Evan Hepler-Smith is Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. Evan is a historian of modern science and technology, specializing in the global history of chemistry, computing and information technology, and environmental health.
Evan's book in progress, Compound Words: Chemists, Information, and the Synthetic World, is a transnational history of ideas, infrastructures, and politics behind the molecule-by-molecule conception of what chemicals are, the foundation of present-day chemical innovation, manufacturing, and regulation. The ontology of chemicals-as-molecules arose not just from timeless properties of material substances, but also the contingent structure of information technologies. This way of determining what counts as a chemical (a patentable drug, an environmental hazard) was developed by European chemists in the late nineteenth century, and subsequently adopted and adapted around the world, to mobilize chemical information for the benefit of ideologies, nations, and corporations. Born of capitalist imperatives, organized in print, and entrenched within computer databases, molecules became a taken-for-granted foundation of twentieth-century science, technology, and biomedicine.
Evan is concurrently pursuing two new projects. "Remapping Chemicals" traces life cycles of chemical substances through modes of production, cultures of use, geographies of toxic exposure, and politics of environmental justice. Through comparative histories of such substances as cinchona, indigo, DDT, and per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), this project aims to shed light on chemical hazards in terms of infrastructures of manufacturing, consumption, information, mobility, and labor. It also aims to draw attention to alternatives (past and present) to these persistent games of "chemical whack-a-mole."
Evan's other new project, "How Molecules Became Digital (And Everything Became Molecules)" explores how the rise of scientific computing has been intertwined with a shift toward molecular approaches across a wide swath of science, technology, medicine, and governance--from predictive toxicology to expert systems AI to social network analysis. By bringing chemical databases from the “back end” into the foreground, this project will show how molecularization and computerization reinforced each other and shaped science and society since the mid-twentieth century.
For more information, please see https://evanheplersmith.com
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past. By Timothy J. LeCain.” Environmental History. Oxford University Press (OUP), July 1, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emz014. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “Anthony Chaney. Runaway: Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness. 304 pp., figs., notes, bibl., index. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. $32.95 (cloth). ISBN 9781469631738.” Isis. University of Chicago Press, March 2019. https://doi.org/10.1086/702517. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “Jutta Schickore, About Method: Experimenters, Snake Venom, and the History of Writing Scientifically (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 316 pp., $50.00 Cloth, ISBN: 9780226449982.” Journal of the History of Biology. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, September 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-018-9523-1. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, E. “Molecular bureaucracy: Toxicological information and environmental protection.” Environmental History 24, no. 3 (July 1, 2019): 534–60. https://doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emy134. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, Evan, and Leah McEwen. “A Century of Nomenclature for Chemists and Machines.” Chemistry International 41, no. 3 (July 1, 2019): 46–49. https://doi.org/10.1515/ci-2019-0315. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, E. “''A way of thinking backwards'': Computing and method in synthetic organic chemistry.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48, no. 3 (June 1, 2018): 300–337. https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2018.48.3.300. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “Paper Chemistry: François Dagognet and the Chemical Graph.” Ambix 65, no. 1 (February 2018): 76–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/00026980.2017.1418232. Full Text
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “"Just as the Structural Formula Does": Names, Diagrams, and the Structure of Organic Chemistry at the 1892 Geneva Nomenclature Congress.” Ambix 62, no. 1 (February 2015): 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1179/1745823414y.0000000006. Full Text
McEwen, Leah, and Evan Hepler-Smith. “Stewarding chemical research through standards development: A chemistry librarian's feast.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 256. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2018.
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “Paper tools, paper things and a third-order science of organization.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 252. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2016.
Kim, Sunghwan, Evan Hepler-Smith, Leah McEwen, and Alex Clark. “Talking about cheminformatics to undergraduate chemistry majors.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 251. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2016.
McEwen, Leah, and Evan Hepler-Smith. “Chemical literacy for the ages: Essential skills in 2D chemical representation.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 250. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2015.
Hepler-Smith, Evan. “Rules, formulas, names: The lexical legacy of the 1892 Geneva Nomenclature Congress.” In Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 249. AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2015.