AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXX, No. 2, Fall 1998

 

Increasing Complexity of Historical Topics Is Seen in Grants-in-Aid Program

In recent years the range of subjects covered by historians of science has grown markedly. This is reflected in the topics for which historians (especially younger ones, including graduate students) have received grants-in-aid from the AIP Center. Still continuing at a decent rate are researches on long-established topics such as 19th-century physics, the history of quantum mechanics, nuclear physicists, and the astronomical community. The study of the Cold War relationships of science has now become so popular as to constitute another "established" topic. Coming more recently under thorough study is the history of science in the former Soviet Union--the Center s grants-in-aid, small but easy to apply for and administer, have been especially helpful here. The history of modern geophysics, once almost entirely neglected, is becoming practically a field of its own.

Overall the trend is away from studies of relatively self-contained topics, such as a particular theory or research school, and into studies of complex interactions--scientific developments where many lines of evidence and theory intersect in confusion, along with social puzzles ranging from international politics to the scientific community s self-image. Of course mainstream historians have traditionally had the aim of reducing the infinite complexities of large-scale human affairs to some kind of plausible story. Historians of science are struggling to integrate this approach with the clarity and rigor demanded by science itself.

The AIP Center's grants-in-aid are given only to reimburse expenses such as travel. Each year a few grants are given of some $1500-2500 each and a dozen more in the range $200-1500. The majority of grants are used to visit the Niels Bohr Library, where historians not only delve in the archival collections but discover much of value in the book collection and the set of finding aids to collections in other repositories. "I found more than I could possibly have hoped" is a typical comment from a grantee's thank-you letter. Other grants are used for travel to conduct oral history interviews, with a copy usually deposited in the Library. A few grants have been awarded to preserve documentation. This year, for example, a grant-in-aid allowed the archivist of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to organize and re-folder 98 boxes of historical records left by WHOI's first four directors, meanwhile photocopying many acidic, fragile items onto archival paper.

Since the last time we reported on the program (this Newsletter, Fall 1995), the following grants-in-aid were awarded. To Pnina Abir-Am for comparative history of commemorative practices in science; David Aubin: the history of Helium; Kai-Henrik Barth: relations between postwar seismology and nuclear weapons tests; Julie Boddy: origins of nuclear medicine; Patrick Catt: radical scientists in America, 1968-1974; Michael Conlin: reception of the Foucault Pendulum in the United States; David DeVorkin: interviews of astronomers at the IAU Meeting in Japan, and also work on the history of the American Astronomical Society; Ron Doel: interviews of geophysicists on international science during the Cold War; Igor Drovenikov: interviews on history of Soviet physics; James Evans: the optical-mechanical analogy from the 17th through 20th Centuries; Anne Fitzpatrick: computing in the US thermonuclear weapons program; Brian Freer: radiation and risk at Hanford; the late Victor Frenkel: biography of F. Houtermans; Margo Brown Garritt: preservation of the Directors files of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Carl-Henry Geschwind: interviews of seismologists connected with earthquake prediction research during the 1960s-70s; Gregory Good: disciplinary transformations in geomagnetic research; Gennady Gorelik: biography of Andrei Sakharov; David Hecht: biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer; Klaus Hentschel: techniques of representing the spectrum in the 19th and 20th Century; David Howie: development of the electron beam ion trap; Danian Hu: Chinese physics; Richard Jarrell: Canadians and the American Astronomical Society; Tanya Levin: interviews of European geophysicists; Roy M. MacLeod: Allied wartime radar physics; Gisela Mateos: the development of the concept of isospin; Patrick W. McCray: science-tehcnology relationships in contemporary astronomy instrumentation; Kelly Moore: effects of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement on American science; Buhm Soon Park: quantum chemistry 1927-1967; Alexander Penchenkin: the history of nonlinear oscillation physics in Russia; Ioanna Semendeferi: the Monticello radiation-standards debate and its impact on science; David van Keuren: Project Mohole; Gary Weisel: the plasma physics community; Burghard Weiss: acceleraor development in Germany before 1945; Tatjana Yudovina: preserving the archives of the Vavilov Optical Institute Archives, St. Petersburg.


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