Henry M. Cowles
Program: History of Science
Fields of Study: United States, Modern Science (Biology, Psychology)
Advisor: Daniel T. Rodgers
I work on the history of science in the United States (and, to some extent, Great Britain) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Specifically, I focus on how theories and practices in the life and human sciences were brought to bear on social issues in the decades around 1900. I maintain particular interests in evolutionary biology, psychology, and American pragmatism.
My dissertation, "A Method Only: The Evolving Meaning of Science in the United States, 1859-1929," traces the rise of “the scientific method” as both a cultural ideal and a practical tool in the United States during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. It shows how a generation of American psychologists and social theorists took a transnational conversation about the nature of science and turned it into a program of cultural renewal in the wake of the Civil War. As the mind was re-imagined in light of the emerging human sciences, science itself came to be seen less as a body of knowledge and more as a human tool. This had serious implications for what contemporaries thought science was capable of and, crucially, who was thought capable of doing it. My project links these developments to the rise of what we now call evolutionary psychology and argues that this new model of the mind paved the way for an instrumental approach to science that is still with us today.
Beyond my dissertation, I have published work on the history of extinction (see below) and am preparing articles on biological analogies in historical writing and on Social Darwinism in the Gilded Age. I am also co-authoring pieces on pedagogy in the history of science (with a colleague in the history of science) and on the history of the "stream of consciousness" as both a psychological theory and a literary mode in modernist fiction (with a colleague in comparative literature). At Princeton, I have taught in both American Studies (AMS 201: American Places) and the history of science (HIS 396: History of Biology). I graduated with an A.B. in Environmental Science and a minor in Evolutionary Biology from Harvard in 2008. I also blog at AmericanScience, the official blog of the Forum for the History of Science in America.
Henry M. Cowles, "A Victorian Extinction: Alfred Newton and the Evolution of Animal Protection," The British Journal for the History of Science 46:4 (December 2013), pp. 695-714