The Lemelson Center advances scholarship about the history of invention and innovation through workshops, fellowships, research opportunities, documentation activities, and publications.
Videogame Pioneers Archive
An initiative to preserve the legacy of video game pioneers through extensive oral histories and preservation of original documents and other materials, the Videogame Pioneers Archive is integral to the Lemelson Center’s work to understand invention as a process, the making of inventors and innovators, and the role of risk-taking in inventive work. In 2018, new oral histories were conducted with each of the original coders of Spacewar! and new research was conducted in the history of this now global industry.
New Perspectives Workshop: Video Games and Interactivity
Over the last fifty years, video games have grown into a major entertainment industry with significant cultural impact. In November, the Lemelson Center partnered with our Museum colleagues to co-host a two-day workshop on video games and interactivity. The workshop brought together fifteen leading historians, archivists, and Museum professionals to discuss the latest videogame scholarship and the best ways to present those ideas to our visitors. The workshop was held in conjunction with the Spacewar! Innovative Lives program, and will inform future video game exhibitions, public programming, and ongoing documentation efforts such as the Videogame Pioneers Archive.
Venture Capital Initiative
In 2016, the Center received generous seed funding from three pioneering venture capitalists—William Draper III, Thomas Baruch, and the late William Bowes—to launch a research, documentation, and programming initiative exploring the history and contemporary impact of venture capital in the American innovation ecosystem. In 2018, the Center advanced the initiative along several fronts. Together with Stanford University, the Center completed the acquisition and processing of archival materials from the 2011 documentary film, Something Ventured. Researchers may now access more than 50 hours of raw video footage from the film, as well as transcripts of the 23 interviews with pioneering venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs they financed. The Center also conducted a new oral history interview with venture capitalist Tom Baruch and several shorter interviews with mid-career VCs at the Emerging Manager Venture Summit in San Francisco. The Center will continue to expand its work in this area through additional oral history interviews and new projects exploring the connections between inventions and markets.
The Lemelson Center supports the work of scholars by offering residential fellowships, travel-to-collections grants, and an annual archival internship. We also host and advise visiting scholars who have other financial support.
The Arthur Molella Distinguished Fellowship is endowed by the Lemelson Foundation to honor the Lemelson Center’s founding director emeritus, Dr. Arthur P. Molella, and his scholarly contributions in the history of American invention and innovation.
- The 2017–2018 Molella Distinguished Fellow was Stephen Mihm, PhD, associate professor of history at the University of Georgia. He conducted research in support of his forthcoming book, The Search for Standards: Modernity, Markets, and the Order of Things.
- The 2018–2019 Molella Distinguished Fellow is Patrick McCray, PhD, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research project, “Artists as Inventors, Inventors as Artists,” will contribute to a forthcoming book, Art Rewired: Engineering a New Creative Culture.
In 2018, we also welcomed the following Lemelson Center fellows in residence:
- Spring Greeney, PhD candidate, History, University of Wisconsin-Madison. “What Clean Smells Like: An Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1845–1992”
- Sofiya Ryabchuk, Fulbright International fellow and educator, National Art Museum of Ukraine. “Museum Education: Best Practices for Engaging Kids and Teens”
- Vaibhav Singh, PhD, research fellow, Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading. “The Eighth Wonder: American Typographic Innovation in the Making of India’s Newspaper Revolution”
- Tom Tafolla, JD, professor, Engineering Management, International Technological University. “170 Years of American Latino Invention and Innovation: The American Latino Patent History Project”
- Gili Vidan, PhD candidate, History of Science, Harvard University. “Technologies of Trust: The Pursuit of Decentralized Authentication and Algorithmic Governance in the United States, 1967–1980”
- Adelheid “Heidi” Voskuhl, PhD, associate professor, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. “Innovation as Institution: Machine Ages, Theories of Government, and the ‘Consequences’ of Technology in Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras (c. 1890 to 2000)”
- Nicole Welk-Joerger, PhD candidate, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. “Feeding Others to Feed Ourselves: Animal Nutrition and the Politics of Health since 1900”
Travel to Collections Awards provide funds that help researchers access the Museum’s extensive holdings in the history of invention and innovation. In 2018, we hosted the following awardees:
- Simon Bronner, Penn State University. "Technology and Material Culture of Strength Athletics"
- Mark Dallas, Union College. "Semiconductors, Business Organization & Technological Innovation in a Fragmented World"
- Cara Kiernan Fallon, Harvard University. "Extending the End: A Cultural History of Aging in the United States Since 1870"
- Sarah Overbaugh Hallenbeck, University of North Carolina, Wilmington. "Gender and American Rhetorics of Innovation"
- Sarah Scripps, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. "Science Fairs Before Sputnik"
The annual Lemelson Center Summer Archival Internship offers an opportunity for a graduate student archivist to work on invention-related collections held in the NMAH Archives Center. The 2018 Summer archival Intern was Caitlin Sanders of Simmons College, who helped process the Fuller Brush Company Records.
During 2018, the Lemelson Center continued its robust publications program, including blogs, peer-reviewed articles, book reviews, and new additions to the Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation book series with MIT Press.
Lemelson Center book series
Books in the interdisciplinary Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation book series, published in cooperation with MIT Press, explore and share the history of invention and innovation to a wide general interest audience. Three new books in the series are in press, with publication scheduled for 2019 and 2020.
- Does America Need More Innovators? (2019) edited by Matthew Wisnioski, Eric S. Hintz, and Marie Stettler Kleine, unpacks what motivates contemporary efforts to train innovators, why there is an emerging critique of this imperative, and what work is being done to reconcile these views.
- Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention (2019) by Kathyrn D. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, explores a vital but overlooked chapter in the Hubble Space Telescope’s story—the period from 1984 to 1990 during which she was part of the team who turned general notions of onorbit maintenance into the concrete stuff of tools, training materials, and procedures.
- Beyond Bakelite: Leo Baekeland and the Business of Science and Invention (2020) by Joris Mercelis explores the career of Belgian-American chemical innovator Leo Baekeland, casting new light on the connections and interdependencies between science and industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and focusing on the themes of intellectual property and scientific entrepreneurship.
- Joyce Bedi. “Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science and Natural History in the Twentieth Century by Karen A. Rader and Victoria E. M. Cain (review).” Technology and Culture 59, no. 1 (January 2018): 168–169.
- Eric S. Hintz. “Susan Kare: Design Icon.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 40, no. 2 (April–June 2018): 48–61.
- Monica M. Smith. “Spencer, Percy LeBaron (9 July 1894–7 September 1970), Inventor.” American National Biography. Published April 26, 2018.