I’m sunk deep in historiography right now, trying to sharpen my engagement with the relevant literature as I revise my dissertation into a book manuscript. I feel like it’s time to step back and take stock of the literature that talks about popular science in the twentieth-century US (one of the major bodies of work I’m hoping to respond to and amplify in my own book). I’d love your help.

It seems like so much good work on “popular science” or “science in public” covers happenings in the 19th-c UK or the late twentieth century through the present. (Or, it’s specifically about technology. I know there’s a rich body of work that spans American Studies and technology out there…which is helpful to me, to be sure, but what I’m interested in is the intersection of American culture and the very idea of “science,” as it’s differently defined across this time period. Sometimes this shows up in histories of technology and culture, and sometimes it doesn’t.)

Don’t get me wrong—I am loving Ralph O’Connor’s The Earth on Show, which is wickedly well-written and full of interesting tales about geology, history, and public science in the UK in the first half of the nineteenth century—and I can use some of the ideas in it to try to make sense of my own archives. But I feel like there has to be more work out there that does the same good turn to twentieth-century American popular science than I know about now.

What I’m looking for are works on the twentieth-century US that cover public/popular science in the Progressive Era, the interwar period, and the postwar era. I’m particularly interested in books/articles/etc that try to connect public science with larger social/cultural trends and tendencies. (This is American Studies, after all.)

So I ask you: what am I missing??

Relevant Theoretical Works

Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette. “A Historical Perspective on Science and Its ‘Others’.” Isis 100, no. 2 (June 2009): 359–368.

Cravens, Hamilton, and Alan I. Marcus. “American Studies and American Science: An Analysis.” American Studies 30, no. 2 (Fall 1989): 5–20.

Daum, Andreas W. “Varieties of Popular Science and the Transformations of Public Knowledge: Some Historical Reflections.” Isis 100, no. 2 (June 2009): 319–332.

Pandora, Katherine. “Popular Science in National and Transnational Perspective: Suggestions from the American Context.” Isis 100, no. 2 (June 2009): 346–358.

Pandora, Katherine, and Karen A. Rader. “Science in the Everyday World.” Isis 99, no. 2 (June 2008): 350–364.

Shapin, Steven. “Science and the Public.” In Companion to the History of Modern Science, edited by R.C. Olby. London/New York: Routledge, 1990.

Surveys Covering More Than One Time Period

Burnham, John C. How Superstition Won and Science Lost: Popularization of Science and Health in the United States. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

Haynes, Roslynn D. From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Markley, Robert. Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Mitchell, W. J. Thomas. The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Shapin, Steven. The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Terzian, Sevan G. Science education and citizenship: fairs, clubs and talent searches for American youth, 1918-1958. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Thurs, Daniel Patrick. Science Talk: Changing Notions of Science in American Popular Culture. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2007.


Cain, Victoria E.M. “‘The Direct Medium of the Vision’: Visual Education, Virtual Witnessing and the Prehistoric Past at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1923.” Journal of Visual Culture 9, no. 3 (December 1, 2010): 284 –303.

——-.  “Nature Under Glass: Popular Science, Professional Illusion and the Transformation of American Natural History Museums, 1870–1940.” Dissertation, Columbia University, 2007.

Colgrove, James. “‘Science in a Democracy’: The Contested Status of Vaccination in the Progressive Era and the 1920s.” Isis 96, no. 2 (June 1, 2005): 167–191.

Levine, George Lewis. Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Nadis, Fred. Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Seitler, Dana. Atavistic Tendencies: The Culture of Science in American Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.


Cheng, John. Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Clark, C. A. “Evolution for John Doe: Pictures, the Public, and the Scopes Trial Debate.” Journal of American History 87, no. 4 (2001): 1275–1303.

——. God—or gorilla: images of evolution in the jazz age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Currell, Susan, and Christina Cogdell, eds. Popular Eugenics: National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006.

Ersoz, Meryem. “American magic, American technology: visual culture and popular science in the machine age.” Dissertation, University of Oregon, 1997.

Hansen, Bert. Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

Kuznick, Peter J. “Losing the World of Tomorrow: The Battle Over the Presentation of Science at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.” American Quarterly 46, no. 3 (1994): 341–373.

LaFollette, Marcel C. Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910-1955. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

———. Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Luey, Beth. Expanding the American mind : books and the popularization of knowledge. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.

Terzian, Sevan G. “The 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair and the Transformation of the American Science Extracurriculum.” Science Education 93, no. 5 (September 2009): 892–914.

Tobey, Ronald C. The American Ideology of National Science, 1919-1930. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.


Andre, Laura Margaret. “Lunar Nation: The Moon and American Visual Culture, 1957–1972.” Dissertation, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002.

Boyer, Paul S. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon, 1985.

Frayling, Christopher. Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2005.

Hecht, David K. “The Atomic Hero: Robert Oppenheimer and the Making of Scientific Icons in the Early Cold War.” Technology and Culture 49, no. 4 (2008): 943–966.

LaFollette, Marcel C. Science on American Television: a History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Lecklider, Aaron. Inventing the egghead: the battle over brainpower in American culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Luey, Beth. “‘Leading the Public Gently’: Popular Science Books in the 1950s.” Book History 2 (1999): 218–253.

Mariner, Rosemary B., and G. Kurt Piehler. The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives. 1st ed. Univ Tennessee Press, 2009.

McCray, Patrick. Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch & the Dawn of the Spage Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Rhodes, Molly. “Wonder Woman and Her Disciplinary Powers: The Queer Intersection of Scientific Authority and Mass Culture.” In Doing Science + Culture, edited by Roddey Reid and Sharon Traweek, 95–118. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Shaw, Debra Benita. “BODIES OUT OF THIS WORLD: The Space Suit as Cultural Icon.” Science as Culture 13, no. 1 (March 2004): 123–144.

Terzian, Sevan. “‘Adventures in Science’: Casting Scientifically Talented Youth as National Resources on American Radio, 1942-1958.” Paedagogica Historica 44, no. 3 (June 2008): 309–325.

——-. “Science World, High School Girls, and the Prospect of Scientific Careers, 1957-1963.” History of Education Quarterly 46, no. 1 (2006): 73–99.

Tietge, David J. Flash Effect: Science and the Rhetorical Origins of ColdWar America. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.

Winkler, Allan M. Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety About the Atom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.