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"Roberta L. Millstein" <[log in to unmask]>
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Roberta L. Millstein
Sun, 1 May 2011 14:36:28 -0700
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Citation for the David L. Hull Prize
To be Awarded at the 2011 Biennial Meeting of the
International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

We historians of science have a tendency, 
following the evidence, to blur or even to reject 
wonderful stories that have been handed down for 
decades or generations. I have found it necessary 
to understand the history of science that is so 
real to scientists themselves.
Will Provine, "No Free Will," Isis, 1999

At its meeting in 2011, the International Society 
for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of 
Biology will award the first David L. Hull Prize. 
This prize will be awarded biennially to honor 
the life and legacy of David L. Hull (1935-2010). 
It is to be awarded to an individual who has made 
extraordinary contributions to scholarship and 
service in ways that promote interdisciplinary 
connections between history, philosophy, social 
studies, and biology and that foster the careers 
of younger scholars.  These are strengths that 
reflect the contributions of David Hull to our 
professions and to our society.

The inaugural recipient of the David L. Hull 
prize is William B. Provine, who is currently the 
Andrew H. and James L. Tisch Distinguished 
University Professor at Cornell University. It is 
entirely fitting that the we honor David Hull by 
recognizing Will Provine, whose teaching, 
mentoring, research, and engagement have won 
admiration and respect among biologists, 
historians, philosophers and social scientists 
who study biology. His teaching commitments at 
the undergraduate level include "Biology and 
Society," a formal undergraduate major he helped 
to institute that has inspired other similar 
programs around the world. His mentoring of 
students has been accorded exceptional praise by 
many of his former students, some of whom are 
well known in the wider world.  These qualities 
and accomplishments were honored by Cornell 
University when they bestowed on him the 
prestigious Clark Teaching Award in 1989.

Provine's early work on the history-and 
sociology-of population genetics helped to create 
the historiography for that discipline, 
especially with regard to its contributions to 
the "modern synthesis." Provine's approach to the 
writing of history through close relationships 
with living subjects is especially striking. Once 
he abandoned classical Greek science, his formal 
area of study, he furthered his own training by 
interacting with biological scientists, treating 
them both as mentors and as subjects for 
analytical study. Studying closely with Richard 
Lewontin, then at the University of Chicago, 
Provine drew on his strong mathematical 
background to sharpen our historical 
understanding of the origins of theoretical 
population genetics with a doctoral dissertation 
that became his 1971 book, The Origins of 
Theoretical Population Genetics. Provine's 
monumental introduction to the republication of 
the 43 papers on the "Genetics of Natural 
Populations" written by Theodosius Dobzhansky and 
colleagues between 1935 and 1976, (edited jointly 
with Lewontin, John Moore, and Bruce Wallace), 
examines the Dobzhansky's empirical work in 
population genetics and his collaboration with 
Sewall Wright.  (Five of the first fifteen papers 
of that series were co-authored by Wright.) 
Provine's introduction remains indispensable 
reading for anyone seeking to understand 
Dobzhansky's work on Drosophila and the internal 
dynamic of the "fly-room" during a critical 
formative period of the new field of evolutionary 
genetics, but it also highlights the role played 
by Wright. Another of Provine's projects 
(published in Studies in the History of Biology) 
focused on Frances Sumner; introduced scholars 
not only to an important biologist, but also to 
the importance of the deer mouse, Peromyscus, and 
to the combination of laboratory and field 
studies that played an integral role in the "new 

Provine's most celebrated relationship was 
perhaps with the late Ernst Mayr, with whom he 
sparred publicly as well as behind the scenes 
over a number of critical interpretive points 
that now undergird our understanding of the 
history of evolutionary biology. Their co-edited 
collection The Evolutionary Synthesis: 
Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, 
stemming from a 1974 conference, remains the 
entry point for all scholars interested in 
exploring the subject, even though it was 
published over 30 years ago. But the crowning 
achievement of Provine's novel methodology, flair 
for personality, and commitment to deep research 
and exactitude in scientific explication was his 
monumental 1986 book, Sewall Wright and 
Evolutionary Biology.  This book reset the 
standard in the genre known of "scientific 
biography." The book has earned high praise from 
biologists, historians of biology, and 
philosophers of biology.  As one example, in a 
1989 review, Stephen Jay Gould - no fan of the 
"evolutionary synthesis" or the reductionist 
tendencies of microevolution - called it "the 
finest intellectual biography available for any 
twentieth century evolutionist."  "In its wealth 
of detail and richness of insight," Gould wrote, 
"it has established a standard for historical 
work in this field."

Provine entered another arena, the exploration of 
"biology as ideology," with two foundational 
articles that appeared in Science (1973) and 
American Zoologist (1986) demonstrating how race 
figured prominently in geneticists' and 
biologists' thinking in a critical early period 
of twentieth century biology,.  Both articles are 
extensively cited by historians, sociologists, 
anthropologists and other scholars of the social 
study of the biological sciences to this day.

Other close relationships with scientists 
included L. C. Dunn, Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, 
Tom Jukes, Jim Crow and especially Arthur J. 
Cain, with whom he published a number of papers. 
The trust that developed in these relationships 
led to their support of the historical and 
philosophical study of biology and led many of 
them to leave behind their own papers, libraries 
or substantive interviews that have subsequently 
enriched the work of other scholars. 

Will Provine has an unflagging interest in 
getting others to appreciate the substance or the 
sciences he studies.  He will talk to anyone 
about science-in the classroom, at the seminar 
table, but also in more unlikely places-for 
example in debates in front of sometimes 
unfriendly public audiences.  He participates in 
such interchanges with unflagging respect and 
good humor. Thus, his numerous debates with 
creationists and anti-evolutionists, beginning 
with Philip Johnson in the early 1990s, 
established Provine's leading position in this 
enduring contest and culminated with his 
appearance in Ben Stein's notorious Expelled. But 
even before then, Provine's engagement with 
dissenting opinions had become a hallmark of his 
personal style, which combines an unusual mixture 
of respect, curiosity, contrarianism and 
tolerance with respect to different views and 

Provine's service to the community is therefore 
extensive, and far from traditional. Not one for 
formal offices or organizations, he has instead 
been a facilitator for people and has been 
especially encouraging to junior scholars. Early 
on he began to undertake oral history interviews 
with major figures reluctant to accept such 
attention, like Barbara McClintock before she got 
the Nobel Prize, sharing the results freely with 
other scholars. His famous library of reprint 
collections-approximately four-hundred-thousand 
in all, garnered from the trusted friendships 
with scientists like Ernst Caspari, Norman Giles, 
Charles Uhl - and over 15,000 rare books, a 
number of which he obtained as a young man while 
he was a collector and bookseller of scientific 
works.  He has shared these collegially with an 
international community of scholars with great 
ease, following up with helpful conversation, 
and, more than occasionally, a gourmet meal. All 
this treasured material for intellectual history 
has been donated to the Cornell Rare Book and 
Manuscript collections along with a bequest from 
Provine, to ensure that they continue to enable 
scholarly study and draw together scholars from 
several distinct communities.

A pioneering body of impeccable scholarship that 
has stood the test of time, a generosity of 
spirit balanced with a healthy dose of 
contrarianism, a tireless advocacy of 
interdisciplinarity and of academic freedom, and 
a record of public service in defense of 
evolution and its teaching, all characterize Will 
Provine's life-work and serve as powerful 
reminders of the life and legacy of David Hull. 
The two were good friends working to enable 
interdisciplinary interactions and scholarship 
that are the mainstay of ISHPSSB.  It is thus 
especially fitting that Will Provine is the first 
recipient of the David L. Hull Prize.

David L. Hull Prize Committee:
Richard Burian (chair), Garland Allen, Lindley 
Darden, Michael Dietrich, Jean Gayon, James 
Griesemer, Michel Morange, Maria Jesús 
Santesmases, Betty Smocovitis.

Photo credit (see attached): Donald Dewsbury, University of Florida, 1989

*** End of announcement

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