Professor Hanna Shell is a historian of science and technology, who focuses on the environment, the media, military studies, and material culture. In the body of her work – scholarly articles, films, multimedia and curatorial work – she analyzes the production, use, and transformation of often-overlooked, even marginalized, material artifacts located at the interstices of the found and the fabricated.
Professor Shell’s monograph Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance, published by Zone Books in 2012 and translated into French as Ni vu ni connu (2014), traces the history of camouflage, understood as both a form of subjectivity and an orientation towards both nature and technology, from the skins of the material forms it has left behind – paintings, stuffed rabbits, instructional films, sniper suits, and woolen blankets; science, art, and war are connected through the history of counter-surveillance. Shoddy: Textiles, Technology and Identity in Rags, Professor Shell’s monograph under contract with University of Chicago Press, with an anticipated publication date of Spring 2018, is a deep history of shredded-up, discarded wool prepared for reuse. Touching on many strands of personal, social, political, military and economic preoccupation – from public health, to interstate commerce, to interspecies dynamics – Shoddy opens up a heretofore largely unknown history of material reuse and industrial recycling. As a critical history, it engages growing theoretical interests in recycling, waste, and “sustainability,” as well as methodological discussions surrounding such topics as “new materialism” and “discard studies.”
The genre of analysis in Shoddy provides new ways of grasping the relationship between mechanical and craft production, between hand, machine-made objects, and the self, in an increasingly digital seemingly de-materialized world. Traditional and non-traditional scholarly work informs each other, and by these means excavates interconnected histories of technology, self, and environment. Such work has been supported by, among other sources, the Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Max Planck Foundation for the History of Science, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and the Center for Military History of the United States Army. Documentary films and cine-essays have been exhibited in festivals, and at museums internationally – from Jacmel, Haiti, to Kyoto, Japan, from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, to the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe. At MIT, Professor Shell teaches a range of courses; from small seminar, to graduate reading courses, to large undergraduate lectures, to hands-on filmmaking courses. She founded and serve as the commissioning editor of to audio-visual and non-text based scholarship a new section “Beyond Words” at Technology and Culture, devoted to audio-visual and non-text based scholarship and am part of the editorial team producing DigitalSTS: Handbook and Fieldguide, to be published by Princeton University Press.
Ph.D. History of Science, Harvard University, 2007
M.A. American Studies, Yale University, 2002