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Vassiliki (Betty) Smocovitis

Departments of Biology and History
2018 Rothman Faculty Summer Fellow

Dr. Smocovitis received a Rothman Faculty Summer Fellowship for her project titled “Masuo Kodani, Genetics, and the Japanese American Experience.” She used the funds to travel to archival collections in Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area in completion of the final phase of research.

While historians of science have long been concerned with gender, and at times, class, there has not been as much focus on race. Doing extensive research on G. Ledyard Stebbins — a giant in plant evolutionary biology — and his collaboration with Masuo Kodani, a scientist interred in Manzanar, a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, Smocovitis raises a question of interpretation. Is Kodani a marginal figure? Or a liminal one? Or a hybrid? What do we say of people who clearly played an important role in science, but seem to then be erased from it?

Although science pretends that it is a democratic space, Smocovitis notes that the race and status of scientists impacts how they are recognized in the scientific record. Liminality is also experienced by some scientists in colonial contexts, where non-white scientists are marginalized by the celebrated “PIs” (Principle Investigators).