Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard (In Person)


Monday, November 21, 2022, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050)

"Science Between Myth and History: Writing the Past to Control the Future"


José Perillan, Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy Department; Pauline Newman Director of Science, Technology, and Society, STS Program, Vassar College.


Sam Evans

Cosponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Speaker Bio:

José G. Perillán received a joint doctorate in Physics and History from the University of Rochester in 2011. Currently he is an Associate Professor at Vassar College, holding appointments in the Multidisciplinary Program in Science, Technology and Society and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Perillán's multidisciplinary background informs his work as the Faculty Co-Director of the Grand Challenges Program – an institutional grant supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) focused on creating systemic change in higher education that will foster inclusion and belonging in STEM fields. His scholarship examines the impact of the stories scientists tell. His first book Science Between Myth and History, published last year with Oxford University Press grapples with how scientists use myth-history instead of history as part of the way they practice, teach, and present their science to a broader public.


Scientists regularly employ historical anecdotes as rhetorical tools in their communication of science. The stories scientists tell are not just poorly researched scholarly histories, they might better be understood as myth-histories. This chimeric storytelling genre bridges distinct narrative modes and tends to spark controversy. Scientific myth-histories undoubtedly deliver value, coherence, and inspiration to their communities. They are tools used to broker scientific consensus and navigate power dynamics. But beyond their explicit intent, these narratives have great social agency that bear unintended consequences. They are scientific imaginaries that left unexamined have contributed to misunderstandings and a growing mistrust of science. This study of myth-histories looks to establish a common ground upon which scientists and those that study science as a human and social phenomenon can discuss what the intended and unintended impacts are of employing these alternate historical epistemologies.

Lunch is provided if you RSVP via our online form by close of business on Thursday, November 17: