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The 20th-Century Problem: Krige and National Narrative November 8, 2009

Posted by Will Thomas in 20th-Century-Science Historiography.
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In my last discussion of the challenges involved in writing about the history of science in the 20th century, I noted that local narratives can be taken to be revealing of broader issues, but that such narratives can also simply reflect back some larger narrative already understood to exist.  In this post we take this consideration to the case of the national narrative.

John Krige’s 2006 book American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe is, I would say, an important step in the establishment of a historiography of post-1945 science on the European continent.  Until recently, the history of scientific Europe in this period has not been systematically explored.  1999’s Science under Socialism, edited by Dieter Hoffmann and Kristie Macrakis (who just joined Krige at Georgia Tech this year), etched out a picture of science in East Germany.  Cathryn Carson has written on science in West Germany (publications list here).  In 1998’s The Radiance of France (out in a new edition this year), Gabrielle Hecht wrote on the development of the unusually important nuclear power industry in that country.  The object here is not to put together a complete bibliography, but if anyone wants to add to the picture of this historiography, please do leave a comment.

Krige’s book covers a lot of important bases, looking at the Marshall Plan, NATO, the State Department and CIA, the activities of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and the establishment of CERN (on which he has written more extensively elsewhere) as institutions linking American and European science and politics.  (Here one should also make note of Ron Doel‘s ongoing project to study American science’s diplomatic uses.)  Similar to Needell’s book on Lloyd Berkner, the emphasis here is on individual cases.  In this case, different (more…)