The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named Conevery Bolton Valencius, a Boston College history professor, as one of its fellows in January.
Valencius said the AAAS fellowship is an exciting honor because it reflects what her latest book and other writings are really about in a larger sense, which is promoting the excitement of research and science to a broader public.
The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, and its fellowship is “among the most distinct honors” in the scientific community, according to its website.
Valencius’ work is “pathbreaking” in the history of science, according to Prasannan Parthasarathi, chairperson of BC’s history department.
“Professor Valencius has done pathbreaking work in the history of science,” he wrote in an email to The Heights. It is gratifying to see that the leading association of scientific scholars in the country has recognized her seminal contributions.”
Beyond teaching at BC, Valencius has written two books—The Health of the Country and The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes. Both books explore the relationship between Western settlers and the environment they encountered after the Louisiana Purchase.
Valencius is currently writing another book, this time focused on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and its relation to earthquakes.
The research process for this book includes speaking with scientists to gain information about the technical aspects of the subject, and the fellowship, she said, has potential to facilitate this research.
“Some of the research for this project also has to do with calling up scientists and saying, ‘Hey can you explain this to me?’” she said. “Being a fellow of the AAAS will in some sense help me and my research because it gives me access to those conversations and gives me credibility in those conversations.”
Valencius hopes people will learn about modern energy problems through her current research. A society broadly educated about energy development would lead to better decisions about scientific progression and advancement, she said.
“I think the questions of contemporary energy development and its environmental costs and benefits are going to be central to every question in our society going forward,” she said. “I hope that the work I’m doing will help empower other people to be also engaged in critical thinking and decision making about our contemporary sciences.”
According to Valencius, this goal aligns with both BC’s mission and well-rounded focus on the sciences.
“At a Jesuit institution, I feel very powerfully the mission of Boston College [is that] scientific decisions need to be made not simply in an abstracted or theoretical sense, but with an embodied sense of humanity and humane respect for individuals and societies as well as for data tables,” she said.
Valencius is among five other fellows within the History and Philosophy of Science section of the fellowship. She said she was able to met these other fellows to discuss how they can advance the mission of the AAAS.
“We were talking about ways to reach out and build more visibility for the History and Philosophy of Science as a way to support and give more credence to robust and well-thought-out scientific endeavor,” Valencius said.
As a history professor first and foremost, Valencius said she deeply appreciates all of the scientists and experts who have aided her along the way.
“I feel a great sense of gratitude to all of the scientists who have given me their time to very patiently answer very elementary questions for a very long time,” she said.
Featured Image Courtesy of Ella Farrell Photography