The undergraduate History of Science/History of Medicine program graduated five senior majors last year. But the Class of 2004 contains 19 HSHM majors, and the program is growing exponentially.
Program heads are looking to expand HSHM by filling faculty vacancies, said John Warner, the program’s founding chairman and a professor of American studies and history.
“The undergraduate major — unmistakably is growing,” Warner said.
Warner said there are 32 declared junior majors in the program. Additionally, 15 sophomores have already declared themselves HSHM majors, said Daniel Kevles, a history professor who specializes in history of the physical sciences.
Warner said the program’s growth has made expansion of the departmental faculty an important step to ensure continued growth. He said the department is looking for an assistant professor in the history of the physical sciences, who would begin teaching at the beginning of the 2004-2005 academic year. The department is also waiting for University approval to hire a junior faculty member who will focus on the history of experimental life sciences, Warner said. The faculty member would replace the late professor Frederic Holmes, who died last year.
Faculty members credited expanded course offerings as a major factor contributing to the program’s growth.
“We are offering more lecture courses, which attract students,” Kevles said.
Kevles cited the interdisciplinary nature of the program as a reason for its increasing popularity among pre-med students.
“The major is — very advantageous for people who wish to go into medicine because it gives them the opportunity to get all of the necessary science courses under their belt,” he said. “But then they also have the opportunity to take history, literature [and] philosophy to get a decent liberal arts education while applying to medical school.”
Pre-med students involved in the program also said it allows for greater undergraduate course balance than the standard pre-med track.
“The major’s courses themselves make distributional requirements easy to work with,” HSHM major Kathleen McKeon ’04 said.
HSHM major Rachel Brown ’06 called the program “a practical approach to Group IV.”
“I thought I was going to be a Group IV major, but I figured it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I kind of experimented last year and took a Med History class, and it just fit.”
Brown also lauded the dedication of Naomi Rogers, the program’s director of undergraduate studies, who has worked to find internships and service opportunities for students in the major.
Rogers could not be reached for comment.
The program is not limited to those pursuing a career in medicine, HSHM and African American studies professor and former HSHM program head Susan Lederer said.
“Basically, I like to think that we are providing historical insight into two powerful forces of modernity, science and medicine,” she said. “In so doing, we are interested in both the dynamics of medical and scientific discovery as well as the social and cultural milieu in which these develop.”
Kevles said the program has increased its presence in the faculty of arts and sciences in recent years. In its beginning, HSHM was primarily a program in the School of Medicine. In a turning point for the doctoral equivalent of the major, Kevles and Warner rewrote the Ph.D. program’s constitution in 2002.
Students in the major said while there are a number of pre-meds in the program, its interdisciplinary nature also allows for a wide distribution of future uses and careers.
“I’ve made it work for me so I can study global public health, including anthropology and biology courses,” HSHM major Rebecca Falik ’04, who said she does not plan to go to medical school, said. “There’s a lot of flexibility to study a lot of other different fields.”
Warner expressed guarded optimism regarding the program’s continued growth.
“Personally, I would love to have the opportunity to recruit additional faculty,” Warner said. “But — we must wait and see.”