Science in the United States

Taught in Fall 2002, by Prof. Cathryn Carson at the University of California at Berkeley 


Course description
Reading materials
Course mechanics
Useful links
Schedule and outlines
Short writing assignments
Exam preparation
Research paper
Reading strategies


Course Description

History 138:  Science in the U.S.
Fall 2002, MWF 10-11 
88 Dwinelle Hall 
CCN 39304, Exam Group 1 

Prof. Cathryn Carson 
Office:  2413 Dwinelle Hall (office wing) 
Office hours:  M 11-12, W 1-2, or e-mail for an appointment

The final short writing assignment for the review essay has now been posted. It is due at the beginning of class on Friday, December 6.

Review questions for the final exam are available.

Regarding the reading responses :  a total of four (two primary, two secondary) are due for the rest of the semester.  If you would like extra credit, you can do more.  If you did not turn in all four assignments for the first half of the course, you can partly compensate by doing extra ones now.  Two post-midterm reading responses will compensate for one missed pre-midterm assignment.  These extra assignments must be done in addition to those required for the second half of the course.  Primary-source responses must be compensated for with primary-source responses;  secondary-sources responses, with secondary-source responses. 

The course covers the history of science in the U.S. from the colonial period up to the present.  We will be focusing on the unique situation of the sciences within the changing U.S. context, emphasizing debates over the place of science in intellectual, cultural, religious, and political life.  As we examine the mutual shaping of national experience and scientific developments, we will also trace the emergence of institutions for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, with special attention to the relationships between science and technology and between science and the state.  We will explore a large number of local examples (California geology, Ernest Lawrence, Silicon Valley, and lots on UC Berkeley). 
The course is aimed at students of all majors;  no scientific knowledge is presupposed.  Basic familiarity with U.S. history will be helpful, as the course is as much about U.S. history as about the history of science.

Reading Materials

Three books are available in the bookstores and on reserve at Moffitt: 

Ronald L. Numbers and Charles E. Rosenberg, ed., The Scientific Enterprise in America (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1996).  ISBN 0226068387, $17.95. 

Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods:  the Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1997).  ISBN 0674854292, $15.95.  Pulitzer prize winner!

Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970 (New York:  Penguin, 1989).  ISBN 0140097414, $17.95.

A reader of primary sources will be available for purchase from Copy Central, 2560 Bancroft Way, and on reserve at Moffitt.
Course Mechanics

The full schedule of assignments is available separately. 

Class meetings

For each class meeting, a brief outline and a list of names and terms will be posted as a link from the schedule .  These are designed to supplement, not substitute for, notetaking.  I will try to make them available before class.  If I cannot, they will be posted afterwards.  Classes will include a substantial amount of material not covered in the reading.
Reading assignments
This is a history course.  It requires a substantial amount of reading.  You need to complete each assignment before coming to class, as we may refer to the selections.  Each reading assignment has preparatory questions available in the reader and as links from the schedule.
Short writing assignments
You will have three sorts of short writing assignments. 
  • Reading responses to primary and secondary sources in the course reading.  Each reading response is a 1-page paper.  Each half of the semester (before and after the midterm), you will write two essays on primary plus two essays on secondary sources.  You are strongly encouraged not to wait until the very last assignments permitted.  Essays on primary sources are due in class on the day for which the reading is assigned and will be graded check/check-plus/check-minus.  Essays on secondary sources are due at the next class and will receive letter grades.
  • A short essay (3 pages) due September 16 analyzing the earliest U.S. scientific periodical.
  • A short essay (3 pages) due December 6 in preparation for the final exam.
The webpage on the short writing assignments describes the assignments in detail.
Research paper
You will write a research paper of 9-12 pages on a topic of your choice, due the Monday before Thanksgiving.  The research paper website gives guidance.  I will help you through the stages of research, in part by giving you intermediate assignments: 
  • First thoughts on the paper, after reviewing the research paper website, are due to me by e-mail by 6 p.m. on Friday, September 20.  No attachments!  Put your message in the body of the e-mail.
  • Your topic (or topic ideas) are due by the same means by 6 p.m. on Friday, October 4.
  • A list of your sources is due by the same means by 6 p.m. on Monday, October 28.
  • An abstract (1-paragraph summary) is due by the same means by 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6.
  • The paper itself is due in hard copy, not e-mail, at the beginning of class on Monday, November 25.
Your grade will reflect these assignments as well as the final paper.
The midterm will be given in class on Friday, October 11.  It covers the first three units of the syllabus. 

The final exam will be given during the time scheduled for Exam Group 1, Wednesday, December 11, 8:00-11:00 a.m.  It covers the entire semester. 

My exams tend to emphasize questions requiring answers one paragraph in length;  sometimes I add a few longer options.  I generally give you a choice of which questions to answer.  This semester I may experiment with short-answer questions as well.

Grades will be assigned according to the following weighting:
Reading response papers 2 parts total
Other short writing assignments 1 part total
Research paper 4 parts
Midterm exam 2 parts
Final exam 3 parts
Any work not completed will be counted as an F.  In individual cases (e.g., marked improvement over the course of the semester) I may choose to deviate from this scheme.
Further notes
Written assignments:  All written assignments are to be typed, double-spaced in normal-sized fonts with reasonable margins.  They may not be submitted by e-mail or in any other electronic form.  Proper writing (grammar, organization, citation format) definitely counts.  All assignments for this course are formal pieces of writing, including the reading response papers:  your thoughts may be tentative or exploratory, but your writing should be polished.  Papers are due at the beginning of class and late papers will be penalized:  each day (or fraction thereof) that a paper is late will reduce its grade by 2/3 of a mark (e.g., A to B+, B- to C). You have been forewarned.

Discussion section:  There is no discussion section.  If you are looking for classmates to compare notes with, please contact me.

Useful Links

History of science on the web

ECHO Science and Technology Virtual Center
History of Science Society reading list (guide to printed resources)
History of science reference sources
Databases (books and articles)
History of science and technology database (from on campus)
America: history and life database(from on campus)
Archives and library catalogs
History of science and technology at the Bancroft Library
Online Archive of California
Pathfinder (online UCB catalog)
Starting on research papers
Introduction to the UCB libraries
Library instruction and tours
Library research guides
Guide to primary source research
Assistance from library reference staff
Introduction to citation styles (you may use either Turabian or MLA's version of footnotes/endnotes)
Student Learning Center drop-in writing tutorin

Schedule and Outlines
(including reading response options)
M 8/26 Introduction and overview  
W 8/28 Setting the stage  
F 8/30 Enlightenment ideals Primary: Captain Hall, Franklin
W 9/4 Infrastructure and governance Primary: Adams
Primary: Constitution (not for reading response)
F 9/6 The educational impulse Primary: Mrs. Phelps
Secondary: Kohlstedt (SEA)
M 9/9 Exploring a continent Secondary: Slotten (SEA)
W 9/11 Geology and mining Primary: John LeConte
F 9/13 Agriculture and its institutions Primary: Wiley
M 9/16 A national venture Assignment: Journal analysis
W 9/18 Darwin's challenge Darwin
F 9/20 Responses to Darwin Assignment: Research paper website
Assignment: First thoughts (e-mail)
M 9/23 The modern university (1) Primary: Joseph LeConte
W 9/25 The modern university (2) Secondary: Rossiter (SEA)
F 9/27 Sciences of society Primary: Small
M 9/30 Engineering and industrial research Secondary: Hughes intro, ch 1, ch 4
W 10/2 The scientific ideal Primary: Peirce
F 10/4 Conservation Assignment: Paper topic (e-mail)
M 10/7 Progressive visions Secondary: Hughes ch 5 to p 220
W 10/9 Transforming the state (review for midterm)
F 10/11 Midterm  
M 10/14 The new biology Secondary: Larson intro - ch 3
W 10/16 Medicine and education Primary: Flexner
F 10/18 Sanitation, hygiene, and imperialism Primary: State responsibility
M 10/21 Sciences of the mind Primary: Scripture
W 10/23 Social biologisms Secondary: Larson ch 4-6 (not for reading response)
F 10/25 Religion and science: evolution Secondary: Larson ch 7-10
M 10/28 The chemists' war: fighting WWI Assignment: Source list (e-mail)
W 10/30 The chemists' war: organizing WWI Secondary: Hughes ch 3
F 11/1 Between business and the state Secondary: Hoover exercise
M 11/4 Science for better living Secondary: Mitman (SEA)
W 11/6 Disciplinary acceleration: physics Assignment: Paper abstract (e-mail)
F 11/8 The physicists' war: radar Secondary: Hughes ch 8 to p 421
M 11/11 HOLIDAY  
W 11/13 The physicists' war: the bomb Primary: Sandberg (not for reading response)
Primary: Before
F 11/15 The postwar settlement Secondary: Kevles (SEA)
M 11/18 Cold War Primary: Ridenour
W 11/20 The national security state Primary: Eisenhower
Secondary: Hughes ch 8 p 421 - end
F 11/22 Silicon Valley Primary: Weinberg
Secondary: Hollinger (SEA)
M 11/25 The space age Assignment: Research paper due
W 11/27 The 60s: questioning the establishment Secondary: Hughes ch 9
F 11/29 HOLIDAY  
M 12/2 Ecological thinking Primary: PSAC
W 12/4 Biomedicine and biotech Primary: Berg
F 12/6 Wrap-up Assignment: Review essay
W 12/11 Final exam, 8:00-11:00 a.m.

Short Writing Assignments

You will have three sorts of short writing assignments:

  • Reading responses (1 pages each) to primary and secondary sources in the course reading.
  • A journal essay (3 pages) on the first U.S. scientific periodical.
  • A review essay (3 pages) in preparation for the final exam.
Reading Responses
Each reading response is a 1-page paper.  In each half of the semester (before and after the midterm), you will write
  • two essays on primary sources
  • two essays on secondary sources
for a total of eight short essays (approximately 12 pages). You may turn them in as you choose, as long as they fall as required in the two halves of the semester.

Reading response papers should not summarize the documents. Rather, they should pick out one or more interesting or provocative features to analyze.  If you choose, you may structure your reading responses around the preparatory questions available in the reader and as links from the schedule.  Some points to keep in mind:

In approaching primary documents, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Who created the item? What do you know about the authors and their backgrounds?
  • To whom is the document directed? Why was it written?
  • What point of view comes through? What can you say about the authors' assumptions, agendas, or predispositions?
  • What can you learn from the document apart from textual content: style, publication information, printing, prefaces, mottos?
For secondary sources, think about the historiography as well as the history.  That is, along with absorbing the historical facts, pay attention to how the historians frame and deploy the facts.  Understanding how historians construct their histories is the first step to reading them critically.

Submission and grading:

  • Primary sources:  Turn in on the day for which the reading is assigned, at the beginning of class.  Graded check/check-plus/check-minus.
  • Secondary sources:  Turn in at the next class;  you may use knowledge or ideas gained in class.  Graded with letter grades.

You are strongly encouraged not to wait until the very last assignments permitted.  Don't let the midterm or the end of the semester creep up on you.

Journal Essay
You will examine the earliest significant scientific journal published in the U.S., the American journal of science and arts (sometimes called Silliman's journal, after its editor). UC Berkeley's holdings go back to the very first issue, published in 1818.  Multiple early issues of the journal have been placed on two-hour reserve (library use only) in the Earth Sciences Library, 50 McCone Hall.  Go to the library circulation desk, borrow any issue before 1850, and see what you make of it.

This is an open-ended assignment in analyzing a primary source.  You may zero in on particular articles, but also try to get a sense of the periodical more generally.  You might ask questions like:

  • Who publishes the journal? Who authors its articles? Who might read or subscribe?
  • What range of subjects do the articles deal with?
  • How does the subject matter map onto what we today would count as science?
  • After examining the journal, what is your overall impression of American science in this period?
PLEASE treat the journal gently.
Ask the librarian before photocopying.
This is a piece of history.

The 3-page essay is due in class on Monday, September 16.  You will be ready to start on this assignment as soon as the second week of class.  To avoid a rush for the journals, go before the last minute.  Also check the Earth Science Library hours, which are shorter than the Main Library's.

Review Essay
To start thinking about pulling the semester together, write up a formal essay in response to the following question:

Pick one of the following three figures:

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Silliman
  • Alexander Dallas Bache
Now imagine him time-transported to the present. Were he to survey the way science is pursued in our day, what would strike him as most importantly different? Pick out the two or three most significant features. Keep your mind open to very broad answers, the ones that get most pointedly at how science as changed from his day. You may frame your answer either as a straightforward essay or, if you prefer, a report from your time-transported figure back to his contemporaries.

The 3-page essay is due on the last day of class, Friday, December 6.

All written assignments are to be typed, double-spaced in normal-sized fonts with reasonable margins.  No cover page or title is necessary, but put your name and the assignment at the top of the first page.  Number your pages.  For the reading responses and the journal essay, parenthetical references of the form (Franklin, 229) or (v. 10, 47), respectively, will suffice.  For the review essay, citations are not necessary.

Proper writing (grammar, organization, citation format) definitely counts.  All assignments for this course are formal pieces of writing, including the reading response papers.  Your thoughts may be tentative or exploratory, but your writing should be polished.

Written assignments may not be submitted by e-mail or in any other electronic form.  Papers are due at the beginning of class and late papers will be penalized:  each day (or fraction thereof) that a paper is late will reduce its grade by 2/3 of a mark (e.g., A to B+, B- to C).

Exam Preparations

This course has two examinations, a midterm and a final.

  • The midterm (a 50-minute examination) will be given on Friday, October 11 from 10:10-11:00 a.m.
  • The final (a three-hour examination) will be given Wednesday, December 11, from 8:00-11:00 a.m.  Location:  102 Moffitt Library (use the entrance to the right of the main doors).  

The midterm counts for 2 parts in 12 of your course grade (1/6);  the final, for 3 parts in 12 (1/4).  Each covers all course material up through the lecture and reading assigments immediately preceding.

Sorts of Questions
Both examinations consist of short-answer and paragraph-answer questions. 

  • Short-answer questions will typically come directly from the reading or from lecture (in the latter case, with a heavy emphasis on the list of names and terms).  They will generally ask for a one-sentence identification of a person, organization, event, etc., plus a one-sentence description of their significance or place in the history of science in the U.S.
  • Paragraph-answer questions require more in-depth discussion of developments or themes.  They should aim for coverage at the level of six to nine sentences.  Answering them well involves a sense for big-picture issues as well as a command of important facts or examples.

You will have a specified number of each type of question to answer.  Within each type you will some choice.

Sample Midterm Questions

  • What were the origins of the American Philosophical Society?  What is its significance?
  • What does P.T. Barnum have to do with American natural history?
  • What was the Morrill Act?  What were its most important consequences?
  • Where does Albion Small fit into the history of American science?
  • How are scientific societies important for the history of science in the U.S.?  Give two or three examples from the colonial/revolutionary period through the mid-19th century. 
  • Assertion:  "The case of Alexander Dallas Bache shows that 19th-century demands on a scientific statesman were really no different from those today."  Argue for or against this claim.  To this end, describe some of Bache's strategies to secure support for the U.S. Coast Survey.  Are these fundamentally similar to or different from those of lobbyists for science today?  Briefly address counterarguments.
  • How did geologists and chemists contribute to shaping the public image of the scientist in the mid-19th century (up through the Civil War)?  First explain what brought these two scientific professions into the public eye, using at least one concrete example for each.  Then describe how their activities, their successes, and their failures might have influenced the American public's perception of scientists.
  • The history of science in the U.S. is liberally salted with contributions from foreign scientists.  In the period we have studied so far, do you think the U.S. manages to break free from subordination to European science?  If so, explain when and how;  if not, explain why not.
Sample Final Questions
Short-answer (beyond those for the midterm):
  • What was the goal of the conservation movement? When did it reach its peak?
  • What were the origins of the Federation of Atomic Scientists, and what was its fate?
  • What was the significance of the Apollo Program for U.S. science?
  • What did the phrase "survival of the fittest" mean to Americans at the turn of the 20th century?
  • Argue for or against:  "By all rights, the twentieth century should have been the century of biology;  only political catastrophe made it otherwise."  In justifying your answer, address the state of affairs at the century's beginning and end, as well as the events in between.
  • What historical lessons would you draw from the ups and downs of the idea of a national academy of science?  Starting very briefly with proposals from the 18th century, focus your attention mainly on the National Academy located in Washington, D.C.  When was the Academy it successful, when did it fail, and where and why did it stop being important and start up again?
  • In the 1890s Henry Rowland complained that Americans tended to confuse science with engineering, pure science with applications. First, do you think he was correct in his day? Second, would his assessment hold past his own era? Give specific examples.
  • We can define a "scientific entrepreneur" to be a scientist (or engineer in a field heavily dependent on science) who turns scientific knowledge to practical purposes and finds ways to take it to market.  How has the position of the American scientific entrepreneur changed from the late 19th century to the present?  Consider not just institutional homes, but also sponsors for R&D, as well as the larger political economy into which the scientific entrepreneur fits.
Some paragraph-answer questions may be specified on the exam as permitting two-paragraph responses. In those cases, they will count for two answers.
Research Papers

The Nature of the Beast
The research paper is what it says.  It presents your original research, formulating your findings as an analytical, interpretive contribution to your chosen topic .  The research paper puts you in the position of the historian.

These guidelines will start you on the process.  The website is divided into four sections:

Introduction to the research paper
Constructing a research paper
Finding a topic and sources
Moving towards the final paper (assignments)

Before continuing to those pages, please finish these guidelines.

Your paper may deal with any topic in the history of science in the U.S.  You may  define science in the broad sense we have used in this course.  The subject matter must be historical, and topics must lie at least 25 years in the past. 

Your aim is not simply to report what happened, but to analyze and interpret.  You must develop a thesis and an argument to support it.  Explain the significance and implications of your topic;  fit it into what we have learned in class.  Your argument must be based on research in primary sources (at least two) and secondary sources (at least two).

The paper of 9-12 pages is due at the beginning of class on Monday, November 25. Intermediate assignments are due on September 20 (first thoughts), October 4 (topic), October 28 (source list), and November 6 (abstract).

It is highly recommended that you seek help from a friend in revising.  An argument must be persuasive to the reader, so try to get comments.  The Student Learning Center offers drop-in writing tutoring.  You may consult with classmates indeed, you are encouraged to but the paper you turn in must be your own work.  If you have questions, please ask.

Don't even think of using a paper from a proprietary website.  If you take text off the web, be assured I will find it.  And I know the print literature;  I will look up your sources.

Reading Strategies:

Some Reading Strategies for History Courses: A List of Informal Suggestions

Facts and Dates
History isn't just about learning facts and dates.  It's also about understanding how and why things happened.  So don't get bogged down in all the facts and dates, at the expense of the big picture.  Ask, "Why would this event be important, and how does it relate to other events?"  These questions give you the framework to hang your facts and dates on. This is not to say that you can forget all facts and dates, but it is to suggest remembering them within a meaningful context.

Information Overload
History readings often give you more information than you actually need to remember.  Again, here the big picture is important.  Authors include details to make their cases more persuasive or memorable.  But on the same principle as above, not all these details need to be noted down and stored away.

Active Reading
History courses have a lot of reading.  Therefore you need to practice active, intelligent reading.  Keep asking yourself, "What is the point of all this?  What am I supposed to be getting out of it?"  Then organize your reading around answering those questions.  It helps to scan material quickly before really getting into it;  it helps to look back over it afterwards to fix the main points in your mind.

Types of Sources
History courses use different kinds of materials that demand different kinds of reading.  For instance, a narrative of someone's life may be quicker and easier to read than a historian's analysis of an event and its reasons.  A primary document will make you ask different questions from a textbook account.

History is interpretive. Historians (authors, people in general) will sometimes tell different stories about events or attribute different significance to them.  The accounts you have before you do not represent the final truth.  This does not mean, though, that history is bunk (to cite Henry Ford).  What these accounts represent are the efforts of (usually) intelligent, thoughtful people to make sense of what we can find out about what happened in the past.

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