Teasel Muir-Harmony, the new Associate Historian in the Center for History of Physics, researches and writes about the history of U.S. science diplomacy during the Cold War. President Eisenhower’s committee on the nation’s image abroad, in their 1960 report, captured many policymakers’ approach to science during this critical era in international diplomacy: “Throughout the world the status of the nation’s science is increasingly taken as a measure of its power and dynamism.” During months of meetings, committee members had debated whether federal agencies should evaluate the “international political-psychological factors” of scientific programs when allocating funding and the role of science in American international prestige. They explored potential high-profile scientific and engineering programs, including anti-gravity devices, global science education and a satellite that would light up the night sky. Although in the early 1960s the proper steps to take were still uncertain, what was clear to many policymakers in this period was that science played a critical role in the United States’ geopolitical standing.
Teasel comes to AIP from MIT, where she recently completed her PhD in the history of science and technology. She examined one of the high-profile projects proposed in the 1960 report— human space exploration—in her dissertation on the role of Project Apollo in U.S. foreign relations and national image making. In addition to U.S. science diplomacy, Teasel’s other major research interests include the history of astronomy and space exploration, the public understanding of science, the circulation of scientific knowledge, and the role of science and technology in the process of globalization.
At the Center for History of Physics, Teasel will help expand the Niels Bohr Library & Archives’ collection of oral histories in space physics as well as women and minorities in the physical sciences. She first became interested in oral history ten years ago when she began working with David DeVorkin, a senior curator at the Smithsonian Institution and former AIP research associate. During graduate school, as part of her research, Teasel interviewed and spoke with scientists and engineers, science educators, government officials and Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell. She has drawn on many of AIP’s oral histories in her work and looks forward to the opportunity to add to this collection.
Along with contributing to the oral history collection, Teasel will be drawing on her background in museums to revise and build on some of the Center for History of Physics’ online exhibits. As an Assistant Curator at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Teasel evaluated the establishment of a contemporary astrophysics and spaceflight collection in addition to working on exhibits and the acquisition of twentieth-century artifacts. At the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Teasel assisted curators with the development of educational exhibits, updating displays, conducting archival research and running interactive exhibits on gravitational lensing and the history of efforts to measure the rotate of the earth. Although AIP’s exhibits are virtual, not physical, many of the techniques and approaches used in traditional museum settings can enhance the accessibility of the Center for History of Physics’ online information for students, teachers and the general public.
This fall Teasel will begin a new research project on U.S. science diplomacy from the 1950s through the 1980s. Although scientific internationalism has a long history, the postwar era saw a drastic rise in the U.S. government’s incorporation of science, and scientists, in foreign affairs. This effort included an elaborate array of science themed public information programming aimed at audiences in strategically significant countries around the world. From the Voice of America’s “New Horizons in Science” radio broadcast to the U.S. Information Agency’s fortnightly 15-minute television news review “Science Report,” public diplomats utilized science as a vital form of soft power. Teasel’s project focuses on science media programming to trace how ideas about what specific areas of science, and what scientific breakthroughs, best served America’s foreign posture, evolved over the four decades of the Cold War.