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Science and the American Century

Readings from "Isis"

The twentieth century was one of astonishing change in science, especially as pursued in the United States. Against a backdrop of dramatic political and economic shifts brought by world wars, intermittent depressions, sporadic and occasionally massive increases in funding, and expanding private patronage, this scientific work fundamentally reshaped everyday life. Science and the American Century offers some of the most significant contributions to the study of the history of science, technology, and medicine during the twentieth century, all drawn from the pages of the journal Isis.
Fourteen essays from leading scholars are grouped into three sections, each presented in roughly chronological order. The first section charts several ways in which our knowledge of nature was cultivated, revealing how scientific practitioners and the public alike grappled with definitions of the “natural” as they absorbed and refracted global information. The essays in the second section investigate the changing attitudes and fortunes of scientists during and after World War II. The final section documents the intricate ways that science, as it advanced, became intertwined with social policies and the law.
This important and useful book provides a thoughtful and detailed overview for scholars and students of American history and the history of science, as well as for scientists and others who want to better understand modern science and science in America.

488 pages | 59 halftones, 10 line drawings | 6-3/4 x 10 | © 2013

History: American History

Language and Linguistics: Language and Law


“It is always a pleasure to sit and read a well-crafted, thought-provoking article. So much more a pleasure, then, to find fifteen such articles in one place, as is the case with Science and the American Century. . . . Though the contributions are eclectic—ranging widely in subject matter, as well as scale and style of argument—the volume offers a coherent and at times surprising look at some of the topics that have concerned historians of American science over the past ten to twenty years. . . . The book could easily be used to introduce students to key topics and approaches in the field through its clear and engaging essays. Many of the contributions are also models of craft, and in that sense the book may be equally instructive to more advanced students, and established scholars, too, as a guide to good practice.”

Helen Anne Curry, University of Cambridge | Social History of Medicine

“By about 1920 the United States had moved from the margins of international science to the heartland. In many disciplines it already ranked number one in the world. This superb collection of essays from Isis, the flagship journal of the history of science, shows Americans working at the center of the scientific world and wrestling with the resulting responsibilities.”

Ronald L. Numbers, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“This lively and diverse collection of essays chronicles how and why the twentieth century became a period of unprecedented American influence in science, technology, and medicine. Drawing our attention to some historically lesser-known sites and subjects—sulfur-bottom whale models, Finnish-designed corporate research labs, South American fire ants, and child adoption protocols based on intelligence testing, to name just a few—Sally Gregory Kohlstedt and David Kaiser skillfully capture the dramatic transformations that US researchers wrought through expanded institutions, increased funding, and, most importantly, their own burgeoning scientific ambitions. The book’s rich content and lucid analysis challenge simple assumptions about the consequences of American science for life and health in the late modern world.”

Karen A. Rader, Virginia Commonwealth University

Table of Contents

Sally Gregory Kohlstedt and David Kaiser

I. Nature, Science, and Environmental Perspectives

1. Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of Ecology in the United States: Stephen Forbes and “The Lake as a Microcosm” (1887)
Daniel W. Schneider

2. The Beauty and Menace of the Japanese Cherry Trees: Conflicting Visions of American Ecological Independence
Philip J. Pauly

3. Fabricating Authenticity: Modeling a Whale at the American Museum of Natural History, 1906–1974
Michael Rossi

4. Nature’s Agents or Agents of Empire? Entomological Workers and Environmental Change during the Construction of the Panama Canal
Paul S. Sutter

5. The Fire Ant Wars: Nature and Science in the Pesticide Controversies of the Late Twentieth Century
Joshua Blu Buhs

II. Patrons, Politics, and the Physical Sciences

6. Patenting the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Intellectual Property, and Technological Control
Alex Wellerstein

7. Nuclear Democracy: Political Engagement, Pedagogical Reform, and Particle Physics in Postwar America
David Kaiser

8. Amateur Scientists, the International Geophysical Year, and the Ambitions of Fred Whipple
W. Patrick McCray

9. “Industrial Versailles”: Eero Saarinen’s Corporate Campuses for GM, IBM, and AT&T
Scott G. Knowles and Stuart W. Leslie

10. Rethinking Big Science: Modest, Mezzo, Grand Science and the Development of the Bevalac, 1971–1993
Catherine Westfall

III. Social Policies, Scientific Practice, and the Law

11. Families Made by Science: Arnold Gesell and the Technologies of Modern Child Adoption
Ellen Herman

12. Blind Law and Powerless Science: The American Jewish Congress, the NAACP, and the Scientific Case against Discrimination, 1945–1950
John P. Jackson, Jr.

13. Visions of a Cure: Visualization, Clinical Trials, and Controversies in Cardiac Therapeutics, 1968–1998
David S. Jones

14. Making Dollars Out of DNA: The First Major Patent in Biotechnology and the Commercialization of Molecular Biology, 1974–1980
Sally Smith Hughes

15. The Polonium Brief: A Hidden History of Cancer, Radiation, and the Tobacco Industry
Brianna Rego


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