Humanities for STEM: Using Archives to Bridge the Two Cultures Divide

Two-Year Research Collaborative from the NYU Center for the Humanities

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New Semester, Updated Member List

With the start of a new semester, we were able to add a three new members to the group.  Welcome, Deena Engel, Anton Borst, and Zakiya Collier!

Our membership for Spring 2017 is:

    • Lindsay Anderberg
      Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Librarian and Poly Archivist
      Dibner Library, NYU Libraries
    • Amy Bentley
      Professor, Food Studies
      Nutrition and Food Studies, NYU Steinhardt
  • Anton Borst
    Instructional Consultant
    The Center for Advancement of Teaching, NYU
    • Janet Bunde
      University Archivist
      NYU University Archives, NYU Libraries
    • Nicole Callihan
      Pedagogical Coordinator
      Expository Writing Program, NYU Tandon
    • Sushan Chin
      Head, Archives and Special Collections
      Health Sciences Library, NYU School of Medicine
  • Zakiya Collier
    Research Assistant, Humanities for STEM Research Collaborative
    Media, Culture, and Communication and Library and Information Science, NYU Dual Degree Masters Program
  • Deena Engel
    Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Computer Science Minors Programs and Director, Program in Digital Humanities and Social Science
    Computer Science, NYU Courant
    • Marina Hassapopoulou
      Visiting Assistant Professor
      Cinema Studies, NYU Tisch
    • April Hathcock
      Scholarly Communications Librarian
      NYU Libraries
  • Juan Herrera
    Graduate Student
    Food Studies, NYU Steinhardt
    • Carol Hutchins
      Head, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Library
      Courant Library, NYU Libraries
    • Trace Jordan
      Director, Foundations of Scientific Inquiry
      College Core Curriculum, NYU CAS
    • Philip Kain
      Clinical Assistant Professor
      Global Liberal Studies, NYU Arts and Science
    • Chris Leslie
      Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies
      Technology, Culture and Society, NYU Tandon
    • Leah Loscutoff
      Samuel C. Williams Library, Stevens Institute of Technology
    • Bleakley McDowell
      Media Conservation and Digitization Specialist
      National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian
  • Geoff Shullenberger
    Expository Writing Program, NYU Tandon
  • Ben Stewart
    Director of Faculty Development
    Expository Writing Program, NYU

Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice in Archives and STEM

To explore the theme of diversity, inclusion, and social justice in archives and STEM, we first broke it down into the parts we knew best.  I (Lindsay) gave a brief overview (link to slides) of these issues as they relate to archives and Chris tackled the STEM angle [link to slides].

Prior to our meeting, I assigned the group two readings to get a sense of inclusion and social justice conversations happening in the archival profession.  Ramirez’s (2015) article is a direct response to Greene (2013).  I like these two articles because they get at a few aspects of archives in respect to inclusion and social justice: collection development, access, advocacy, and agency. I was most struck by Greene’s assertion, “Engaging broadly in politics as professionals makes no more sense to me when applied to archivists than it would if applied to accountants, computer programmers, or engineers” (p 308). But aren’t all of these professions wrapped up in politics, and more broadly, the social world?  This sense that science and data exist as truths outside of social or political influence is one that has been rebutted by many fields, including Science Studies, Anthropology, and Philosophy.


The Society of American Archivists is explicitly addressing inclusion at the 2017 annual conference.  And yet, questions about how inclusive the conference itself, which requires travel, registration fees, and a membership that is 89% white (SAA Membership Needs and Satisfaction Survey, 2012) remain.

Although Greene seems to think that one must become an activist archivist in order to actively apply considerations of diversity, inclusion, and social justice to collection development and access policies, I disagree. As archivists, we are constantly making decisions about who and what belong in our collections.  Our goal is not simply to collect everything and we may not have the time or resources to do as much outreach as we like, but critically evaluating our choices through the lens of diversity, inclusion, and social justice does not mean that we’re picking a political side (as Greene sometimes suggests), it means we’re making our collections stronger.

We don't have to be activist archivists to actively consider diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our collection policies.

We don’t have to be activist archivists to actively consider diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our collection policies.

Following our discussions of diversity, inclusion, and social justice in archives and STEM, we changed gears and took a look at a new idea for a classroom activity involving STEM archives.


Nicole presented (link to slides) an idea to use a series of patents from the Poly Archives in Expository Writing Program classes.  All of the patents are by the same inventor, Samuel Ruben.  Looking at a sample of Ruben’s patents, which span more than 40 years, students will be asked to find patterns, to think about context and audience.  They will also be asked to think about what the patent document is particularly good at telling them, and what it is not so good at telling them, which opens the door to discussing additional formats in the collection, such as photographs, magazine articles, correspondence, and advertisements.

Recommended Reading:

Greene, M. (2013). A critique of social justice as an archival imperative: What is it we’re doing that’s all that important? The American Archivist, 76(2), 302-334.

Ramirez, M.H. (2015). Being assumed not to be: A critique of whiteness as an archival imperative. The American Archivist, 78(2), 339-356.

Wendy Chen’s article “On software and the persistence of visual knowledge,” NPR’s The Forgotten Female Programmers Who Created Modern Tech, and Nathalia Holt’s The Rise of the Rocket Girls came up when we talked about female computers.

Women In STEM Tend to Have More Collaborators But Are Underrepresented, Study Suggests.

Reuters (11/9, Doyle) reports women in STEM departments “tend to have a wider range of collaborators than men, but are still significantly underrepresented, especially in genomics, according to a new study (11/4)” published in PLoS Biology. Jevin West, a “science of science” researcher at the University of Washington, said, “If indeed there is a difference by gender in collaborative patterns and behavior, this is something not to be ignored. The infrastructure of science depends on these collaborations and if women are being excluded for institutional or cultural reasons, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health needs to address this issue head on.”

Faculty and Archivist Collaboration

To further explore our interests in the integration of archival research into STEM education, some of our members presented on their experiences on faculty/archivist collaboration.

Deena Engel, Professor of Computer Science, shared her experience of collaborating with archivists in the assignment of a capstone project in which students built a digital archive using primary source material.


Deena’s full presentation: Engel_CollaborativeEducation


A page from The Album Yearbook, Class of 1960 at Washington Square College.

Trace Jordan, Professor in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences, shared his experiences in teaching a first-year seminar entitled What is College For, which engages students with the history, aims, and contentions of college education. During the history unit, students use the NYU archives in Bobst Library to investigate a specific aspect of NYU’s history using archival sources, with the generous assistance of Janet Bunde, University Archivist, and Katie Ehrlich, Assistant Archivist for Education and Outreach.


Trace’s full presentation: TraceJordan-Collaboration


Janet Bunde, University Archivist, took collaborative members on a tour of the University Archives, including the A University in the City/A University of the City exhibition. She also shared her experiences collaborating with faculty.

A University in the City/A University of the City exhibition:



Research Collaborative members and greater Humanities for STEM community, please feel free to add your thoughts or questions about Faculty and Archivist Collaboration to the comments!


NYU Medical Archives visit


On October 14, 2016, the Research Collaborative visited the NYU Medical Archives.  Sushan Chin, Head Archivist and member of the collaborative, hosted the group.  Our visit covered the collecting areas of the Medical Archives, a hands-on activity with items from the archives, a discussion of Superstorm Sandy’s impact on the medical center library and archives, and a broader look at preservation issues and access. Prior to the visit to the newly renovated library, the collaborative read Sushan’s article, “Surviving Sandy: Recovering Collections After a Natural Disaster.”

Science and engineering archivists Lindsay Anderberg (Poly Archives) and Leah Loscutoff (Stevens Institute of Technology Archives) were interested in the Medical Archives’ work in oral histories as a way to humanize researchers and doctors and to explain complicated scientific innovations documented in collections.  NYU University Archivist, Janet Bunde, pointed out that collecting these oral histories now will be beneficial for future anniversary celebrations for the university.  Other collections, such as a pharmaceutical bottles and microscopes captured the interest of professors, such as Chris Leslie, who thought about how these collections could be used with current STEM students.

NYU Medical Quarterly, 1947

NYU Medical Quarterly, 1947

During the hands-on activity, we broke into three groups and explored five items from the archives.  One group studied the Medical Quarterly, with the page above marked.  This group not only learned about the history of the medical center, but also thought about how an article like this could help students to think about place and changes over time.

Eben Foskett letter, 1890s

Eben Foskett letter, 1890s

Eben Foskett

Eben Foskett

An unidentified letter and photograph were distributed to the second group.  The group read the letter aloud together in an effort to decipher the handwriting.  This strategy often required the group to read ahead and circle back to work out what words might be based on context.  While more work than reading a transcribed letter, this type of reading prevented skimming and the group enjoyed discovering the contents of the letter together– from a description of riding in the ambulance to tend to a man hit in the head with a hammer to reassuring his sweetheart that he was safe and there are “tough skulls among the stable gang.”  Descriptions of medical practice, personal anecdotes, and daily life in New York City co-mingle as the handwriting drifts from legible, to scrawling (perhaps a tired hand?).

NYU Catalog

NYU Catalog



The third group explored the 1917-1918 course catalog for NYU and Bellevue Hospital Medical College and a photograph of a surgical theater.  Historic university catalogs and bulletins provide valuable insights into trends in STEM education as well as a resource to learn more about professors associated with the school.

Research Collaborative members, please add your thoughts to the comments! What ideas did this visit spark about your own work in terms of access, outreach, preservation, medical collections, or research?

Year 1 Kick-Off

We had a great turn out for the year one kick-off.  Thanks to all who presented, attended, and engaged in Q&A.

Chris Leslie started us off with an overview of the research collaborative.


Chris’s full presentation: humanities-kickoff

Deena Engel, Clinical Professor in the Courant Institute’s Department of Computer Science, described the ways she’s partnered with professors in humanities courses and archivists in “Three Approaches to Archives and Pedagogy.”  Her presentation provided links to syllabi and sample websites.

Sample site created in Practicum in Digital Humanities, a graduate course co-taught by Deena Engel (Computer Science) and Marion Thain (Liberal Studies and English)

Sample site created in Practicum in Digital Humanities, a graduate course co-taught by Deena Engel (Computer Science) and Marion Thain (Liberal Studies and English)

Deena’s full presentation: engel_humanitiesforstem_v3


Lindsay Anderberg talked about her work with archives in undergraduate engineering courses in  “Archival Interventions with Engineering Undergraduates.”

Examples of materials from the Poly Archives used with Tandon School of Engineering undergraduates.

Examples of materials from the Poly Archives used with Tandon School of Engineering undergraduates.

Lindsay’s full presentation: anderberg_archival-interventions-with-engineering-undergraduates-1    humanities-for-stem-kick-off-presentation (written notes to go with slides)


Bell Labs Archivist, Ed Eckert, presented, “The Bell Labs Archives – An Overview of Operations and Services of a Corporate Archives.” He outlined the scope and content of the Bell Labs Archives and discussed the challenges and benefits particular to corporate archives.

The Nokia Bell Labs exhibition space in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Highlighted Bell Labs innovations on display include the first transistor and the Telstar satellite.

The Nokia Bell Labs exhibition space in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Highlighted Bell Labs innovations on display include the first transistor and the Telstar satellite.

Ed’s full presentation: nokia-bell-labs-archives


Lisa Gitelman, Professor of Media and English at NYU Steinhardt and the College of Arts and Science, talked about her work as a researcher with the Thomas A. Edison Papers, which were minimally processed at the time.  Archivists are familiar with the challenges of an unprocessed collection, but may not always think about the unknowns that could pop up in science archives, like a radioactive scare caused by a packet of powder (upon further research, it turned out to be a false alarm).


These presentations set the stage for our research collaborative as we embark on the first year of research, archives visits, and pedagogical inquiry.

Interested in learning more?  Check out the reading list below and continue to follow along with us on this blog.


Reading List

Anderberg, L. (2014). SOUP and symmetry: Physics majors explore an archival  collection. Metropolitan Archivist, 20(1), 10–11.

Anderberg, L. (2015). STEM undergraduates and archival instruction: A case study at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The American Archivist, 78(2), 548–566.

Bunde, J., & Engel, D. (2010). Computing in the humanities: An interdisciplinary partnership in undergraduate education. Journal of Archival Organization, 8(2), 149–159.

Engel, D., & Thain, M. (2015). Textual artifacts and their digital representations: Teaching graduate students to build online archives, 9(1). Retrieved from

Engel, D., & Wharton, G. (2014). Reading between the lines: Source code documentation as a conservation strategy for software-based art. Studies in Conservation, 59(6), 404–415.

Gitelman, L. (2000). Scripts, grooves, and writing machines: Representing technology in the Edison era. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gitelman, L. (2014). Paper knowledge : toward a media history of documents. Duke University Press.

Leslie, C., & Anderberg, L. (2015). Innovating with history: How an archival intervention diminishes Snow’s “dangerous” divides. Double Helix, 3(0). Retrieved from

Leslie, C., & Anderberg, L. (2016). Making history active: Archival interventions for engineering education. In ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings (Vol. 2016–June). American Society for Engineering Education.

Nokia Bell Labs. (2016). History of Bell Labs – Bell Labs. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from

Snow, C. P. (1959). The two cultures and the scientific revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collaborative Overview

The first year of a two-year research collaborative, Humanities for STEM, focuses on how the study of primary sources, archival research, and associated methodologies of the humanities can be used to enhance the understanding of science (including medicine), technology, engineering, and mathematics. Funded by NYU’s Center for the Humanities, this collaborative explores the ways in which archives and special collections can support scholarship and education in the sciences, discuss the ways in which scholars in the sciences and humanities use archival collections, and expose scholars to STEM-related archives, with a particular focus on collections at NYU and the NYC area. 

In Friday monthly meetings, a group of scientists, engineers, humanists, archivists, and graduate students will discuss topics relating to archival outreach and access, integration of archival research into STEM education, the role of STEM collections in scholarly research, and new approaches to bridging gaps between the sciences and humanities through the use of archives. 

The co-directors of this collaborative are Chris Leslie, a lecturer at the Tandon School of Engineering who teaches courses in Science and Technology Studies that use insights from the fields of the humanities to better understand science and engineering, and Lindsay Anderberg, archivist and user services librarian at the Bern Dibner Library, who has been curating special collections in Brooklyn related to the School of Engineering and conducting outreach to faculty like Dr. Leslie. In publishing papers and making presentations about this work, we realized there is significant interest among scholars and librarians about this topic. 

It has been our experience that students gain a great deal of insight from their engagement with archival material. One outcome, albeit not specific to STEM, is a healthy skepticism about the process of history. Our students who read history books now understand the kind of research that underpins historical analysis and the limitations of source material, helping them to see how histories are arguments about the available facts instead of passive, objective recountings of the past. With respect to STEM, we have found students have made interesting analyses using local material. The history of science and technology sometimes is presented as metahistories even though the larger field of history has called this practice into question for many years. The postmodern attention to local histories seen in other subdisciplines has been successful in challenging what STS practitioners call whig histories, and our students have found productive dissonances when they study independent researchers in the age of big science, when research is thought to be dominated by large government contracts.

Engaging with the material of history has also encouraged students to engage in rhetorical analyses. They think about how the presentation of the self as an independent inventor is important for the preparation of patents, yet realize how this construction denies the importance of community and the accumulation of cultural knowledge. This results in students thinking about how the rhetoric of patent applications (and how this filters into modern discourse) actually hinders individuals from being effective innovators. Finally, students who are interested in increasing the diversity of STEM find archival resources to be effective case studies of gender dynamics. They study how to account for the absence of women in the archive, for instance, and imagine what must be done to counteract that archival silence. They also study the surprisingly masculinist description of tools and work processes that is so much more obvious in studying archival material, making connections to gendered theories of technology.

This research collaborative is open to faculty and graduate students who are working on case studies, historiographies, pedagogical proposals, and other approaches relevant to the collaborative. Although any approach delving into the theme of STEM and archival research would be welcome, we are especially interested in the following themes:

  • How are documents of invention shaped by the needs of archives, such as the necessity of record keeping for resolving intellectual property disputes or documenting sponsored research? Does this dynamic taint the historical claims that can be made?
  • What insights from the humanities, as demonstrated through archival sources, can offer correctives to triumphant stories of progress and, in so doing, help future practitioners be better aware of the challenges that face those seeking to disseminate new technologies or scientific ideas?
  • To what extent have the existence of archives for some key figures guided science and technology studies as a whole? How might the lack of primary sources affect the histories we tell? What should historians do to resolve these archival silences?
  • How should historians incorporate the insights into personalities gained when studying primary sources about technology? What place do personal stories have in the history of innovation?
  • Can pedagogies foreground the use of archival material in the classroom, especially with regard to STEM education? Can historical/archival materials be a part of educating engineers and scientists in the content of STEM, outside of the history classroom?
  • How can digital methods and resources be used to engage engineers, undergraduate students, and/or the public on central issues of history and technology?

The main activities of the collaborative will be:

  1. Opening plenary sessions in Fall 2016 and Fall 2017. 
  2. Visits to NYU and NYC-area archives with STEM collections.
  3. Generating new pedagogical approaches or research projects using STEM archives and special collections
  4. Workshopping research papers based on STEM and archives
  5. Presenting papers at culminating symposium in spring 2018

If you have any questions, please contact Chris Leslie ( or Lindsay Anderberg (

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