theory in 20th century physics, and “Filming Science.” In 2001, he was named a Harvard College Professor in recognition of his undergraduate teaching.

Galison received both his A.B. degree, summa cum laude, and his A.M. degree in history of science from Harvard College in 1977. He went on to earn an M.Phil. in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University in 1978, and a Ph.D. in physics and history of science from Harvard in 1983. From 1980 through 1983 he was a Junior Fellow in Harvard’s Society of Fellows.

He served as an assistant, associate, and full professor at Stanford from 1982 to 1992, then returned to Harvard as professor of the history of science and professor of physics in 1992. He was named the Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics in 1994, and he served from 1993 through 1997 as chair of the Department of the History of Science. He is an associate of Leverett House and a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows, and he has also served as a member of the FAS Resources Committee.