Join the history department on Thursday, October 10th 2019 at 4:10 pm, in Kirby 104 as we host a colloquium on histories of science and society in the twentieth century. We have two distinguished speakers, Dr. Stefan Pohl-Valero and Dr. Audra Wolfe, who will each deliver a short lecture. We’ll also have plenty of conversation and snacks.

Why do so many U.S. scientists continue to lean on the language of apolitical science, even as political leaders display less and less interest in scientists’ claims to expertise, or even the existence of facts? In a new book, Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science, historian Audra J. Wolfe suggests the answer lies in Cold War propaganda. From the late 1940s through the late 1960s, the US foreign policy establishment saw a particular way of thinking about scientific freedom as essential to winning the global Cold War. Throughout this period, the engines of US propaganda amplified, circulated, and, in some cases, produced a vision of science, American style, that highlighted scientists’ independence from outside interference and government control. Working (both overly and covertly, wittingly and unwittingly) with governmental and private organizations, U.S. scientists tried to come to terms with the meanings of “scientific freedom” and “U.S. ideology.” More often than not, they ended up defining scientific values as the opposite of Communist science. Science, in this view, was apolitical. The Cold War ended long ago, but the language of science and freedom continues to shape public debates over the relationship between science and politics in the United States.

Stefan Pohl-Valero will be speaking on the relationship between science, expert knowledge, and the food industry in Colombia. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, Colombian chicha (a fermented beverage made from maize) was at one and the same time alcohol and food, a product produced and consumed on the large scale in an urban setting, and an object of intense scientific scrutiny, with multiple meanings and transformations. He will explore the situated and diverse practices of knowledge production about the relationship between chicha, bodies, and society, as well as their actual implications in and mutual effects with matters of food governance. In laboratories and hospitals, but also in the places of production and consumption of chicha, Colombian scientists produced toxicological, physiological, nutritional and statistical knowledge about this beverage, shaping diverse racialized perceptions of the local poor population and their capacities to achieve national progress. He calls attention to the insights that the history of science and medicine can offer to the fields of biopolitics and food history and pursues a ‘biographical’ approach that follows some of the multiple historical lives of chicha, both as an object of science and as a commodity.