Publications

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

"The Museum of Science and Technology." in Michael S. Shapiro (ed.), The Museum: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989, pp. 59–83.

A discussion of the history of these museums, followed by a bibliography (partially annotated).

“Collectors and Museums,” in Artefacts, Vol 2, Exposing Electronics. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000, pp. 175–191.

Comments on ways that private collections have affected the development of public institutions.

“Context and Controversy.” in Svante Lindqvist (ed.), Museums of Modern Science; Nobel Symposium 112. Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 2000, pp. 151–158.

A discussion of how and why exhibitions at technical museums have increasingly had the potential to be controversial.

"Alexander Graham Bell's Experiments with the Variable-Resistance Transmitter." Smithsonian Journal of History 1, no. 4 (1966), pp. 1–16.

Experiments with Bell's instruments (and reproductions of them), combined with remarks made in his notebooks, provide fresh insights into the origins of his invention.

"An Appraisal of the Origins of Franklin's Electrical Theory." Isis 60 (1969), pp. 362–369.

Word analysis is used to speculate on where Franklin got some of his ideas.

Artefacts, Vol 2, Exposing Electronics Principal editor. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000.

There are several essays on the history of electronics, with an emphasis on the importance of loking at objects. There is also a section on museums with electrical collections.

"Greeting Cards and American Consumer Culture," in The Gift as Material Culture (Yale-Smithsonian Reports on Material Culture, No. 4, 1995)

Greeting cards are associated with gift exchange and sentimentality while simultaneously belonging to a vast consumer industry.

"Reaching the Mass Audience: Business History as Popular History," in James O'Toole, ed., The Records of American Business (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1997)

Discusses the role of archival records, especially audio-visual materials, in such popular business history forms as exhibitions, licensed product reproductions, and print publications.

"The Last Revolution and the Next," Journal of Archival Organization, 2 (number 1/2), 2004.

Information and communications technologies have transformed the archival enterprise, changing the way we work and our relationship with the wider society. Access to archives has increased immeasurably and spurred demand for use of archives. At the same time, in a painful irony, public support for archival work is under attack. Archivists must continue to assert the case for archives in our larger civic life.

"Summary Remarks." Choices and Challenges: Collecting by Museums and Archives. Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 2002.

Comments on eight papers that examine issues in the acquisition of artifacts and archival materials by museums and archives. Urges attention to the social and civic role of our institutions and their holdings.

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Artifact," Museum Archives Section Newsletter, Summer, 2005 
"The Archives Center at the National Museum of American History: Connecting Archival Materials and Artifacts," Collections, 3 (number 2, Spring, 2007)
"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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"In the Era of the Earmark: the Recent Pejoration of Meritocracy—and of Peer Review" in Recent Science Newsletter, v.2, nr 3 (Spring 2001), pp. 1, 10–12.

The modern/postmodern transition as reflected in the changing connotations of the word ‘meritocracy’ and in the recent turn away from expert peer review, formerly regarded as the optimal way to allot funds for scientific research.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"What the Past Tells Us about the Future of Science" in La ciencia y la tecnologia ante el tercer milenio. José Manuel Sánchez Ron, ed. Madrid: Sociedad Estatal España Nuevo Milenio, 2002. pp. 27–37.

The future of science cannot be predicted by extrapolating current scientific concepts but can, to some extent, by considering the general social and cultural conditions under which scientific knowledge is being produced at present and is likely to be produced in the future.

"Molecular beam measurements of nuclear moments before magnetic resonance: I. I. Rabi and deflecting magnets to 1938. Part I." Annals of Science, v.55: 111–160 (1998).

A close examination of the earliest phases of I. I. Rabi’s scientific life and work, through his postdoctoral research at Hamburg University with Otto Stern, 1927-29, and of the techniques for magnetic deflection of molecular beams employed by Stern and Rabi in that laboratory.

“(Re)cognizing postmodernity: helps for historians -- of science especially,” Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 33 (2010), 157-175.

This paper resumes the argument of “The Primacy…” that faith in procedurism and a low valuation of technology (relative to science) were distinctive for modernity and demarcated it from postmodernity. It extends that argument by drawing attention to the demise of disinterestedness as cultural value in postmodernity. Further, it underscores the distinction between the reality that is postmodernity and the ideology and practice that is postmodernism by drawing attention to the fact that the postmodernists’ contention that contemporary personhood is essentially and characteristically fragmented is contradicted by our exaltation of the single-minded, rule-breaking entrepreneur above all other ideals of personhood, in particular above the open-minded but rule-following scientist.

"P. R. Gross, N. Levitt, and M. W. Lewis, eds., The flight from science and reason" Science, 276: 750–53 (1997).

Essay review of the proceedings of a conference called to refute postmodern intellectual positions, pointing out how ineffective the contributions are in doing so, and how largely the contributions themselves give evidence of the postmodernization of contemporary thought, including that of scientists.

Einstein: a Centenary Exhibition with Paul A. Hanle. (Smithsonian Institution Press for National Museum of History and Technology, 1979), 48 pp.

Catalog of an special exhibition, 1979–80, in the Dibner Exhibition Gallery of the Museum featuring artists portraits of Einstein, manuscripts by him, and apparatus connected with tests of his special and general theories of relativity – notably a large torsion balance to test equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass constructed for Lorand Eötvös (lent by Museum for History and Science and Technology, Budapest), and a 1300 Kg aluminum cylinder deployed by Joseph Weber as gravitational wave antenna.

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