Helen Piel

Profile

PhD, History and Philosophy of Science

My PhD is a collaborative project between the University of Leeds' School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science and the British Library, where I am based in the Politics and Public Life section of the Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts department. I am looking at the working life of the British evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) by studying his archive against the backdrop of the history of twentieth-century evolutionary biology. The thesis is divided into three parts, focusing on popular science/science communication, on the genesis of scientific ideas and establishment of priorities, and on challenges to the (neo-Darwinian) orthodoxy. For a short video and a bit more on the British Library-side of the project, see my case study on the British Library's website

Previously I have worked on the Dutch Nobel Laureate Peter Debye (1884-1966) and his time at the Physics Institute of the University of Leipzig. In particular I combined an institutional history with a focus on international science and the place of Germany in the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. Other work includes studies of representation and knowledge transmission in eighteenth-century scientific travel literature (broadly defined).

I am a member of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB), the European Society for the History of Science (ESHS) and the German museums association (Deutscher Museumsbund). I previously also worked as an Education Volunteer at the London Canal Museum.

Feel free to explore my personal website which has more information and other projects, like the "JMS in 15 images" one commemorating the 15th anniversary of John Maynard Smith’s death in 2004.

Research interests

History and Philosophy of Science; Science Communication; Evolutionary Biology; Science and Literature; Science and Religion; History of Technology; STS

Publications

Piel, H. (2019). “The most bogus ideas…”: science, religion and creationism in the John Maynard Smith Archive. eBLJ (article 7).

Piel, H. (2019). Complicating the story of popular science: John Maynard Smith’s “little Penguin” on The Theory of Evolution. The Journal of the History of Biology 52(3), 371-390DOI: 10.1007/s10739-019-9566-y [online version]

Bollebakker, S. and Piel, H. (2016). Towards a Robotic Dystopia? Replacing Animal Companions with Technology in Science and Fiction. Digressions 2(1), 16-29.

Piel, H. (2014). Knowledge Transmission: Context, Techniques and Control – An Examination of Joachim Heinrich Campe's 'Entdeckung von Amerika' as a Philanthropinist Book for Young Readers. In Student Research Conference 2014. Paper presented at Student Research Conference 2014, 26 November 2014, Delft, The Netherlands (pp.87-90).

Piel, H. (2014). Cornelius de Pauw and the Degenerate Americas. In E. Homburg and A. Klijn (eds.). Encountering ‘the Other’. Travel Books on North-America, Japan and China from the Maastricht Jesuit Library, 1500-1900 (pp.73-93). (MaRBLe Research Reports). Maastricht: Maastricht University.

Piel, H. (2014). Travel Treasures. In E. Homburg and A. Klijn (eds.). Encountering ‘the Other’. Travel Books on North-America, Japan and China from the Maastricht Jesuit Library, 1500-1900 (pp.7-9). (MaRBLe Research Reports). Maastricht: Maastricht University.

Conferences

Presentations and Talks

Exploring the History of Biology through the John Maynard Smith Archive. – 21st Century Curatorship Talk, September 2019 (London, UK).

Defending Neo-Darwinism: John Maynard Smith’s Responses to Creationism and Stephen Jay Gould. - British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference 2019, April 2019 (Cambridge, UK).

Hybrid and Born-Digital Archives. - Digital Humanities Workshop, March 2019 (London, UK).

Inclusive Fitness, Kin Selection and Priority Issues. - Interdisciplinary Workshop on Evolution and Ecology: "Bringing Science, History and Philosophy Together", March 2019 (Leeds, UK).

PhD Research at the British Library: Reflections and Suggestions. - British Library Doctoral Open Day, January 2019 (Boston Spa, UK).

Science and Religion: The Difference According to John Maynard Smith, with Some Help from Karl Popper. - University of Leeds HPS Work-in-Progress Seminar, November 2018 (Leeds, UK).

John Maynard Smith in Conflict and Collaboration: Intellectual Property, Priority Claims, and the Genesis of Scientific Ideas. - European Society for the History of Science Conference 2018, September 2018 (London, UK).

Bringing Science Home - Evolutionary Biologist John Maynard Smith as a Broadcaster. - British Society for the History of Science Postgraduate Conference 2018, April 2018 (Manchester, UK).

Bringing the Science of Evolution and its Implications Home: John Maynard Smith as a Broadcaster. - University of Leeds HPS Work-in-Progress Seminar, October 2017 (Leeds, UK).

Genetics in Popular Science: How John Maynard Smith Presents a Unified, Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution 100 Years After Darwin. - British Society for the History of Science Annual Conference 2017, July 2017 (York, UK).

The Archive of Evolutionary Biologist John Maynard Smith. - Researching Born-Digital Archives Workshop, March 2017 (London, UK).

"Johann Sebastian Superstar" - How Media Create and Consolidate the Image of the Musical Genius. Part of Recreating Musical Cultures of the Past for the 21st Century (group presentation). - 'Bending Baroque' Symposium, June 2015 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). [see also the accompanying exposition in the Research Catalogue]

Knowledge Transmission: Context, Techniques and Control – An Examination of Joachim Heinrich Campe’s ‘Entdeckung von Amerika’ as a Philanthropinist Book for Young Readers. - Student Research Conference 2014, November 2014 (Delft, The Netherlands).

Organisation

Interdisciplinary Workshop on Evolution and Ecology. Bringing Science, History and Philosophy Together. A two-day workshop at the University of Leeds. 7-8 March 2019. Co-organised with Arthur G. Carlyle (PRHS), Leonardo Miele and Robert West (both School of Mathematics). Funded by OD&PL (Organisational Development and Professional Learning) Leeds and the School of Mathematics as well as the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science, University of Leeds.

The Opportunities and Challenges of Studying the Twentieth-Century History of Science, Technology and Medicine. A one-day workshop at Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives in Wick, Scotland. 5 October 2018. Co-organised with Emmeline Ledgerwood (University of Leicester, The British Library) and Linda Ross (University of the Highlands and Islands, Historic Environment Scotland). Funded by the AHRC CDP Consortium, the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, the British Society for the History of Science and the University of Leicester. [see here for Emme's report, or here for mine]

Public Engagement

Blogs & Podcasts

"Dear John": The 'Kin Selection' Controversy. Live recording of my performance at the British Library on 15 March 2019.

“Dear John”: Collaborating with the British Library on a Research-Based Performance. WRoCAH blog, 2 April 2019.

The Flight of the Hoverfly. Science Blog, The British Library, 15 March 2019. 

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 2: From Idea to Event. Untold Lives Blog, The British Library, 8 March 2019.

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 1: What’s It All About? Untold Lives Blog, The British Library, 7 March 2019.

"Evolutionist Maynard Smith on Science and Religion". Podcast based on the "Feed the Mind" talk from November 2018.

Senior Statesman of British Biology: John Maynard Smith. Untold Lives Blog, The British Library, 8 May 2018.

'Most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin': William D. Hamilton. Untold Lives Blog, The British Library, 30 April 2018.

Calculating Kindness: George Price. Untold Lives Blog, The British Library, 23 April 2018.

Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? Science Blog, The British Library, 13 March 2018.

Local Heroes: John Maynard Smith (1920-2004): A good "puzzle-solver" with an "accidental career". Science Blog, The British Library, 15 March 2017.

Events & Talks

"Dear John": The 'Kin Selection' Controversy. Re-staging of the May 2018 performance. The British Library, 15 March 2019.

"Evolutionist Maynard Smith on Science and Religion". Part of the "Feed the Mind" series. The British Library, 12 November 2018.

"Dear John": The 'Kin Selection' Controversy. Sold-out performance in collaboration with Undercurrent Theatre. The British Library, 11 May 2018.

Astbury Camera, or 'From Dark Satanic Mills to DNA' - with Dr Kersten Hall. Lecture 11 in the "History and Philosophy of Science in 20 Objects" Lecture Series. University of Leeds, 24 January 2017.

 

Teaching

2017-2018, Semester 1: tutoring and marking on the Level 1 module 'Darwin, Germs and the Bomb'

2017-2018, Semester 2: tutoring and marking on the Level 1 module 'Magic, Science and Religion'

Awards, Scholarships & Grants

University of Leeds OD&PL funding as well as funding from the School of Mathematics and the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science (PRHS) to organise a workshop on "Interdisciplinary perspectives on ecology and evolution", together with Arthur G. Carlyle (PRHS), Leonardo Miele and Robert West (both School of Mathematics), 2018

AHRC CDP Student Led Activities Fund, WRoCAH Student Led Event funding, financial sponsorship from the BSHS and funding from the University of Leicester's School of History, Politics and International Relations to organise a workshop on studying the 20th-century history of science, technology and medicine, together with Emmeline Ledgerwood (University of Leicester, British Library) and Linda Ross (University of the Highlands and Islands, Historic Environment Scotland), 2018

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, 2016-2019

Undergraduate Awards, Highly Commended Entry in the category "Gender Studies & Anthropology" (for Cultural Domains Interrelated - A Re-Examination of the Relationship between Religion and Technology), 2014

Maastricht University, Jesuit Collection Thesis Award (for Cornelius de Pauw and the Degenerate Americas; see also the press coverage in the Observant [in Dutch]), 2013

 

Qualifications

  • MSc (research) in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (Cum Laude), Maastricht University (2016)
  • BA in Arts and Culture, Maastricht University (2014)

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for History and Philosophy of Science
  • History and Philosophy of Science