Erika Lorraine Milam
Erika Lorraine Milam specializes in the history of the modern life sciences, particularly evolutionary theory and ecology. Her research has explored how scientists have used animals as models for understanding human behavior, from sex to aggression. She is author of Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). With Robert A. Nye, she co-edited Scientific Masculinities (Osiris, Vol. 30, 2015).
She graduated with a biology major from Carleton College and subsequently earned an M.S. in Biology (Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology) from the University of Michigan, where she developed an interest in the history of evolutionary theory. She then completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in the History of Science. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin, Germany, she taught at the University of Maryland for several years before joining the Princeton History Department.
During the 2023-24 academic year, she is a visiting fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.
This book-length project charts the history of multi-generational studies of animal behavior in the wild, and argues for their centrality to the growth of behavioral ecology as a discipline as it developed in the second half of the twentieth century.
Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America (Princeton University Press, 2019) explores how and why zoological and primatological research on animal behavior came to compete with anthropological studies of human cultures as a source of reliable information about human nature in the 1960s and '70s. Constructed as a series of chronologically parallel stories, this project reveals the gendered landscape in which conversations about human nature took place during these decades. Creatures of Cain was awarded the 2020 Suzanne J. Levinson Prize by the History of Science Society and was shortlisted for the 2020 Pickstone Prize by the British Society for the History of Science.
Descent of Darwin: Race, Sex, and Human Nature is co-edited with Suman Seth and published as Volume 6 (2021) of BJHS Themes, an open-access thematic serial produced annually under the auspices of the British Journal for the History of Science. Inspired by the upcoming 150th anniversary of the 1871 publication of Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, the edited collection emerged from an HOS workshop in February 2018 revisiting the development and legacy of Charles Darwin's ideas about human evolution.
Co-edited with Robert Nye. Given the ubiquitous presence of men as scientists, engineers, and physicians throughout history, this volume asks what are the consequences of changing the kinds of questions we ask about the scientific enterprise from, for example, “why did scientists think X?” to “why did male scientists think X”? Or, more exactly, what does it add to our understanding of science if we factor in the masculine social and cultural perspectives of time and place? The tools for understanding complex gender dynamics and the importance of gender in the everyday lived experiences of scientists and engineers have been amply demonstrated by the substantial literature on women in science and on gender studies of science. Our challenge was to bring to light the ways that scientific masculinities have operated over time, and within different cultures, without re-enacting history by excluding women or femininity from the story. Published as Osiris, Vol. 30 (2015), the annual thematic serial produced by the History of Science Society.
Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), explores the theory of sexual selection and the connections between biological investigations of reproductive and courtship behavior in animals and humans, from Charles Darwin in the mid-19th century to sociobiology in the 1970s. Looking for a Few Good Males has been translated into Slovak as Zopár Správnych Chlapov: Ženský výber v evolučnej biológii (Bratislava: Hadart Publishing, 2019).
Co-organized with Frederick Gibbs and Joanna Radin. How do we make the future? Historians of science, technology, and medicine are especially well-situated to explore how futures are made in a world of scientific and technological innovation. The project began with a workshop in February 2015, where participants considered the ways that science fiction and speculative nonfiction overlap to provide readers of both with visions of the future that are often surprising in their sympathetic coherence. Each author also contributed to the project's open-access, open-code website: www.histscifi.com.
Professor Milam teaches courses in the history of science, including the history of environmentalism and ecology, gender and science, and science fiction. Click here to peruse recent syllabi.