Sample Topics and Resources


HST 408 History of American Science and Technology

HST 423 Modern Science in World History

HST 461-462 Senior Theses


Prof. Zuoyue Wang


Note: In general, topics for HST 423 should be more related to science than technology.


A Historical Study of the Debates over US Military Bases in the World

            Starting point: NPR’s “The World” Program segment the topic on July 26, 2007.

The Wright brothers and aviation

            Resources: Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers Fulltext Online at Library of Congress

Nuclear weapons and American foreign policy in each presidency

            Foreign Relations of the United States

            National Security Archives

Compare and contrast the public reactions to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and 9/11

Albert Einstein on science, philosophy, politics, and society:

            Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, QC16.E5 A2 1987, CPP Librray 3rd Floor

            Einstein on Peace, JX1952 .E44, CPP Library 4th Floor

Women engineers in American media

Debate over hybrid technology for automobiles

Counter-cultural movement against science and technology during the Vietnam War period

How did the public react to:

            Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945

            Sputnik of 1957

            Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring of 1962

Cuban missile crisis of 1962

Limited nuclear test ban treaty of 1963

the Apollo project of the 1960s

Three-mile Island accident of 1979

Chernobyl accident of 1986

Challenger disaster of 1986

Personal computer in the mid-1980s

The internet in the mid-1990s

Cloning in the late 1990s

Stem cell research of the early 2000s

How did the scientists and the public react to Watson and Crick’s discovery of the DNA structure?  Was there discussion of its practical applications and even moral and ethnical implications, as in the reaction to the discovery of fission in 1939?

After the Scopes Trial: A Historical Study of the Debate over the Teaching of Evolution

            Sources: Science, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (e.g., 2/1967 issue), New York Times

Bertrand Russell and nuclear weapons (did he call for a preventive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union in 1945-1953 as Sanford Lakoff alleges in Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2005, B19?)


Women scientists (you google them to get basic info):

            Marie Gupperta Mayer

            C. S. Wu

            Sylvia Earle

            Mary Bunting

            Margaret Mead

            Jane Goodall

            Mina Rees

            Grace Hoper


Atomic Bomb


            Harold Urey and the Politics of the Nuclear and Space Age (Urey, who won a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1934 for his discovery of heavy hydrogen, was involved in the making of atomic bomb, campaigned for its civilian and international control in 1945-1946, pushed for the making of the H-bomb in 1949-1950, and then again for the nuclear test ban in 1963.  He was also known as a strong supporter of the Apollo moon landing project in the 1960s when many other scientists opposed it as lacking scientific content.  Why did he break his commitment to arms control to support the H-bomb and what motivated his active participation in science and public policy?  Urey’s papers are available at UCSD Special Collections.) 


Richard Feynman on Science and Politics


The Rise of Molecular Biology: Most people think of the rise of biology over physics as a post-Cold War phenomenon.  But if you examine the newspaper and magazine articles in the late 1950s and 1960s you will discover that scientists were already talking about molecular biology and genetic research as the leading edge of science.  In April 1963, for example, Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of the time, called biology “the most active, most exciting, and most rapidly developing science today in the West.”  [The Meaning of It All, 53.]  It will an interesting project to document this discussion.


Mao Zedong and the Chinese atomic bomb: To what extent did Mao allow Chinese scientists working on the bomb to deviate from his “mass science” ideology?


Did the State Science and Technology Commission try to rein in the Chinese Academy of Sciences over the ideological control of science under Mao as Gardel MacArthur Feurtado seems to argue in “Mao Tse-tung and the Politics of Science in Communist China, 1949-1965” (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1986) on pp. 262-265?


How did American presidents react to national crises?  Compare and contrast, for example, Eisenhower’s post-Sputnik State of the Union address to Congress on January 9, 1958 and George W. Bush’s post 9/11 State of the Union address in 2002.  Eisenhower stated: “My profoundest conviction is that the American people will say, as one man: No matter what the exertions or sacrifices, we shall maintain that necessary strength !  But we could make no more tragic mistake than merely to concentrate on military strength. For if we did only this, the future would hold nothing for the world but an Age of Terror. And so our second task is to do the constructive work of building a genuine peace. We must never become so preoccupied with our desire for military strength that we neglect those areas of economic development, trade, diplomacy, education, ideas and principles where the foundations of real peace must be laid. “

George Sarton, a pioneer in the field of the history of science, once claimed that “Science makes for peace more than anything else in the world; it is the cement that holds together the highest and the most comprehensive minds of all countries, of all races, of all creeds.” [quoted in Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer, xi]  Did scientists make similar claims?  Did Einstein or Bohr make such strong claims of “science for peace”?


In a democratic society, should the question of the ends of science be handled by the elected officials, and not scientists themselves?  How did scientists feel about this issue?


Niels Bohr’s influence on J. Robert Oppenheimer in terms of the power of science, through nuclear weapons, to force nations to give up some sovereignty and work for international peace.


Relations between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein.


Scientists, Presidents, and Their Stand on Birth Control.  Eisenhower, for example, appointed a presidential commission that recommended US technical aid to foreign countries in the area of birth control but he refused to endorse the recommendation amidst the 1960 election.  Two years later, however, he and Truman both publicly supported birth control.  How did scientists and presidents shape birth control policy?


The White House as a Policy Showcase: On June 29, 2009 President Obama announced that he had requested Steven Chu, his secretary of energy, to take a look at the White House and come up with recommendations on how to make its lights more energy efficient.  In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson went to great length to make sure his staff turned off lights late in the night as a way to save energy and money.  In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter installed some kind of solar (or nuclear?) energy device on the roof of the White House amidst another energy crisis, which was apparently taken down later during the Reagan administration.  Write a paper on how the physical White House was used as a way to showcase administration policy.


LED and Equality: Gertrude Neumark Rothschild (1927-2010), a woman chemist/physicist/material scientist who helped invent the energy-saving LED light, filed and won lawsuits against big companies which infringed on her patents. Use her life and experiences to explore how women scientists were discriminated against and how they fought back.  See, e.g., William Grimes, “Gertrude Rothschild, Dies at 83; Advanced LEDs,” New York Times, November 17, 2010.


Nobel Science Laureates in the Public Arena: When the US senate debated whether the US should ratify the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, a group of Nobel science laureates signed a statement in support of the treaty.  It is often regarded as one of the earliest collective actions by Nobel science laureates.  Do searches in the New York Times Historical database through the CPP Library and see what other issues have Nobel laureates spoken up on collectively.  Variations of this topic and related tips: select “Advertisement” in document types in the above database, and you can find display ads that appeared in the NYT.  You can search for other groups—Nobel literature laureates, university presidents, religious leaders, etc.


Topics in history of modern science in China:


Debates over the relationship between scientists and scientific research in universities and those in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. (Sources:《竺可桢全集》,《钱三强年谱长编》等)



What Primary Sources Should I Use?


For most of these topics, you should be able to use newspaper and magazine articles from the period covered as your primary sources, in addition to other kinds of primary and secondary sources.  The two best sources for newspaper articles are the historical New York Times (1851-2002) and the historical Los Angeles Times (1881-1985).  You can access them by going to CPP Library’s list of “Database and Article Search,” and select “ProQuest Newspapers,” and then, under “Databases,” select “New York Times Historical” (for national and international coverage) or “Los Angeles Times Historical” (for national, international, especially Asian Pacific, US West, and California coverage).  For newspaper articles after 1985, you should use the CCP Library’s newspaper databases to get them in full text form: Proquest Newspapers (select “ProQuest newspapers under “Databases”), Lexus-Nexus, and Dow-Jones. 


Yet another useful database is the Declassified Documents Reference System which contains declassified documents related to the history of the atomic bomb and the Cold War.  Our library does not yet subscribe to this database but you can access it at any UC library.


Where Can I Find Magazine Articles before 1985?


For magazine articles before 1985, please go to CPP library’s Wilson Web database, select Reader’s Guide Retro, which allows you to search magazine articles before 1985 though not in fulltext.   You get the citations and then go to the second floor to find the magazines and you can make photocopies of the articles you need.


UC Libraries: If you can access UC Library databases either at a UC Library or through someone who is affiliated with the UC, you can find pre-1985 magazine articles in many magazines through the Periodicals Archives Online database.


A free Cornell website on 19th century US history with many primary source materials, including, e.g., issues of The Atlantic Monthly, The Century, and Harper's:


Time magazine has recently made available its archives dating back to the 1920s to the public for free.


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which is one of the best places to find articles on atomic bomb, scientists, and the Cold War, also has its archives dating back to 1946 available to its subscribers.


How about Magazine Articles after 1985?


For magazine articles after 1985, you should use the WilsonWeb database, especially the OmniText subdatabase, available through our library.  You can do search on your topic, get citations and often fulltext content of the articles from that database.  You should also try several other databases to get magazine articles: Lexus-Nexus and Dow-Jones Interactive.


California, Los Angeles, and Local History


Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (2004), and review by Lee M. A. Simpson in Reviews in American History.  Especially useful for papers dealing with Disneyland, Chavez Ravine, and the freeway system.