Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere

Meet me in Seattle for HSS 2018, November 14!

Once more, I organized a panel for the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, this time in collaboration with my friend Yize Hu. It will be a fantastic opportunity to discuss how 20th-century practitioners perceived the potential and perils of hormones in Japan, China, central Europe, Scotland, and the U.S. Join us if you can!

The overall panel:

Glands and Hormones: 20th-Century Hopes and Fears across the Northern Hemisphere
Research on glandular secretions and their metabolic impact transfigured the medico-scientific understanding of the body in the late 19th century. In 1905, British physiologist Ernest H. Starling (1866–1927) coined the word “hormone,” an umbrella term for secretions from various parts of the body. In the subsequent decades, glandular science flourished and fueled a refashioning of concepts such as aging, growth, reproduction, and sex/gender. This panel sheds light on various ways in which the hormonal view of the body impacted 20th-century science in Asia, Europe, and North America. What role did glands and hormones fulfill in scientific and social lives at different times and places? What hopes and fears were associated with interfering in the hormonal body? To what extent were hormone-related practices and theories mobile across space and time? The papers exemplify multiple connotations of hormones: they could be both promises and threats to human health, as well as disruptors or justifications of the contemporary social order. Furthermore, due to the double role of hormones as actively sexing/gendering (through their metabolic function) and passively sexed/gendered substances (through social ascriptions), hormonal theories and practices transcended the binaries between nature and nurture, and between the physical and the social world.

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How Testosterone Allowed Norman Geschwind to Bridge an Intellectual Century

The Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library in Boston is magnificent! But very cold. I guess I brought the wrong clothes, being spoiled by Philly summers (or what shall I call it?).

I have been here for three weeks now, and will stay for one more. I am slowly making way through Norman Geschwind’s papers. Geschwind and his colleagues’ theory from the early 1980s is quite (in)famous among science critics.

Frankly, Geschwind and his colleagues almost designed a Grand Unified Theory of humanity there. The level of testosterone in prenatal life, so they suggested, affects the asymmetrical maturation of a human brain, and by extension one’s immune system, sexual orientation, language abilities, handedness and much more. Continue reading

Book Summaries: The Remaining 2^2*13 Items from My Brain List

In continuation of the first 27, here are the remaining 52 items of my “History of the Skull, Mind, and Brain Sciences” reading list with John Tresch. It’s a lot of stuff, and I have no idea how he and I shall have a conversation about all of these in a 60- to 90-minute Skype session tomorrow evening, when I’ll already be brain-dead from sitting and working in window-less rooms for hours. But I guess I will be flexible or, better, creatively plastic, and figure out a way to mold or not mold myself to the crazy demands of being a grad student shortly before “orals.” (Less than 4 weeks left!) Continue reading

DH and Me

I’m in Indianapolis for HILT 2015. The digital-humanities workshop on “Large-Scale Text Analysis with R” sounded as if it can help me to finally surmount the obstacle of several thousands of neuroscientific articles I will have to analyze in order to continue my project on adult neurogenesis. Mark Algee-Hewitt from Stanford’s Department of English is an awesome instructor and thus far, I’ve understood everything and was even able to ask a not-so-stupid question during the first session. (Why does R return “character” when I ask about the class of a vector whose contents are characters—and not “vector”?)

I know I promised to continue this post a long time ago—odds are that it will happen soon.

Privacy Lost—SCAN Put Me on Youtube

I just returned from India a few days ago (see my new Department picture) and getting back to serious academic work is pretty rough after more than three weeks out in the wild … So I just spent a few minutes procrastinating and googling myself. Doing so, I found a youtube video of my short presentation at the First Annual SCAN Retreat. I should watch the video and use it to improve on my English pronunciation, I guess.

P.S. I also found the SCAN certificate in my mailbox when I returned. I’m completely done with classes now, scientific and non-scientific!
P.P.S. Just realized they also put up a testimonial, taken from an email I sent to Martha after my HSS panel last November. I seem to be a quite popular SCAN graduate.

“A Critical Moment”: Sex/Gender and Brain Science Conference @ UCLA, 10/23–24

Here is a conference announcement I should have shared with you months ago: the Foundation for Psychocultural Research at the University of Californa in Los Angeles (FPR-UCLA) is hosting a conference titled “A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior” this October, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th.

Here is the announcement: Continue reading

Review: Ingalhalikar et al. 2014

As part of the requirements for one of the psychology classes I’m taking in the context of the SCAN certificate program, I had to review a neuroscientific journal article. Martha Farah herself suggested I review Ingalhalikar et al.’s famous connectome study. Recently (almost a year ago …), this study led to many headlines suggesting that men’s and women’s brains are “wired differently.” My 2,000-word review is geared towards a neuroscientific audience. I am providing the final two paragraphs below, and you can download the entire .pdf here. Continue reading

HSS 2014 Brain Panel on Twitter

HSS 2014 was a phenomenal conference, and I have to admit that I liked my own panel best. My fellow panelists contributed fascinating papers and were just the nicest people to learn from (and with). It was a hitherto unprecedented opportunity to talk brains for me, having five brain papers on the same panel. We saw that several topics kept coming up (such as the economization of brains or minds and the animal/human divide, for instance). I gave you the panel information before; here is what made it to Twitter: Continue reading

There WAS Plasticity in Brain Sex Difference Research!

JAS-Med 2014 at Baltimore was a fantastic conference. The papers were of really high quality, the talks engaging, and the attendees kind and curious.

As you may have assumed already, I presented parts of my research project on the intersection of adult neurogenesis (ANG) research and the neuroscientific quest for sex/gender differences in brains. As mentioned earlier, it is puzzling to read the standard account of ANG history—or, more broadly, of brain plasticity—and then realize that none of these ideas of malleable brains have had influence on rigid neural and social sex/gender classifications, as Rebecca Jordan-Young, Catherine Vidal, Cordelia Fine et al., and others argue. Continue reading

Upcoming Talk in Baltimore (T.C.) and Sensory History Project in Old City (David Barnes)

Only so you know how I’m spending my weekends: I will be presenting my plasticity project for the first time at JAS-Med this Saturday. This year, the conference is hosted by Johns Hopkins’s Department of the History of Medicine (and next year, it will be our turn!). Find the program here, and don’t hesitate to join us. At least Chris’s paper will be amazing, too.

One other literally historical project that you shouldn’t miss is David Barnes’s Sensory History Project in Old City this Friday evening. I will be there!