Jennifer Light

Professor of the History of Science and Technology

Jen Light’s is the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology. Her eclectic interests span the history of science and technology in America over the past 150 years.

Her current research and teaching focus on the past, present, and future of embodied education: why and how physical education was integrated into the US educational system while remaining separate from academic subjects–and why and how 21st-century institutions might combine the two.

Professor Light is the author and editor of four books as well as articles and essays covering topics from female programming pioneers, to early attempts to organize smart cities, to the racial implications of algorithmic thinking in federal housing policy, to the history of youth political media production, to the uptake of scientific and technical ideas and innovations across other fields. Across many of her diverse projects a common theme is “smart peoples’ bad ideas”: past efforts by well-intentioned scientists and engineers to apply scientific methods and technological tools to solve social and political problems—and how the history of their failures can inform contemporary scientific and engineering practice.

Light holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, and is a graduate of the Professional Preparatory Program at Esh Circus Arts. She has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and the Derek Brewer Visiting Fellow at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. Her work has been supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and awarded the Outstanding Scholarly Contribution Award from the American Sociological Association (Sociology of Children and Youth), the Catherine Bauer Wurster Prize from the Society for American City and Regional Planning History and an honorary doctorate from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

In recognition of her contributions to computing history Professor Light was named a Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute. Light serves on the editorial boards IEEE Annals of the History of Computing; Information and Culture; and Journal of Urban History. Professor Light is formerly head of the MIT Program on Science, Technology and Society and previously served on the faculty of the School of Communication and the Departments of History and Sociology at Northwestern University.