CHC seminar with dr. Rebecca Lemov (Harvard University)

Thursday June 19, 2014 the Center for Historical Culture welcomes a speaker on the Histories of Social and Human Sciences, Dr. Rebecca Lemov. Lemov is associate professor History of Science at Harvard University.

Title: "Not Fade Away: Toward a History of the Life History"
Speaker: Dr. Rebecca Lemov (Harvard University)
Time: 15.00-17.00
Location: Erasmus Woudestein Campus, T3-35

A paper will be circulated in advance of the seminar. The reading draws from a forthcoming book titled “Database of Dreams: Social Science’s Forgotten Archive of How to Be Human, 1942-1965.” This tells the history of an experimental archive in the mid-twentieth-century U.S. American behavioral sciences. Among the “subjective materials”, the archive targeted from worldwide populations were projective test results, dreams, and life histories, all of which researchers collected en masse and gathered together in the then-futuristic data-storage format of the microcard. The chapter describes the origin, growth, heyday, and dissemination of the life-history method from the late-19th century through the 1960s and 1970s, in various disciplines (anthropology, sociology, psychology), across a variety of intellectual sites of engagement (delinquency, abnormal psychology, non-literate populations), and among different scholarly communities (in Europe, Great Britain, and the U.S.). Interwoven with this macrohistory of the life history method is a microhistorical case study of the extracting of life-history data from a particular American Indian tribe. The paper explores exactly how the anthropological partners George and Louise Spindler, who conducted fieldwork with the Menominee of Wisconsin, became some of the most prolific data collectors in American anthropology, innovating in method, and particularly in crafting the “expressive autobiography” as a special form of life history. The question that animated them was: how to capture a human life as data?

Lemov’s work focuses on the history of the behavioral sciences in the Twentieth Century. She is especially interested in methodological innovation during the Cold War. She is the author of World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes, and Men (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). This was named a New York Times “Editors Choice” in 2006. Lemov was educated at Yale University (B.A., English Literature) and University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., Cultural anthropology).
To receive the paper, please email dr. Robbert-Jan Adriaansen (

This talk on the Histories of Social and Human Sciences is organized by dr. Bregje van Eekelen and made possible by the Center for Historical Culture and an EUR Fellowship.