Modern American Science

STS 5404: Modern American Science • Fall 2008

This course explores the development of the sciences and scientific communities in the American national context from the mid-19th to late-20th centuries. We will ask in what sense American science is “American,” examining political and cultural contexts for science and exploring how science has shaped—and been shaped by—social issues. Using case studies including medicine, agriculture, biology, genetics, physics, and computer science, we will examine the development of modern theories and techniques, the professionalization of science, the role of race and gender in science, and the contested evolution of science policy in the United States.

Weekly schedule

Virtual Whiteboard (class notes)

Collaborative pages


1. Participation, including classroom discussion and online comments: 40%
For weeks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 12, write a short commentary on the assigned reading(s) and post it to the discussion forum for that week. Postings are due Tuesday at noon in order to give other students time to read and respond.
Your response should include:
a) A one-paragraph summary of the author’s main ideas;
b) Your own response—something that struck you as important, unusual, problematic, or worth emulating. This could include theoretical assumptions; style of presentation; methods of gathering or interpreting evidence; persuasiveness (or not) of the arguments; relation to other literature; or applicability of this approach to other topics in the history of science.
c) Read the other students’ posts and respond to at least one. Responses are due Thursday at noon so that I have time to read them.

2. Short Paper (5 pages): 20%. Detailed instructions are on the wiki and will be discussed at the first class. Due Sunday, September 14 at noon, so that you have time to read each other’s papers before class on Thursday.

3. Final Project (15-20 page research paper: 40%. Detailed instructions are on the wiki and will be discussed at the first class. Due the last day of class, December 4. Students will give oral project presentations weeks 13 and 14. Project milestones will be due weeks 8 and 11, and we will devote class time to progress reports.

Required books (follow this link for required shorter readings)

Rosenberg, Charles. 1997. No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought. Johns Hopkins University Press. [Rev. ed; first published 1977]

Kohler, Robert E. 1994. Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life.

Wailoo, Keith. 1999. Drawing Blood: Technology and Disease Identity in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rossiter, Margaret W. 1998. Women Scientists in America, Volume II: Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972. Johns Hopkins.

Gusterson, Hugh. 1998. Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War. University of California Press.

Galison, Peter and Bruce Hevly, eds. 1992. Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research. Stanford University Press. [We will read selections only.]

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