Alma Steingart is a lecturer in Harvard University’s Department of the History of Science. She was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, and received her PhD from the Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT.
Steingart’s research focuses on twentieth-century mathematical thought. She is interested in the ways in which mathematical ways of thinking impact a wide range of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, and even the humanities. As an archetype of logic and truth, mathematics offers a unique perspective on how modes of reasoning, proclamations of truth, and notions of objectivity that would otherwise go uncontested are adjudicated and put into practice. Mathematics, she argues, is the social activity par excellence in which styles of truth become synonymous with ways of knowing.
Steingart’s first book, Pure Abstraction: Mathematical Thought and High Modernism, locates the world of midcentury American mathematicians within the broader intellectual and cultural milieu of the Cold War. She examines the ways in which mathematicians’ underlying attachment to abstraction structured both the intellectual and institutional development of mathematics in the postwar period. Pure Abstraction approaches the sciences and humanities not as two competing narratives of midcentury intellectual thought, but as complementary sides of a single underlying epistemology. From social scientists’ attachment to axiomatization to late modernists’ formalist theories, Pure Abstraction uses mathematics to interrogate high modernist ideas about intellectual, cultural, and artistic production.
Steingart also researches and writes about the origins of computer graphics technology. She examines the way mathematicians participated in the burgeoning field of computer graphics in the late 1960s and 1970s, and conversely how visual technologies influenced late twentieth-century mathematical research. Geometrical reasoning, brute force calculation techniques, and algorithmic thinking collided in early investigations of computer graphics. Because mathematical computer graphics function neither as simulations nor representations of real world objects, Steingart suggests that mathematical visualizations are the perfect place from which to interrogate the epistemic status of digital images. Steingart has published articles on this topic in an edited volume (Visualization in the Age of Computerization) and the journal Grey Room.