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Taking a Hard (Science) Look at History 


Richard Kremer, Associate Professor of History

Were there more physics classes at the small college Rich Kremer attended, he might never have studied the history of science, a field he has pursued for more than 20 years now. "I always thought I wanted to study physics, but by the end of sophomore year, I'd studied all the physics they offered. So a history professor asked if I would join his research team to help write a book," Kremer says.

He decided to accept the faculty member's offer, thus opening up a whole world he previously had not thought about exploring. Today the associate professor of history has a particular interest in early modern astronomy and physics, and the history of the medical sciences and universities.

Kremer's undergraduate research experience helped shape his approach to teaching when he came to Dartmouth in 1985. He works closely with students on projects that spring from their own interests. One he is excited about is a senior thesis that investigates the role a South African medical school played in promoting political activism during the apartheid era. When the student, Aruna Kamath '04, came to Kremer with questions, the pair began to research the topic, only to discover it was a largely unmined area.

"We were asking questions about the topic for which there were no answers in the public domain. That's when things start getting exciting because it means you have to go out and try to find your own answers," Kremer says. Kamath was able to interview key people in South Africa last summer, thanks to a research grant from the dean of the faculty's office. When completed, her thesis will be the first scholarly text on the subject.

Kremer notes the project exemplifies the synchronicity between teaching and research, both of which require asking, then answering, important questions. "The most important thing we do is help students develop the tools to ask good questions."

Currently, he is involved in a project to digitize and place online a recently unearthed astronomy text written by 15th-century scientist Johannes Regiomontanus. He is collaborating on the project with Michael Shank of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Dartmouth's library and academic computing department. The project is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

"The research tools that technology is making available are pretty incredible," says Kremer. "It's changing how scholarship is happening."

- By Tamara Steinert

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Last Updated: 5/30/08