AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXIX, No. 2, Fall 1997

 

Center for History of Recent Science at George Washington University

Of all the scientists who have ever lived, eighty per cent or more are alive today. Of work in the sciences that has ever been done and published and taken into the fabric of reliable knowledge, the bulk has been done by people who are alive today. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, the history of contemporary sciences is largely unexplored. As a discipline, history of science remains for the most part what it has traditionally been, rooted in the past. In response, The George Washington University, in Washington, DC, has established The Center for History of Recent Science, under the directorship of Horace Freeland Judson.

The primary activity of the Center is research in the immediate histories of sciences of the present day. Because the Center must start small and must keep a tight intellectual focus in order to demonstrate its effectiveness, at the outset much of the research is in the history of modern biomedical and biological sciences, but the Center is extending into the physical sciences as historians, coming to the Center as senior visiting fellows or as post-doctoral fellows, bring robust and interesting projects. For example, one post-doc at the Center now is writing a book-length history of the Superconducting Super Collider. Throughout, the interaction of science with public policy is inseparable from the work of the Center, for the history of recent science is, of course, shaped by the politics of science. Emphasis will be on publication of the kinds of focussed clusters of historical studies that lead up to substantial books in the history of contemporary science and science policy.

The Center has a small permanent faculty (two, at present) but with a number of visitors each year. Scholars of the Center will often be active as consultants in the making of science policy. As it becomes established, the Center may from time to time offer year-long places to appropriate people in a range of related fields. In August of 1996, the Center began a post-doctoral program, offering fellowships to young scholars of promise to pursue their own projects but with supervision and counsel, working closely with the senior people at the Center and the yearly visitors, as well as other university faculty as appropriate. The plan is to provide two fellowships beginning each year, each to last two years. Faculty and post-doctoral fellows will be affiliated chiefly with the Department of History at The George Washington University. Training of PhDs in history of science is not part of the Center's charter. Inquiries may be addressed to the Center for History of Recent Science, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052.


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