Professor Steven Shapin gives his first lecture as ST Lee Visiting Fellow on ‘Changing Tastes’

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Image of Professor Steven Shapin courtesy of Globe Newspaper Company / Jonathan Wiggs 2008Professor Steven Shapin, Franklin L Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, last night gave the first in a series of public lectures as the ST Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

In his lecture, entitled ‘Changing Tastes: How Foods Tasted in the Early Modern Period and How They Taste Now’, Professor Shapin explored the transformations over time that have affected how we talk about and experience taste, from the medically inflected vocabularies of Antiquity to the scientifically-influenced analytic descriptions of the period from the early nineteenth century to the present. The event was followed by a tutored wine tasting led by the Director of the Institute of Philosophy, Professor Barry Smith.

The lecture attracted a large and varied audience drawn from universities, museums, libraries, and the medical and legal professions throughout the UK and internationally. Most notable were the diverse disciplinary backgrounds represented from organisations that included the universities of Brunel, Chicago, Harvard, Imperial, Kent, Liverpool, London, Open, McMaster, York,  the V&A and Science museums, the University Hospital of Berlin and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and the libraries of Lambeth Palace and the Wellcome Collection.

Professor Shapin said: “It was a pleasure to be able to speak about this subject with such a varied audience, to get their extremely interesting reactions, and, especially, to learn even more about taste in Barry Smith's tutored wine tasting afterwards. Theory and practice are not so often brought into contact."

Professor Barry Smith said: "Steven Shapin's talk on the history of taste was a tour de force, charting our assumptions about taste through the ages and the way these have shaped our attitudes to food, health and diet."

The ‘Changing Tastes’ lecture was recorded and will be available shortly from the School's video and podcast webpages.

Professor Shapin is based at the School for six weeks in May and June 2012 as the holder of the prestigious invitation-only ST Lee Visiting Professorial Fellowship. His first lecture will be followed by a series of public lectures during his time in the UK – at the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, and Edinburgh – covering a range of topics including the tastes of wine, the sciences of subjectivity, and the history of dietetics. His next lecture, on ‘The Tastes of Wine: Towards a Cultural History’, will take place at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASH), University of Cambridge, on 29 May.

For further information about the lecture series, please visit the ST Lee Visiting Professorial webpage or contact the School at or +44 (0)20 7862 8653.

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Notes for editors:

For further information please contact Dee Burn at the School of Advanced Study, University of London at / 020 7862 8670 / 07900 401 240. Images available on request.

  1. The School of Advanced Study at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities and social sciences. The School brings together ten prestigious research institutes to offer academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Germanic & Romance Studies, Historical Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, Study of the Americas, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights.
  1. The ST Lee Professorial Fellowship has been made possible by a generous endowment by Dr ST Lee, of Singapore to the School of Advanced Study, University of London for the purpose of supporting research in London in any field relevant to the work of one or more of the School's ten research institutes and the Human Rights Consortium. The ST Lee Professorial Fellowship is awarded to eminent and distinguished scholars in the arts, humanities and social sciences who promote research in these areas through the global standing they enjoy in their own field of inquiry and through their active engagement with the wider public. ST Lee Fellows are invited to spend a period of between four and six weeks at the School of Advanced Study and during their stay to give a series of high profile lectures in London and elsewhere in the UK. These events provide an important opportunity to demonstrate the reach and significance of the arts, humanities and social sciences to the wider culture and to society at large.
  2. Steven Shapin is Franklin L Ford Professor of the History of Science, joining Harvard in 2004 after previous appointments as Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and at the Science Studies Unit, Edinburgh University. His books include Leviathan and the Air- Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985 [new ed. 2011]; with Simon Schaffer), A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994), The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996; now translated into 16 languages), Wetenschap is cultuur (Science is Culture) (Amsterdam: Balans, 2005; with Simon Schaffer), The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (University of Chicago Press, 2008), Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), and several edited books. He has published widely in the historical sociology of scientific knowledge, and his current research interests include historical and contemporary studies of dietetics, the changing languages and practices of taste, the nature of entrepreneurial science, and modern relations between academia and industry. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and has written for The New Yorker. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his awards include the J. D. Bernal Prize of the Society for Social Studies of Science (for career contributions to the field), the Ludwik Fleck Prize of 4S and the Robert K Merton Prize of the American Sociological Association (for A Social History of Truth), the Herbert Dingle Prize of the British Society for the History of Science (for The Scientific Revolution), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. With Simon Schaffer, he was the 2005 winner of the Erasmus Prize, conferred by HRH the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, for contributions to European culture, society, or social science.