#RaisingUP Scientific Voices with NEXUS Series

This week UAP is celebrating University Press Week and the 2020 theme #RaiseUP. And today, we are using our turn on the blog to spotlight scientific voices amplified by the University of Alabama Press.

Subjects such as environmental studies and technology have been a proud part of our editorial program for many years. But today we are concentrating on our NEXUS series – a relatively new book series focused on new histories of science, technology, the environment, history, and agriculture and the intersection of those topics.

NEXUS is devoted to the publication of high-quality scholarship in the history of the sciences and allied fields. Its broad reach encompasses science, technology, the environment, agriculture, and medicine, but also includes intersections with other types of knowledge, such as music, urban planning, or educational policy. Its essential concern is with the interface of nature and culture, broadly conceived, and it embraces an emerging intellectual constellation of new syntheses, methods, and approaches in the study of people and nature through time.

Below is a conversation with the triumvirate of NEXUS Series Editors: Alan Marcus, Alexandra Hui, and Mark Hersey.

What lead to the creation of the NEXUS series?

In some ways NEXUS is a continuation of UAP’s well-respected American Science and Technology series edited by Lester Stephens of the University of Georgia. Between Stephens’ retirement and the series’ restart as NEXUS in 2014, the histories of science, technology, and medicine all underwent a substantial reorientation. Meanwhile the number of fields that overlapped in significant ways with the history of science—notably environmental history and agricultural history—burgeoned as well, often placing science at the center of their analyses.

Taking advantage of a lacuna in the publishing world, NEXUS was established with the aim of highlighting those overlaps by directly embracing this new intellectual constellation.

What are some unique challenges to publishing in science? How do you address those issues within the NEXUS series?

The usual list of challenges to publishing in the sciences applies to the series as well in terms of conventional concerns – like relevance, accessibility, sometimes political hostility. But perhaps the series’ greatest challenge has been in navigating the gap between the sciences proper and the history of those sciences. There’s a sense in which a study can take up something that happened in the past – the life of a scientist, for instance, or the development of a scientific field at a particular moment in the past – without being historical in a scholarly sense. Historians apply particular methodologies and tools to assess and analyze the past, and an expertise in those is no less essential than a knowledge of the science to properly understanding the history of science.

The past is enormously complicated, and while linear stories carry an appeal, they generally prove teleological. The historical subjects at the center of the studies in this series lived in an uncertain present just as we do, and the science they pioneered, practiced, and otherwise employed was shaped by the contours of the culture in which they lived. Navigating that context while understanding how things turned out presents manifold challenges for virtually every study we recruit and publish.

University presses, of course, are vital to the scientific community

What is the relationship between university presses and scientific community? Where do you see the missions overlapping?

University presses, of course, are vital to the scientific community. Putting aside the fact that the majority of scholarly journals are published by university presses to focus solely on the monographic side, university presses provide an outlet for important studies that might not have a large public market. The peer-review process and rich documentation they encourage strengthen studies and ensure the continuation of scholarly conversations that might not appear on the radar of non-academics and specialists.

Since at least the seventeenth century, university presses have served as vital cogs in advancing knowledge (sometimes against the wishes of sizable contingents of the larger population). In a field like history, which in contrast to the majority of scholarly disciplines sees its most important scholarship appear in book form, university presses serve as the very lifeblood of scholarly activity. It is difficult to imagine the field continuing in anything like its current state without them.

In what ways doe NEXUS raise scientific voices?

NEXUS calls attention to the myriad ways science has shaped modern society – from the history of the human growth hormone to innovations at land-grant institutions and the unfolding of the Green Revolution, from the aerial application of pesticides to grass-roots protests over chemical exposures, from nuclear technology to the development of evolutionary biology. In so doing, it seeks to underscore and advance the degree to which historians must continue to wrestle with the sciences of life and living.

But NEXUS does more than raise scientific voices: it contextualizes them and shows, indeed, how they are possible – pointing to the ever shifting concatenation of circumstances that allow ideas to emerge, gain legitimacy, and lose traction. Highlighting the power relationships of all of those things (and more), it underscores the degree to which science is inevitably connected to the larger worlds (intellectual, political, cultural, and material) it inhabits.