Call for Abstracts: N=1. Histories of self-tracking and self-experimentation (Utrecht University, 25 October 2019; Deadline: 21 July 2019)

Today’s wearable sensors and smartphone apps make it increasingly easy to monitor personal health and habits, and many users of these digital technologies now track their sleep, blood sugar, heart rate or exercise. This means that there is a proliferation of n=1 experiments, done by individuals who want to understand their bodies and who use personal data to improve their health and wellbeing.

This one-day workshop explores the histories of these practices, looking at different forms of self-tracking and self-experimentation in the 19th and 20th century. Individuals in this period studied their bodies and habits through the use of various techniques: they tracked their body weight with bathroom scales, their fertility with thermometers, they counted calories or tracked their blood sugar. By doing these short-term or long-term experiments, individuals could become self-experts.

The aim of the workshop is to analyse the ways in which these self-experimenters have used scientific or science-inspired tools and methods to produce knowledge about themselves, and to discuss how ‘scientific’, personally insightful or transformative this knowledge was.

We invite historians of science, medicine, the body and related disciplines, and sociologists of science and technology with an interest in historical developments to share their ideas on this topic. In particular, we seek to address the following questions: What does a history of self-tracking look like? How did individuals borrow tools and ideas from science and apply them to themselves? What did individuals (want to) learn about themselves through self-tracking? How did self-tracking shape identity? How did individuals connect self-experimentation to self-improvement? Is it useful to think of these n=1 experiments as ‘scientific’? Papers addressing qualitative self-tracking such as diary writing are also welcome.

Deadline and contact information

Abstracts (max. 300 words) for a 20-minute paper and a short biographical note should be sent by 21 July 2019 to f.h.sysling@uu.nl. Some travel and accommodation funding is available for participants.

Support

This workshop is supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities in Utrecht.

Foto:Owen Beard