Jennifer S. Light

Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology; Professor of Urban Studies and Planning ON LEAVE 2021-2022

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Jen Light’s eclectic interests span the history of science and technology in America over the past 150 years. She 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. Professor Light is especially fascinated by smart peoples’ bad ideas: 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.

Her current research focuses on the institutionalization of physical education in American schools from the 1820s to the 1920s. She is exploring how early experiments with PE as a mind-body field lost out to the “gym class” that still predominates today–and how this forgotten history can inspire novel directions for bringing physicality into education in the 2020s and beyond.

Light holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. 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 ComputingInformation 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.

Courses taught:

Youth Political Participation

Introduction to the History of Technology

Histories of Communication, Information, and Computing Technologies


Recent Books


States of Childhood: From the Junior Republic to the American Republic, 1895-1945

Jennifer S. Light

The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
A number of curious communities sprang…