I am a historian of science and technology and an assistant professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. My work focuses on the scientific study and control of the human body, and I am currently completing a book manuscript titled Measured Movements, which explores how and why human movement became a central object of scientific, political, and popular concern over the course of the twentieth century. I've been honored to receive fellowships and awards from the SSRC, the ACLS/Mellon Foundation, the History of Science Society's Forum for the History of the Human Sciences, the Society for the History of Technology, and the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts. Prior to arriving at CMU, I received my PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and spent 2016-2019 as a member of Columbia University’s Society of Fellows. I spent the 2021-2022 academic year as an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Member at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Particular areas of ongoing research interest include the twentieth century life and human sciences; medicine and mind; the history of information and data; art, science, and technology; and religion and technology.
A description of my first book project, Measured Movements, can be found below. Other publications and projects have investigated the material history of the ballet pointe shoe, the sexual rehabilitation of paraplegic WWII veterans, and the relationship between modern technology and religion. I am also currently at work on a new book which explores a contentious set of twentieth and twenty-first century debates about whether the whole body--and not merely the well-studied brain--played a role in generating, storing, and communicating thoughts and emotions
My current book manuscript, Measured Movements, is a history of how and why human bodily movement became a key subject of scientific, political, and popular concern over the course of the twentieth century. Central to this story is “Labanotation,” a tool for recording movement on paper devised in the 1920s by the German choreographer Rudolf Laban. Motivated by an engagement with the work of physiologists, biologists, and neurologists, Laban was convinced that movement was the most important influence on the human organism and sought to employ notation to manage its effects. The book follows Labanotation—and the scientific ideas about human physiological response accompanied it—from its origins in the ferment of Weimar culture to its role in the Nazi state to its eventual life in the factories, hospitals, and corporate boardrooms of postwar Britain and the United States. There, it was used as part of programs to excite exhausted assembly line workers, identify and treat people with mental illnesses, screen white-collar job applicants, and re-make ideas about racial difference. By the 1980s, movement notation had gone “digital”: incorporated into a variety of computerized systems for assessing and replicating human movement. To many of these systems’ developers, Labanotation was simply a useful tool for gathering data. Their decision to deploy it, however, embedded in these new technologies assumptions about movement and its meaning first advanced nearly a century earlier.
Laban's Weimar-era efforts might initially seem worlds away from the mid-century corporation or the contemporary robotics lab. My research, however, illuminates the ties—both intellectual and material—that bound these disparate sites together. In doing so, the book provides a new and newly synthetic account of human movement and its meaning—for scientists, for artists, for patients, for citizens—across the twentieth century.
Upcoming and Recent Events
"Psychiatry, Medicine, and Movement at Mid-Century,” Richardson Seminar on the History of Psychiatry, DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, December 2023.
Commentator, “Unity and Interdisciplinarity in the Postwar Sciences,” History of Science Society, November 2023.
“The Measured Gesture,” University of Chicago, Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, October 2023.
“Is My Robot Happy? A History of Movement and Emotion in People and Machines,” University of Toronto, BMO Lab for Creative Research in the Arts, Performance, Emerging Technologies and AI, February 2023.
"Sensibility Through Technology,” Invited Workshop Participant, The Cambridge History ofTechnology, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Department III, Berlin, Germany, January 2023.
Roundtable participant, “History of Technology: State of the Field,” Celebrating 50 Years of Scholarship, Department of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, October 2022.
“‘The Lilt in Labour’: Labanotation and the British Industrial Imagination,” Keynote, Culture visuelle du geste efficace et danses de société (1910–1940), National Institute for Art History, Paris, France, September 2022.