Fluid Movements: Interpreting the Past, Present, and Future of Water

Joseph Priestley Society
Thursday, January 21, 2021
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. EST (UTC -5)

This month’s virtual JPS talk features Jesse Smith, research curator at the Science History Institute, and Jahnavi Phalkey, founding director of India’s Science Gallery Bengaluru.


Map of watersheds in Massachusetts

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Metropolitan Water District/Wachusett, Sudbury and Cochituate Watersheds from The Science of Common Things; A Textbook of General Science, 1922.

Science History Institute

Museums and galleries are increasingly concerned with the historical and contemporary challenges of providing access to clean water. A growing number of historical institutions, science centers, and interdisciplinary spaces are exploring the scientific, political, economic, and environmental dimensions of water and—perhaps most critical—longstanding inequitable access to clean water around the world.

In this talk, two museum and gallery curators will share their experiences interpreting water for public audiences. The Science History Institute’s Jesse Smith will provide an overview of our museum’s upcoming exhibition, Downstream, which will explore the history of water quality analysis and the various scales of water protection that have emerged in the United States over the past 200 years. Jahnavi Phalkey, the founding director of the Science Gallery Bengaluru, will share her experiences developing Submerge, a series of gallery events and programs that ask how interdisciplinary teams of scientists, artists, humanities scholars, and others can generate and share knowledge of water to address urgent contemporary challenges and identify new futures.

Trained as historians of science, Phalkey and Smith will also explore the challenges, limitations, and opportunities of more ontological approaches to the interpretation of water for public audiences. Is it possible, they ask, for museums and galleries to interpret water not as a singular material that preexists its understanding by scientific or indigenous knowledge, but rather as a multiplicity made by and bound up in systems of bodies, practice, power, and places? And why should that matter?

This event is coproduced by the American Chemical Society as part of its ACS Webinars series.

About the Speakers

Jahnavi Phalkey is the founding director of Science Gallery Bengaluru. She was also an external curator to the Science Museum London and has been a scholar-in-residence at the Deutsches Museum, Munich. She is the author of Atomic State: Big Science in Twentieth Century India, has co-edited Science of Giants: China and India in the Twentieth Century, and is the producer/director of the documentary film Cyclotron. Phalkey holds a doctoral degree in history of science and technology from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Jesse Smith is a research curator at the Science History Institute, where he contributes to public-facing and scholarly projects in the history of science. He is also associate editor of the journal History and Technology. Smith earned his PhD in the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania.

About the Series

The Joseph Priestley Society (JPS) promotes a deeper understanding of science, technology, and industry, with an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Speakers are leaders from a wide variety of large and small chemical companies and the financial, consulting, and academic communities.

For more information about this event, please contact jps@sciencehistory.org.