Publications

The list of selected staff publications may be searched by keyword or author and can be sorted by year.

"The Primacy of Science in Modernity, of Technology in Postmodernity, and of Ideology in the History of Technology" History and Technology, 23:1, 1 - 152.

The abrupt reversal of culturally ascribed primacy in the science & technology relationship—namely, from the primacy of science relative to technology prior to circa 1980, to the primacy of technology relative to science since about that date—is proposed as a demarcator of postmodernity from modernity. Ironically, that prior primacy of science is largely responsible for historians of technology having remained almost wholly unacknowledging of postmodernity’s epochal elevation of the cultural standing of the subject of their studies.
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"Into quantum electronics: the maser as 'gadget' of Cold-War America." In Paul Forman and José M. Sánchez-Ron, eds. National Military Establishments and the Advancement of Science and Technology: Studies in Twentieth Century History (Kluwer Academic Publ.: Dordrecht, 1996), pp. 261–326.

A close examination of the origins of the ammonia beam maser within the military-sponsored Columbia Radiation Laboratory in the early 1950s, together with an examination of the term ‘gadget’ in the parlance of American physicists of that era as indicative of the uneasy relation between their disciplinary self-image and their laboratory practice.

"Truth and objectivity. Part 1: Irony. Part 2: Trust." Science, 269: 565-567, 707–710 (1995).

An essay review of A. Megill, ed., Rethinking objectivity (1994); J. Appleby, L. Hunt, and M. Jacob, Telling the truth about history (1994); S. Shapin, A social history of truth (1994);T. Porter, Trust in numbers (1995). It makes the point that as challenges to belief in truth and in objectivity have escaped from academic discussion, becoming axioms of popular culture, many scholars who previously contributed to undermining that belief are becoming alarmed at the consequences of wholesale voluntarism.

"Inventing the Maser in Postwar America," Osiris, 7: 105–134 (1992).

A critical examination of the concepts and assumptions regarding radiation fields and their interaction with matter underlying the invention of the ammonia beam maser by Charles Townes and his collaborators at Columbia University in the early 1950s, emphasizing particularly that the merits of the device as ‘atomic clock’ were not anticipated, and that until it actually worked the maser was not a priority project in Townes laboratory.

"Tunnels!' —A talk through the exhibition." In Going Underground: Tunneling Past, Present, and Future. Jeffrey K. Stine and Howard Rosen, eds. (Public Works Historical Society: Kansas City, Mo., 1998), 142–49.

An overview of the exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Dibner Gallery in the Museum, August 1993 to May 1994. The last exhibition to be curated by Ellen Wells, it traced the history of tunneling technology, from antiquity to the present, with particular emphasis on the 19th century.

"Lock-in detection/amplifier." Instruments of science: an historical encyclopedia. Robert Bud and D. J. Warner, eds. (Garland Publishing Co.: New York and London, 1998), pp.359–361.

Consideration of the signal/noise ratio became widespread, indeed mandatory, in physical research only in the years following World War II, largely as a result of analyses and techniques developed to detect a ‘real’ signal in the noisy output of a radar receiver. "Lock-in detection,” most influentially embodied in R. H. Dicke’s microwave radiometer, 1943, is a procedure for noise reduction through subtraction of inputs followed by frequency specific amplification and detection.

"Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927: Aadaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment," Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, 3: 1–115 (1971).

Argues that the acausal character of the quantum mechanics discovered in 1925–26 was not a matter of chance. Rather, in the years before its discovery, German physicists, prompted by and participating in strong cultural currents antipathetic to the concept of causality, had identified the abandonment of causality as the principal desideratum for the theory to replace classical mechanics.

The AAM Guide to Collections Planning with Elizabeth Merritt. (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 2004).
Ordinary People and Everyday Life: Perspectives on the New Social History e.d. (Nashville: AASLH, 1983).
"Pioneers of Public History: Serving Time in the Trenches: David F. Trask, Public Historian and Federal Historian," The Public Historian 22 (Spring 2000): 9–27.
A Historical Guide to the United States, editor and contributor. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1986).
Public History: Essays from the Field, e.d., with Peter S. LaPaglia. (Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company, 2004).
"The Redefinition of Historical Scholarship: Calling a Tail a Leg?" The Public Historian 20 (Fall 1998): 43–57.
“Collecting a National Tragedy,” The Public Historian 20 (Fall 1998): 43–57.
"The Redefinition of Historical Scholarship: Calling a Tail a Leg?: Response," The Public Historian 21 (Spring 1999): 95–97.
“Collections Planning: Pinning Down a Strategy,” Museum News 81 (March/April 2002): 42–45,66–67.
"Contested Terrain: History, Museums and the Public," The Public Historian
“September 11 and the Mourning After: Reflections on Collecting and Interpreting the History of Tragedy," with Sarah M. Henry. The Public Historian 24 (Summer 2002): 37–52.
Facts About Museums: An Assessment of Data on the Museum Community (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 1998).
Why Donald Trump’s Election Observers Are a Bad Idea New York Times, August 24, 2016.
The Saloon, America’s Forgotten Democratic Institution New York Times, November 26, 2016.
American Holiday Postcards, 1905-1915: Imagery and Context. McFarland Press, 2013.

Examines deep divides at the height of the Progressive Era as expressed through holidays and holiday imagery.

“Were Christmas Cards America’s First Social Media?” Zócalo Public Square “What it Means to be American” series, December 2014.
“Star-Spangled Turkeys: Patriotism in Thanksgiving Postcards.” The Ephemera Journal. Vol. 17, No. 1, September 2014.
“Rural Americans, Postcards, and the Fiscal Transformation of the Post Office Department, 1909-1911.” The Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposia: Selected papers, 2010-2011. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2012.

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