A scholar who has brought her personal experience as a black woman in science to bear on her academic pursuits has become the fourth black woman tenured within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).
Evelynn Hammonds received a joint appointment to the Afro-American studies and history of science departments in May. She says her appointment makes Harvard one of a few universities that pursues this combined study.
Hammonds’ tenure also points to larger trends within FAS and the University as a whole.
She is only the fourth black women tenured within FAS, after Eileen J. Southern, Evelyn B. Higginbotham and Caroline M. Hoxby ’88.
Additionally, hers is the third recent appointment in Afro-American studies in a year that saw the widely-publicized departures of K. Anthony Appiah and Cornel R. West ’74.
Through Hammonds’ appointment, Harvard is attempting to broaden its intellectual reach, increase the diversity of the Faculty and rebuild the Afro-American studies department, says Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of Afro-American studies and DuBois professor of the humanities.
On the Crossroads of Race and Science
Hammonds says her interest in the intersection between race and science came from her experience as a black woman pursuing advanced scientific studies.
In 1976, after obtaining dual undergraduate degrees from Spelman College in physics and from the Georgia Institute of Technology in electrical engineering, Hammonds went to MIT to obtain a masters degree in physics. She earned that degree in 1980 and spent five years in the computer software industry.
During this time, she says, she realized that there were “only four or five African American students studying physics [at the graduate level] in the country.” This realization sparked Hammonds’ interest in understanding the dearth of blacks in the scientific community.
In 1985, she entered the doctoral program at Harvard’s history of science department, completing her degree in 1993. She then returned to MIT as an associate professor of the history of science, where she remained until being granted tenure at Harvard.
As she began the combined study of race and the history of science, Hammonds discovered a considerable demand for and interest in her work, since it was “of great interest for public policy makers.”
She notes despite the “inordinate influence [of science, technology and medicine] on the African American experience,” few other scholars are looking into these issues.
“Evelynn is the leading scholar in the world on the subject of race, gender and science,” Gates says. “[Her appointment] is a real coup both for Harvard and the Department of Afro-American Studies.”