Highlighting the impact of Black Americans in STEM
February marks Black History Month, offering an opportunity to reflect on the oft-overlooked achievements of Black Americans in our society. At the MIT Press, we welcome the chance to consider our own efforts in amplifying diverse voices and stories—where we have made strides over our years of work and where we may still fall short.
Today we turn our attention to STEM disciplines, where Black Americans have long made major impacts in areas like mathematics, engineering, and technology. Read on to explore books that highlight Black achievement in these fields and more.
The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez
Winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru SBF Prize in the Young Adult Science Book Category
In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.
More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech by Meredith Broussard
The word “glitch” implies an incidental error, as easy to patch up as it is to identify. But what if racism, sexism, and ableism aren’t just bugs in mostly functional machinery—what if they’re coded into the system itself? In the vein of heavy hitters such as Safiya Umoja Noble, Cathy O’Neil, and Ruha Benjamin, Meredith Broussard demonstrates in More Than a Glitch how neutrality in tech is a myth and why algorithms need to be held accountable. With sweeping implications for fields ranging from jurisprudence to medicine, the ground-breaking insights of More Than a Glitch are essential reading for anyone invested in building a more equitable future.
Women of Science Tarot by Massive Science
The Women of Science Tarot Deck is a card game that helps us tell stories about our future based on principles of science. Each major arcana card features a fundamental scientific concept like extinction, diversity, or gravity. The 56 minor arcana cards feature inspirational women who have changed the course of STEM—including Marjorie Lee Browne, mathematics educator and the first African American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics. For readers new to tarot or those who want to learn more about women in STEM, accompanying the deck is a guidebook with biographies of all the women featured on the cards as well as information about the major arcana cards.
Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study edited by Bruce Sinclair
Race and technology are two of the most powerful motifs in American history, but until recently they have not often been considered in relation to each other. This collection of essays examines the intersection of the two in a variety of social and technological contexts, and document the realities of black technical creativity—in catalogs of patented inventiveness, in the use of “invisible technologies” such as sea chanteys, and in the mastery of complex new technologies.
A Hammer in Their Hands: A Documentary History of Technology and the African-American Experience edited by Carroll Pursell
Scholars working at the intersection of African-American history and the history of technology are redefining the idea of technology to include the work of the skilled artisan and the ingenuity of the self-taught inventor. Although denied access through most of American history to many new technologies and to the privileged education of the engineer, African-Americans have been engaged with a range of technologies, as makers and as users, since the colonial era. A Hammer in Their Hands collects newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements for runaway slaves, letters, folklore, excerpts from biography and fiction, legal patents, protest pamphlets, and other primary sources to document the technological achievements of African-Americans.
Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941–1999 by Clarence G. Williams
This book grew out of the Blacks at MIT History Project, whose mission is to document the black presence at MIT. The main body of the text consists of transcripts of more than seventy-five oral history interviews, in which the interviewees assess their MIT experience and reflect on the role of blacks at MIT and beyond. Although most of the interviewees are present or former students, black faculty, administrators, and staff are also represented, as are nonblack faculty and administrators who have had an impact on blacks at MIT. The interviewees were selected with an eye to presenting the broadest range of issues and personalities, as well as a representative cross section by time period and category.