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Book Review: David Cassidy’s Short History of Physics in the American Century November 10, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Book Club.
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The following book review appears in Isis 103 (September 2012): 614-615.

© 2012 by The History of Science Society, and reprinted here according to the guidelines of the University of Chicago Press.  In-text links have been added by the author, and were not included in the original text.

David C. Cassidy. A Short History of Physics in the American Century. (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine.) 211 pp., tables, app., index. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. $29.95 (cloth).

William Thomas

David Cassidy styles this book “a very brief introductory synthesis of the history of twentieth-century American physics for students and the general public.” As such, it “is not intended to offer a new analysis of that history or to argue a newly constructed thesis.” Nor does it “drift far from the standard, often currently definitive literature on its subject—as far as that literature goes” (p. 5).


Edgerton, the Linear Model, and the Historical Existence of Ideas July 28, 2010

Posted by Will Thomas in 20th-Century-Science Historiography.
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David Edgerton

Although I have discussed the paper here a few times in the past, including in one of this blog’s first-ever posts, this post will revisit David Edgerton’s argument in “‘The Linear Model’ Did Not Exist” (available in .rtf format via his website @ #41 #27, and published in The Science-Industry Nexus: History, Policy, Implications, Karl Grandin, Nina Wormbs, and Sven Widmalm, eds., 2004; hereafter GWW).

The “linear model” is a very specific claim stating that basic scientific research in universities (or other non-profit institutions) contributes to national economy and security by producing new knowledge, which can then be translated into new technological applications.  Edgerton’s argument that it “did not exist” is that it is an idea that has been held, in a strict sense, by few, if any, actors, and that it has been concocted as a straw man by individuals purporting to offer a superior alternative.  I believe continued discussion of Edgerton’s argument is needed because the reasoning underlying its claims is not obvious, it is now being used productively in new work such as Sabine Clarke’s, and because it has broader historiographical significance.

Much difficulty may be caused by the problem of what it means for an idea to “exist” in history: how well does a historian’s articulation of an idea have to map on to the actual idea in order to claim that it existed?