Alison Winter, 1965-2016

An ‘infectiously brilliant’ intellectual historian has died

August 25, 2016
Obituary: Alison Winter, 1965-2016

Alison Winter was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on 19 November 1965 and went to high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, although she spent her early childhood in Bonn, Germany, where her mathematician father was carrying out postdoctoral research.

Although her own interests were more literary, he was keen for her to specialise in science. For her first degree at the University of Chicago (1983-87), therefore, she compromised by majoring in the history and philosophy of science and medicine.

After graduating, Professor Winter visited the University of Cambridge and was determined to embark on an MPhil there. She then returned to the US, she once told Times Higher Education, and tried to raise the money for her tuition by “working at a Greek restaurant, a diner, a bank and a Burger King, all at the same time”.

After securing funding, she received both an MPhil (1991) and a PhD (1993) in the history and philosophy of science. Her dissertation on mesmerism was later published as an award-winning book, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (1998).

After serving as a research fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge (1991-94), Professor Winter moved to the California Institute of Technology (1994-2001) and then back to the University of Chicago for the rest of her career, eventually as professor of history, the conceptual and historical studies of science, and the college. Among the courses she taught was one on science, culture and society in Western civilisation that she had herself once taken as an undergraduate.

For her celebrated and hugely ambitious second book, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (2012), Professor Winter won fellowships from the Guggenheim, Andrew W. Mellon and National Science foundations, which enabled her to explore everything from police interrogations to recovered memories of child abuse and the changing technological metaphors that have been used to illuminate how memory works.

The result was praised by emeritus Yale University historian Daniel Kevles as an “original history of the intertwined theories of memory and attempts to recall past experience, [where] Winter writes with engaging discernment about the clinic and the courtroom, trauma and therapy, neuroscience and neurospeculation”.

“One knows a lot of very clever people in one’s university life,” recalled John Sutherland, emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature at University College London, “but I’ve never known anyone as infectiously brilliant as Alison.”

Professor Winter died of a brain tumour on 22 June and is survived by her husband – fellow Chicago history professor Adrian Johns – and their four children.

matthew.reisz@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips