Associate Professor of History and Science in Society, Wesleyan University

The varied visual world of photography and its effect on the fields of science, law, forensic medicine and the environment throughout history comprises the work of visual historian Jennifer Tucker.

As an historian of 19th- and early 20th-century British society, Tucker’s research interests have ranged from the role of photography in scientific discovery and exploration to photos as tools of law for evidence (mugshots, crime scenes and surveillance) and how cameras in the courtroom have transformed the system. Recently, her work has included a project — “Science Against Industry: Photographic Technologies and the Visual Politics of Pollution Reform” — that traces the historical roots of the use of visual evidence in environmental science and pollution reform, and explores the visual representation in chemical climatology and the presentation of visual exhibits in Victorian courtroom debates over air and river pollution. She is also working on a new book-length study about the history of facial recognition photography, “Caught on Camera."

Tucker’s first book Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science explored the debates about photography and visual objectivity in Victorian science and popular culture from astronomy and meteorology to bacteriology and spiritualism. As a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the UK she completed the research on her second book-length project "Facing Facts: Photography, Popular Culture, and Facial Recognition Identity in Victorian Law." This study of the length court case about identity and imposture uses hundreds of photographs, engravings, and other visual materials associated with the high-profile trial to show the impact of the then-new 19th-century media on the case and trial and how they contributed to the trial becoming a dominant subject of Victorian visual culture. Her latest project is about chemical waste and photography in late Victorian society.

A frequent contributor to newspapers, journals, essay compilations and Connecticut Public Radio, and BBC Radio 3 , Tucker is a recognized expert in photography and law, technologies of vision in Victorian art and science, 19th-century environmental history, and guns in American culture. Some of her writings have been for major newspapers, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and The Boston Globe. They include Facial Recognition Technology Goes Way Back; “The Mars Curiosity Rover and the Long Search for ET”, “What Our Most Famous Evolutionary Cartoon Gets Wrong," the wax figure of Pres. Donald Trump at Mme Tussaud's Museum,and the problems of naturalizing "gunslinger" history in today's national Second Amendment debate. Recently she discussed science and art of lightning images in the New York Times and published a piece in History News Network about the Queen's recent visit to the center of England's heavy chemical industry, a region that has a fascinating and challenging past.

Other scholarly writings include:

“The Historian, the Picture, and the Archive”;
“Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air: Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of "Balloonacy “;
“Objectivity, Collective Sight, and Scientific Personae”;
"Eye on the Street: Photography in Urban Public Spaces";
“The Hidden World of Science”: Nature as Art in 1930’s American Print Advertising".

Recent chapter contributions to book projects include: “Visual and Material Culture” in New Directions in Social and Cultural History (2018); “Famished for News Pictures: Mason Jackson, The Illustrated London News, and the Pictorial Spirit,” in Getting the Picture: The History & Visual Culture of the News; and "Moving Pictures: Photographs on Trial in the Sir Roger Tichborne Affair" in Documenting the World. Others are available at WesScholar.

Co-editor of the 2017 Radical History Review issue on “Political Histories of Technoscience,” Tucker served as editor of a special theme issue of History and Theory on “Photography and Historical Interpretation.” She also serves as Image Editor at the journal History and Technology, as co-editor of the "Photography/History;History/Photography" book series published by Bloomsbury Academic Press. Her roundtable discussion with curators of firearms collections in the UK and US recently appeared in Technology and Culture (July 2018) and is available in open access here. In Spring 2019 her edited book "Contested Histories of the Second Amendment" will be published with Smithsonian Institution Academic Press.

Jennfier Tucker has been a visiting professor at California Institute of Technology and has also been a visiting research scholar at the University of York, at the Australian National University, and at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her research has been funded by a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Social Science Research Councel, and the National Science Foundation, among others.

Jennifer Tucker received her BA with Honors in Human Biology (Neuropsychology of Vision, Perception, and Memory) from Stanford University; MPhil in the Dept. of the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge (Marshall Scholarship); and Ph.D. in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology from Johns Hopkins University. She is an associate professor of history at Wesleyan, associate professor of science in society, associate professor of the college of environment, and associate professor of the feminist, gender, and sexuality studies program (Chair, 2017-19).

Experience

  • –present
    Associate Professor of History and Science in Society, Wesleyan University

Education

  • 1997 
    Johns Hopkins University, PhD/History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Honours

National Endowment of Humanities Public Scholar 2016; Fulbright Scholar; British Marshall Scholar;