I am a professor in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of History of Science. I study the way people think and talk about science in the modern world. My work focuses mostly on American culture, although recently I’ve begun exploring the role of modern science in Asia and, in particular, Japan.
I am also editor of the Isis Bibliography of the History of Science and in that capacity, I am closely involved in data-focused projects that push the boundaries of how we think about and do history in the digital age.
My book The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism (Johns Hopkins Press, 2020) (JHUP, B&N, Amazon) explores the intellectual and cultural shifts in 20th-century America related to science and religion. It charts the fate of the humanist movement, group of American intellectuals and activists who placed science at the center of their worldview and who repudiated God and the supernatural. For the humanists—including many prominent philosophers, scientists, and public intellectuals—modern science offered them intellectual as well as ethical and, at times, even spiritual sustenance.
In other work, I explore how science and religion are interconnected in different ways. Recently, I’ve started looking at this religion-science interaction with regard to how we think about Earth’s climate and our environment. I am especially interested in how scientists, philosophers, and religious thinkers use science to help understand the human condition.
Bibliographical and digital humanities work
As editor of the Isis Current Bibliography, I collect and manage the discipline’s oldest and largest bibliographical database. The IsisCB as it is commonly known, was begun by the distinguished historian of science, George Sarton in 1913. Over the years, Sarton and subsequent editors cited and classified more than two hundred thousand items, and now the entire set of bibliographical data can be found in a few different places online.
In April of 2020 I began a collaborative project to build a major bibliographical resource on the history of pandemics that covers the topic from many different points of view. The project includes a path-breaking open peer review system that makes essays and bibliographies available to readers long before the full volume is completed.
In 2015, I opened up an open access search service for all of the data going back to the early 1970s: IsisCB Explore. In addition, I have mounted the complete set of digitized volumes of the Isis Cumulative Bibliography of the History of Science covering the period 1913 to 1975 as a series of large searchable HTML pages. This can be found at Isis CB Cumulative.
My years at OU have introduced me to a number of exciting interdisciplinary collaborations. In 2007, I chaired a faculty planning group to organize campus-wide lectures and exhibits during the 2009 commemorative year celebrating the birth of Charles Darwin and his influence, past and present. Recently, I have participated in a study group composed of faculty from across the university in a discussion about human habitation and the Anthropocene Era.
I also study the transformation of scholarship in what is being called the digital humanities. My work on the Isis Bibliography has helped me to discovery, as a practitioner, how new technologies are transforming scholarship, enabled by the ease of worldwide communication, massive data retrieval tools, and unprecedented computing power.
In 2014, I and two co-PIs, received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to transform the Isis Bibliography into a cutting-edge research and discovery tool. As part of this effort, I am learning how to build and use new data analysis tools in order to conceptualize new sorts of scholarship that will utilize this data.
One of the things that has inspired me is the transformational nature of information on the Internet. We all know Wikipedia. It is one of the most amazing intellectual projects of the 21st century. Before Wikipedia, however—and, indeed, long before the Internet—there was the Mundaneum, an early 20th century effort to create a Universal Bibliographical System, based on the ideas of a telephone bank and a physical card catalog. This vision has been around for a long time, and I am proud to be part of this movement.
I live in Norman, Oklahoma. In addition to my academic work, I also manage a website (philipwprugh.com) that features the work of my grandfather, an illustrator and painter, who lived in Xenia, Ohio.