Laurel Waycott studies the shared histories of science, medicine, and art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her current project, The Pattern Seekers, is a history of the concept of pattern recognition. Originating in the world of craft and design, the notion of “pattern” was widely adopted by scientists at the beginning of the twentieth century. By examining the history of design alongside the history of science, this project demonstrates how culturally specific notions of beauty shaped the construction of knowledge in the life and human sciences. In addition, she has several ongoing research projects that interrogate the role of non-human organisms in scientific and cultural history, including the history of fancy goldfish breeding in Gilded Age America, and the centuries-long Western fascination with the elusive chambered nautilus.
Laurel has taught widely in the histories of science, medicine and art. As an educator, she has particular interest in providing students in the sciences with interpretive tools from history and science and technology studies (STS), and has led workshops that invited STEM graduate students to reflect on their own experience through the lens of STS.
Laurel completed her PhD in history of science and medicine at Yale University in 2019. In 2019–2020, she was a Mellon Assistant Professor in Communication of Science and Technology at Vanderbilt University. She also has a B.A. in the history of art and visual culture from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received an M.A. in the history of decorative arts, design and culture from the Bard Graduate Center in New York. Her work has been funded by the American Philosophical Society, the Huntington Library, and the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Before getting her PhD, Laurel worked in exhibition planning at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and as an art historian with the Art Loss Register in New York.