October Researcher of the Month – Dr. Lesley Cormack

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Meet Dr. Lesley Cormack from the University of Alberta, Edmonton.

 

1. What is your current place of research?

I am Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta and a professor of history of science in the Department of History and Classics.

2. Could you give us some details about your education background?

I have a PhD in the history of science from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST) at the University of Toronto.

3. What projects are you currently working on and what are some projects you’ve worked on in the past?

I’m an historian of early modern geography and mathematics.  My first book looked at the teaching of geography at Oxford and Cambridge, trying to understand the relationship between conceptions of the globe and ideas of empire in the pre-imperial world of sixteenth and early seventeenth century England.  More recently, I’ve been working on a research project concerning the first English terrestrial and celestial globes, made in the 1590s, and showing the first English circumnavigations of the globe.  It is because I have always worked on the study of the earth in a time of early contacts between different civilizations and different knowledge communities that I have become interested in how knowledge moves around the globe, what is shared, what is imposed, and what is in contention.

4. What’s one thing you particularly enjoy about working in your field?

Science is both a language unto itself and a deeply socially embedded phenomenon.  By understanding the interaction of science, society, politics, and economics in the past, it helps us to begin to pull that apart in our present world as well.

5. How do you relate your work to the broader topic of ‘cosmopolitanism and the local’?

It is at those moments of contact when we can see most starkly the social, political and economic dimensions of science and nature studies.  Everything is at stake when different nature knowledge communities come into contact.  This is not just of historical interest, however, since we now face a world with very different expectations about nature and our role in its manipulation.  This will become more and more important as we think our way through reconciliation with indigenous peoples and through what needs to happen to save our planet from climate change.

6. Your textbook on the history of science is now in its third edition. What are your thoughts about including multiple, non-western perspectives on the history of science into the writing of textbooks?

Our journey with our textbook has been an interesting one.  In the first edition, we were most concerned with showing the necessary interconnections between the development of science and society (hence the title: A History of Science in Society).  In this edition, we have tried to make sense of the interactions between the developments of western science (modern science?) and contacts/connections with other nature knowledge communities.  This turns out to be a major undertaking, and has the potential to turn the enterprise into a sort of encyclopedic text, with no constant narrative or structure.  We have chosen to keep our story intact. But I now think that a different sort of book also needs to be written, a global history of science, that tries to do both.

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