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Riskin selected to hold first Leo Marx chair

Provost Joel Moses has announced the establishment of a new professorship named in honor of Professor Emeritus Leo Marx of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. The Leo Marx Career Development Professorship in the History and Culture of Science and Technology will be located in STS, a unit within the School of Humanities and Social Science (SHSS).

The first holder of the Leo Marx chair will be Jessica G. Riskin, who will join STS as an assistant professor beginning 1998-99.

The creation of the professorship recognizes the accomplishments of Professor Marx, who retired from the MIT faculty in 1990 but has taught as a senior lecturer in STS since then. He received both the BA in history and literature and the PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University, and taught at the University of Minnesota and Amherst College before joining MIT in 1976.

Professor Marx's work has focused on the relationship between technology and culture in 19th- and 20th-century America. His research helped to define the area of American studies concerned with the connections between scientific and technological advances, and the way society and culture both shape these changes and are shaped by them. Several years ago, Professor Marx's The Machine in the Garden was chosen as the book that incoming MIT freshmen were asked to read and be prepared to discuss during orientation week. This work examined the difference between the "pastoral" and "progressive" ideals which characterized early 19th-century American culture, and which evolved into the basis for much of the environmental and nuclear debates of contemporary society.

"It gives those of us who have known Leo's scholarship and have had the good fortune to be personally associated with him at MIT great pleasure to be able to honor his accomplishments in this way," said Dean Philip Khoury of SHSS. "The Leo Marx Chair will enable us to support and nurture young scholars in the fields of study that Leo himself helped to define."

"It gives me great pleasure to strengthen the STS Program by naming a chair in honor of one of its founding faculty," said provost Moses. Added Professor Michael Fischer, STS program director: "We are particularly fortunate that Leo has maintained an active presence in the program as a teacher and advisor that we hope will continue well into the future."

Dr. Riskin received the AB in the history of science at Harvard in 1988 and the PhD in history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1995. She has held academic appointments at Iowa State University and Northwestern University, and she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the MIT-based Dibner Institute for the History of Science in 1997-98.

Dr. Riskin's current work examines the relationship between scientific and political thought and culture in Enlightenment France by comparing the careers of Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Franklin. She studies the ways in which moral concerns become embedded in natural philosophy, and the connections between scientific knowledge and political debate.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 20, 1998.

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