Current Graduate Students
20th Century Science and Technology
Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1996
Office: HSSB 3251 Hours:
Phone: (805) 893-2665
I'm a professor in the Department of History at UCSB. My research interests concern the interplay between popular culture and politics with modern technology and science. My research informs my teaching. I offer courses on a number of subjects - from the history of nuclear weapons and the Space Age to the history of modern science and technology in the United States. Another view of my work can be found at my personal website: www.patrickmccray.com.
My Research Interests
- My general research program addresses the histories of modern technology and science from the 1930s to the present. These include:
- Social histories of science and technology during the Cold War; I tend to focus on the physical sciences (esp. astronomy, physics, & materials science) and their relation with technology and instrumentation.
- The ways in which technology and science intersect with innovation, politics, art, and popular culture.
- The emergence, development, and intersection of technological communities.
- I have several new projects underway. One subject I'm looking at is how astronomers' view of the night sky changed from an era of photographic plates to one mediated by digital technologies.
- Another topic I'm exploring is the emergence of the "DNA nanotechnology" community; the focus is how scientists took this iconic molecule and transformed it from a "blueprint" to "bricks" they could use to build things on the nanoscale.
- Finally, for a new book project, I'm excavating the collaborations between artists, engineers, and scientists during the 1960s-90s with the focus being the perspective & experience of engineers and scientists.
Selected Books and Articles
- "Gravity and Geese"
Looks at work of German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis and connections to a 17th century science fiction story; forthcoming in Leonardo,2015
- "How Astronomers' Sky Became Digital"
Examines the digitization of astronomy after 1965; forthcoming in Technology and Culture.
- The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future (Princeton, 2013)
Examines how a group of "exploratory engineers" imagined, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies. Winner of Eugene Emme award (American Astronautical Society)
- "California Dreamin’: Visioneering the Technological Future"
Chapter looks at several techno-optimist movements, all with ties to California. In Minds and Matters: Technology in California and the West, Volker Janssen, ed., University of California Press, 2012.
- “From L5 to X Prize: California's Alternative Space Movement”
Explores California's "NewSpace" community; in Blue Sky Metropolis: Aerospace and Southern California, Peter J. Westwick and William Deverell, eds., University of California Press, 2012.
- “'Globalization with Hardware'”: ITER’s Fusion of Technology, Policy, and Politics," History and Technology, 26, 4 (2010): 281-310.
Fusion energy scientists in Europe created a transnational research community as they planned their "next big machine."
- "From Lab to iPod: A Story of Discovery and Commercialization in the Post-Cold War Era," Technology and Culture, 50, 1 (2009): 58-81.
How did a physics discovery made in 1988 end up in your iPod? [a shorter version of this is in January 2009 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.]
- Keep Watching the Skies! The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton University Press, 2008)
My third book is the story of amateur scientists and their role in helping track the world's first satellites.
- “Amateur Scientists, the International Geophysical Year, and the Ambitions of Fred Whipple.” Isis 97, 4 (2006): 634-658.
Tells of the hurdles SAO director Fred Whipple overcame to persuade his colleagues that amateurs could contribute to the IGY.
- “Will Small Be Beautiful? Making Policies for Our Nanotech Future.” History and Technology 21, 2 (2005): 177-203.
Although somewhat dated already, this essay lays out the basic path for how the U.S. government decided to spend billions on nanotech research.
- Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambitions and the Promise of Technology, (Harvard University Press, 2004).
This book was a super-fun to research and write...I got to interview many astronomers and spend nights at several major observatories.
- “What Makes a Failure? Designing a New National Telescope, 1975-1984,” Technology and Culture, 42, 2 (2001): 265-291
Even if a major research facility isn't built, powerful lessons can still be drawn from the experience.
- "Large Telescopes and the Moral Economy of Recent Astronomy," Social Studies of Science 30, 5 (2000)
Article explores how critical resources for a scientific community are parceled out.
- Glassmaking in Renaissance Venice: The Fragile Craft, (Ashgate Press, 1999).
My first book; it presents the history of Venetian glassmaking from a consumer's point of view and draws upon a rich array of material culture.
Undergraduate and Graduate Courses I Offer
- History 105A, 105B and 105C - The Atomic Age; The Space Age; The Information Age
Sequence of upper-division undergraduate courses on history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power; space exploration; and the social history of computers and computerization. I typically teach one of these a year.
- History 105CW - Science, Technology, and the State in the Cold War
Upper-division course examines relation between knowledge producers and the state during the global Cold War
- History 105P or 105Q - Proseminar or Readings Course
Upper-division undergraduate readings/research course; currently being taught as Nuclear War in History, Memory, and Film.
- History 109T - Technology and Modern America
Surveys social history of technology in American life with attention given to 19th and 20th centuries.
- History 109S - Science and Modern America
Course examines the social history of science in American society, politics, and religion in the US.
- History 200HS, 201HS, 277 A/B - Graduate Readings or Research Seminars
Offered once or twice yearly, this is a graduate-level course. Topics vary but recent examples include: Studying Emerging (Nano)Technologies; Scientists during the Cold War; Computing Histories; Nuclear Histories; and Technology in U.S. History.
History of Science and Technology Links