Jennifer S. Light

Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology; Professor of Urban Studies and Planning


How can we design 21st century educational experiences to maximize what we know about cognition and learning from the neck down as well as the neck up? Recent scientific and educational research has established that people think with their bodies as well as their brains and that finding ways to move during the school day can enhance student learning. Yet while physical activity has a presence in arts and athletics programs from PreK through college, it is typically considered peripheral to the academic mission of schools.

Jen Light’s teaching and research aim to close the gap between the growing body of research on movement and the learning process and the pedagogical strategies that educators use, finding ways to integrate physical activity and academic instruction at all levels. She offers three courses in collaboration with MIT and Boston-area coaches, physical education and wellness instructors, and movement artists: Embodied Education: Past, Present, Future; Exercise is Medicine: From Ancient Civilizations to Modern Healthcare Systems; and Thinking on Your Feet: Dance as a Learning Science. Find out more about the MIT Project on Embodied Education here.

Professor Light’s published work explores the history of science and technology in America over the past 150 years, and the value of historical thinking for thinking through present-day issues. She is the author and editor of four books as well as articles and essays covering topics from the history of experiential learning, to 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. 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 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:

Embodied Education

Exercise is Medicine

Thinking on Your Feet


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…