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History Faculty Awarded NIST Grants for Projects on Global History of Standards

September 19, 2014

With recent funding from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (the federal agency founded over a century ago as the National Bureau of Standards), four Drexel historians—Scott Knowles, PhD, Sharon Ku, PhD, Tiago Saraiva, PhD, and Amy Slaton, PhD—have begun a set of new teaching and research projects centered on the global history of standards: the practices and protocols that hover behind nearly every aspect of our modern lives. Industrial and scientific standards have shaped the human-made world for generations, regularizing medicines, building codes and computing; dictating commodity prices and manufacturing tolerances; and specifying food safety and environmental health requirements. Whether determining the shape of a “reliable” steel beam, the size of a “nano” gold particle, the fat content of “whole” milk, or the weight of a “healthy” baby, standards reflect cultural values and shape people’s lives.

Professors Knowles, Ku, Saraiva and Slaton have all published historical studies of standards, and their NIST grant will support a two-week, pilot summer institute titled “Standards and Society: A Critical Curricular Platform,” in July 2015. The first such program in the nation, the institute will introduce graduate students from Drexel and other universities, working in both the humanities and sciences, to the complex social character of standards. New courses for Drexel students on historical, political and legal features of standards; related co-op and research/travel opportunities; and other projects will follow starting in the fall of 2015.

For further information on NIST’s educational initiatives or on Drexel’s new historical programming on standards in society, please contact Professor Amy Slaton, Department of History and Politics (slatonae@drexel.edu).