The first eleven volumes of Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences treated science for the most part as an academic, monodisciplinary pursuit of knowledge with little thought of application or contact with wider society. That changed abruptly in 1981 with Volume 12. Ever since, the journal’s name has steadily broadened, while its content has come to include ever more interdisciplinarity and application. The place of science depicted in the journal’s pages is now all of society, including industry and the engineering disciplines. One possible explanation for this shift, associated with Paul Forman, is that technology and applied research achieved cultural primacy over basic science after 1980. On this view, the journal is simply following society’s lead in turning away from basic science. This article argues, instead, that the field of science and technology studies, and its aim to understand science-as-part-of-society, is now taken for granted by the journal’s authors. On this view, the engineering sciences are simply one of several domains (alongside the social sciences, agricultural sciences, and biomedicine) where it is particularly easy to glimpse science’s participation in wider society.
This essay is part of a special issue entitled “Looking Backward, Looking Forward: HSNS at 50,” edited by Erika Lorraine Milam.