Biography

Alex Csiszar is Associate Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University.

Csiszar graduated from Harvard University in 2010 with a Ph.D. in History of Science. Before that he received an M.A. in English from Stanford University and a B.Sc. in Honors Physics and Mathematics from the University of British Columbia. In Spring 2012, he was resident at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and in 2013-14, he was a Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. He was raised in Burnaby, BC.

Csiszar studies the history of science in nineteenth-century Europe, especially in France and Britain. He publishes primarily on the history of communications media and information technology in the sciences. His work asks how print media — formats such as newspapers, journals, books, and card catalogues — have evolved in conjunction with changes in how groups come to know things about the natural world, and in the criteria they use to trust the knowledge claims of others.

His first book, under contract with University of Chicago Press, is called The Scientific Journal: Authorship and the Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century. This book traces the rise of the modern scientific journal in Western Europe, asking about the relationship between credit and publishing, the rise of referee systems and judgment, and changing notions of trust and public accountability. It is the first book to attempt to explain how being an investigator of the natural world came, by the early twentieth century, to be identified closely with being a very particular kind of author.

Csiszar has begun a new project on the history of search practices in the sciences. This project explores how scientific practitioners sought to know what was already known from the mid-19th century through the advent of digital computers. The 19th century saw a great deal of experimentation in technologies of search, including specialized libraries, synoptic genres (catalogs, reviews, annual reports), and standardized classifications. Concurrently, increasing attention to footnoting resulted in an ethics of citation that produced an image of an interconnected and navigable scientific literature, setting the scene for later large-scale citation indexing. This progression has been narrated as the victory of technology over informational chaos. By looking closely, however, at the use of such tools, it appears that problems of search were as much about bounding expert communities, assessing credit and assigning value, and negotiating the politics of access to information.

Although these projects criss-cross the scientific disciplines, Csiszar is primarily trained in the history of the physical and mathematical sciences, and he continues to be active in these fields. His work in this area has focused particularly on the life and work of the French mathematician and technocrat Henri Poincaré.

Csiszar teaches and advises students on a wide variety of themes stretching from early modern natural philosophy to the history of media and information technologies stretching to the 21st century. He often teaches History of Science 100, the Department's introduction to the field for undergraduates.