Erika Milam studies the history of the modern life sciences, specializing in the history of evolutionary theory. Her research currently explores how and why scientists have used animals as models for understanding human behavior. She graduated with a biology major from Carleton College and subsequently earned an M.S. in Biology (Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology) from the University of Michigan, where she developed an interest in the history of science. She then completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in the History of Science. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin, Germany, she taught at the University of Maryland for several years before joining the Princeton History Department.
Her first book, Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Johns Hopkins, 2010), focused on evolutionary theory and the connections between biological investigations of reproductive and courtship behavior in animals and humans, from Charles Darwin in the mid-19th century to Sociobiology in the 1970s. Her current research turns to the controversy over instinctual aggression in defining human nature in the 1960s and '70s.
Aggression and the American Search for Human Nature
Her current research addresses how and why zoological and primatological research on animal behavior came to compete with anthropological studies of human cultures as a source of reliable information about human nature in the 1960s and '70s. Constructed as a series of chronologically parallel stories, this project explores the gendered landscape in which conversations about human nature took place. Thanks to a Scholar’s Award from the National Science Foundation (SES-1057586) Professor Milam was on leave pursuing this research for the 2011-12 academic year.
Milam is also working on a co-edited volume with Professor Robert Nye of Oregon State University. Given the ubiquitous presence of men as scientists, engineers, and physicians throughout history, this volume asks what are the consequences of changing the kinds of questions we ask about the scientific enterprise from, for example, “why did scientists think X?” to “why did male scientists think X”? Or, more exactly, what does it add to our understanding of science if we factor in the masculine social and cultural perspectives of time and place? The tools for understanding complex gender dynamics and the importance of gender in the everyday lived experiences of scientists and engineers have been amply demonstrated by the substantial literature on women in science and on gender studies of science. The challenge is to bring to light the ways that scientific masculinities have operated over time, and within different cultures, without re-enacting history by excluding women or femininity from the story.
Professor Milam teaches courses in the history of science, including the history of evolution, the history of ecology and environmentalism, gender and science, the history of scientific animals, and science fiction. During 2014-2015, she will teach a section of HIS400 on the history of ecology and environmentalism in the fall, and in the spring an undergraduate seminar on histories of the future, as well as a graduate seminar on gender & science.
"Dunking the Tarzanists: Elaine Morgan and the Aquatic Ape Theory," in Outsider Scientists: Routes to Innovation in Biology, ed. Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 223-247. [link]
"Public Science of the Savage Mind: Contesting Cultural Anthropology in the Cold War Classroom," Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences 49/3 (2013): 306-330. [link]
“Making Males Aggressive and Females Coy: Gender Across the Animal-Human Boundary,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37/4 (2012): 935-959. [link]
“The Equally Wonderful Field: Ernst Mayr and Organismic Biology,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 40/3 (2010): 279-317. [link]
“Beauty and the Beast: Conceptualizing Sex in Evolutionary Narratives,” in Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins, ed. Denis Alexander and Ronald Numbers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010): 276-301. [link]
"'The Experimental Animal From the Naturalist's Point of View': Behavior and Evolution at the AMNH, 1928-1954," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 99/1 (2009): 157-178. [link]
1. Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology