29 May 2012 12:30pm - 2:30pm CRASSH, SG1


ST Lee Professorial Fellow 2011-12

The ST Lee Professorial Fellowship has been made possible by a generous endowment by Dr ST Lee, of Singapore to the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.


Professor Steven Shapin

A reading group with Steven Shapin (Franklin L Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University) to discuss his recent paper The Ivory Tower: The History of a Figure of Speech and Its Cultural Uses published in the March 2012 issue of British Journal for the History of Science.

Please note that this seminar is by invitation only. 



This is a historical survey of how and why the notion of the Ivory Tower became part of twentieth- and twenty-first-century cultural vocabularies. It very briefly tracks the origins of the tag in antiquity, documents its nineteenth-century resurgence in literary and aesthetic culture, and more carefully assesses the political and intellectual circumstances, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, in which it became a common phrase attached to universities and to features of science and in which it became a way of criticizing practices and institutions deemed to be ‘irrelevant’. The paper concludes by reflecting on the tag's relationship to pervasive cultural tropes and how its modern history may be used to appreciate better where science and its academic setting now stand in the ancient debate between the active and contemplative lives.


The Ivory Tower: the history of a figure of speech and its cultural uses
The British Journal for the History of Science, Volume 45, Issue 01,
March 2012 pp 1-27

About Steven Shapin


Steven Shapin is Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science, joining Harvard in 2004 after previous appointments as Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and at the Science Studies Unit, Edinburgh University. His books include Leviathan and the Air- Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985 [new ed. 2011]; with Simon Schaffer), A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994), The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996; now translated into 16 languages), Wetenschap is cultuur (Science is Culture) (Amsterdam: Balans, 2005; with Simon Schaffer), The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (University of Chicago Press, 2008), Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), and several edited books.


He has published widely in the historical sociology of scientific knowledge, and his current research interests include historical and contemporary studies of dietetics, the changing languages and practices of taste, the nature of entrepreneurial science, and modern relations between academia and industry. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and has written for The New Yorker. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his awards include the J. D. Bernal Prize of the Society for Social Studies of Science (for career contributions to the field), the Ludwik Fleck Prize of 4S and the Robert K. Merton Prize of the American Sociological Association (for A Social History of Truth), the Herbert Dingle Prize of the British Society for the History of Science (for The Scientific Revolution), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. With Simon Schaffer, he was the 2005 winner of the Erasmus Prize, conferred by HRH the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, for contributions to European culture, society, or social science.  

Photo Courtesy of Globe Newspaper Company / Jonathan Wiggs © 2008



About the ST Lee Professorial Fellowship

The ST Lee Professorial Fellowship has been made possible by a generous endowment by Dr ST Lee, of Singapore to the School of Advanced Study at the University of London for the purpose of supporting research in London in any field relevant to the work of one or more of the School's ten research institutes and the Human Rights Consortium.


 Administrative assistance: Ruth Rushworth (Publicity & Development at CRASSH)



Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk