The Historical Journal

Historiographical Reviews

THE HUMAN SCIENCES IN COLD WAR AMERICA

JOEL ISAACa1 c1

a1 Queen Mary, University of London

ABSTRACT

The last fifteen years have witnessed an explosion of interest in the history of the Cold War. Historical attention has focused not only on the diplomatic and military aspects of the conflict, but also, increasingly, on its cultural, intellectual, and technological dimensions. One of the fruits of this widening of scope in Cold War studies is a burgeoning literature on the development of the post-Second World War American human sciences. Studies of the Cold War career of the human sciences, however, have often been inflected by moralistic, and sometimes tendentious, claims about the relationship between the state and the academy. This article seeks to explain the chief characteristics of the historiography of the human sciences in Cold War America by describing its formation in the interstices of three distinct lines of inquiry: the history of science, the cultural turn in Cold War studies, and the history of the birth of the human science professions in the United States. It argues that historians of the post-war American human sciences have absorbed some features of these literatures, whilst neglecting others that offer more nuanced perspectives on the relationship between scientific research and its patrons during the Cold War era. Moreover, it suggests that the best prospects for the future maturation of the field lie in the recovery of ‘middle-range contextualizations’ that link post-war trends in the human sciences to interwar and turn-of-the-century developments, thereby making the Cold War context less all-encompassing than it has sometimes appeared.

Correspondence:

c1 Queen Mary, University of London E1 4NS joelisaac@mac.com