The Diversity Challenge: Race, gender, and how the histories of medicine and technology got made

In this week’s “22 Lessons on Ethics and Technology” special series, I sit down with Dr. Evelynn Hammonds to talk about how race and gender have shaped the histories of science, medicine, and technological development. We explore the divisions between investigations of gender within scientific and technological inquiry, and race within these same fields. How can an intersectional approach challenge our science and technologies to better serve, and include, a broader diversity of people? How have our concepts of science and technology, and our assumptions about what they can and should do, been shaped by exclusions? How can those trained and working in the Humanities can learn from those trained in and working in the Sciences and Technology fields, and vice-versa? How does an understanding of the history of ideas, and the people and forces that have shaped them, inform our ability to build, innovate, and create work cultures that are more ethical and equitable?

Professor Hammonds is the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.  She was the first Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity at Harvard University (2005-2008). From 2008-2013 she served as Dean of Harvard College and Chair of the Department of History of Science (2017-2022). Professor Hammonds’ areas of research include the histories of science, medicine and public health in the United States; race, gender and sexuality in science studies; feminist theory and African American history.  She has published articles on the history of disease, race and science, African American feminism, African-American women and the epidemic of HIV/AIDS; analyses of gender and race in science, medicine and public health and the history of health disparities in the U.S.. Professor Hammonds’ current work focuses on the history of the intersection of scientific, medical and socio-political concepts of race in the United States.  She is currently director of the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.

Prof. Hammonds holds a B.S. in physics from Spelman College, a B.E.E. in electrical engineering from Ga. Tech and an SM in Physics from MIT.  She earned the PhD in the history of science from Harvard University. She served as a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer (2003-2005), a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, a Post-doctoral Fellow in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a Visiting Professor at UCLA and at Hampshire College. Professor Hammonds was named a Fellow of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) in 2008.  She served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman and Bennett Colleges and currently on the Board of the Arcus Foundation, and the Board of Trustees of Bates College.

In 2010, she was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and in 2014 to the President’s Advisory Committee on Excellence in Higher Education for African Americans. She served two terms as a member of the Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering (CEOSE), the congressionally mandated oversight committee of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Advisory Committee of the EHR directorate of the NSF, and the Advisory Committee on the Merit Review Process of the NSF. Professor Hammonds is the current vice president/president-elect of the History of Science Society.

At Harvard, she served on the President’s Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery; the Faculty Executive Committee of the Peabody Museum and she chaired the University-wide Steering Committee on Human Remains in the Harvard Museum Collections.  She also works on projects to increase the participation of men and women of color in STEM fields. Prof. Hammonds is the co-author of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released report (December 9, 2021) Transforming Technologies: Women of Color in Tech. She is a member of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) of the NAS and the NAS Roundtable on Black Men and Black Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She holds honorary degrees from Spelman College and Bates College. For the academic year 2022-2023, Prof. Hammonds is the inaugural Audre Lorde Visiting Professor of Queer Studies at Spelman College.

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