In May 2001, Hammonds, who says she “became a public intellectual by accident,” delivered the George McGovern Lecture in the History of Medicine in Harvard’s Boylston Hall.
Hammonds and her work attracted the attention of Gates and Allan M. Brandt, chair of the history of science department and Kass professor of the history of medicine.
Brandt says he and Gates began to discuss plans for a joint appointment to put Harvard in “a real leadership position” in the combined study of race and the history of science, he says.
The appointment committee quickly identified Hammonds as “the person we really wanted,” says Brandt. Hammonds says she felt the Harvard position was “perfect” for her and her work.
Presently, Hammonds is working on a book about history, science and race in the United States. Though she is not teaching this semester, she says that she would like to offer a Core course on race and the history of science.
Building on a Handful
Hammonds’ tenure fits into a larger commitment to tenuring underrepresented minorities to the Faculty. As of last spring, the Faculty comprised 637 active members, 442 of whom were tenured. Until Hammonds’ appointment, only two of these active, tenured professors were black women.
“We need more people of color and more women in the Faculty and in the University in general,” says Gates, who says that there is a positive commitment to diversity within the University.
“Diversity with excellence is a win-win situation,” Gates adds. “Nothing combats racism or sexism more dramatically than an intimate intellectual encounter with a person of color or a woman in the classroom.”
Hammonds, who chaired a 1994 conference at MIT on black women in the academy, says she believes the mere presence of successful minority faculty inspires minority students.
“It became clear to me that I would be doing this work [of encouragement] just by doing my own work,” she says. “It reinforced my own sense that I could make a difference.”
Guatemalan-born Glenda Carpio, another of the new additions to the Afro-American studies department, says she sees her position as an underrepresented minority as a responsibility.
“I hope to be a model and source of support for minority students and a challenge to white students,” she says.