Listserv for the International Society
for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

(see the end of this message for directions on how to subscribe and unsubscribe from this listserv)

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 systematics."

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 perspectives.
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

 Send an email message to:
       [log in to unmask]
 with the following in the body of the message:
        SUBSCRIBE ISHPSB-L Yourfirstname Yourlastname
 For example, if your name were Gregor Mendel:
        SUBSCRIBE ISHPSB-L Gregor Mendel

 Send an email message to:
       [log in to unmask]
 with the following in the body of the message:
Professor Roberta L. Millstein
Listserv Moderator, International Society for
History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

Listserv archives: <>
Snail mail:
Department of Philosophy
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616-8673

Email: <[log in to unmask]>
Web: <>