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University of Michigan School of Information


Paul Edwards announces retirement

Friday, 06/01/2018

Paul Edwards is well known for his award winning 2010 book, A Vast Machine, which traces the history of climate data via politics and computers. 

But one could argue that the book title also describes the author himself. His distinguished career spans decades, a variety of universities, countries, awards, roles, disciplines – and much more.

Now, the professor at UMSI and LSA has retired from U-M, effective June 1.

Since 1988, when he earned his PhD in the History of Consciousness from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Paul Edwards has taught at Stanford University, Cornell University and the University of Michigan. He has held visiting positions at educational institutions in Paris, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Melbourne, Australia.
He has been a Carnegie Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Fellow of the Michigan Society of Fellows, and Distinguished Faculty in Sustainability at the Graham Sustainability Institute. 

His first book, published in 1996, was The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. It won honorable mention for the Rachel Carson Prize of the Society for Social Studies of Science, and was translated into French and Japanese. 

More recently, the above-mentioned book, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming, was named a 2010 Book of the Year by The Economist magazine. 

A Vast Machine and his other work on climate science, Paul says, “has influenced a whole generation of scholars and established an important perspective on how ‘long data’ work.”  

Paul came to U-M in 1999 as an associate professor jointly appointed at UMSI and the Residential College. In 2000, he became the founding Director of UM’s Science, Technology & Society Program, and in 2004, he joined UMSI full-time.

So, how does one walk away from a lifetime of absorbing research, adventure and generous service at U-M?

In Paul’s case, by not actually retiring at all. In 2017, he accepted a position at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. So, as he jokes, “I will likely stay at Stanford until I retire permanently sometime next century.” 

Paul, who has spent much of his life in California, lives with his wife, Gabrielle Hecht, also a former U-M professor, and their son, Luka Edwards Hecht, in San Francisco. 

But there remains plenty of Michigan, as in U-M, in Paul, too. Some key memories he shares:

“Teaching ‘Information in Social Systems’ with the great and wise Michael Cohen, as well as the (also great) Margaret Hedstrom, Beth Yakel, and Mark McCabe,” he recalls. 

“Most of all, learning so much about so many things from UMSI’s unique community of scholars and students, who shaped my mind as well as my career. As one colleague says (and it’s true), ‘U-M makes you smarter,’ and UMSI made me a better scientist and a better historian.”

"Paul Edwards was an exceptional citizen of UMSI, as recognized through his selection for the Michael D. Cohen Outstanding Service Award in 2011 and as witnessed through his numerous contributions to the UMSI community, including the building program for North Quad," said UMSI Dean Thomas A. Finholt.

"Paul's scholarly career at UMSI was rich and impactful, highlighted by the publication in 2010 of A Vast Machine. Not content to simply study climate change, Paul was actively engaged on the frontline, including traveling with students to Paris in 2016 for the COP-21 climate negotiations. 

"Finally, Paul was an adventurous and engaged instructor, teaching across the UMSI curriculum and helping to develop the STS network at the University of Michigan.  Paul's cheerful willingness to take on tasks to help UMSI will be missed and we wish him continued success in his new role at Stanford."

- Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist