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Week 11

Theme 3 ‘Big Science’ and national identities

 Week 11

Space and the Cold war: Imperial Science Redux?

The great empires of the 19th century gradually released their hold on the global South in the first half of the 20th century, and let go (almost) entirely in a spasm of decolonization and liberation during the Cold War. We will explore the subsequent emergence of ‘Superpowers’ through a scientific episode that came to define it: the ‘Space Race’. We will also look at the alternative visions of the world and its populations which emerged from humanity’s first steps outside its own atmosphere, and compare them with changing views of the nation-state during the Age of Exploration.


Seminar: Superpowers, science and ‘spheres of influence’

How did humanity’s first embodied encounter with space affect both national and global identity? What did this ‘Big Science’ represent, and to whom? Why did this particular scientific and technological endeavour have such great resonance? And was it historically unique?


Required Reading:

For a US perspective on the early years of the Space Race:

  • Walter McDougall, … The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985. ( For today, see especially Chapter 2, ‘Conclusion, Part I’, ‘Conclusion Part II’, Chapter 6).

Alternative perspectives on the early years of air and space exploration:

  • Willie Hiatt, ‘Flying "Cholo": Incas, Airplanes, and the Construction of Andean Modernity in 1920s Cuzco, Peru’, The Americas 63 (January 2007): 327-358
  • Scott Palmer, ‘Peasants into Pilots: Soviet Air-Mindedness as an Ideology of Dominance’, Technology and Culture 41 ( January 2000): 1-26.
  • Peter Redfield, ‘The Half-Life of Empire in Outer Space’, Social Studies of Science 32 (Oct. - Dec., 2002): 791-825. Note that the key part of the article for our purposes starts on p.796; you need only skim the paper’s theoretical introduction.
  • Asif A. Siddiqi, ‘Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration’, Technology and Culture 51(April 2010): 425-443.

Background and Further Reading

John Agar, Science and Spectacle: The Work of Jodrell Bank in Postwar British Culture (London: Routledge, 1998)

David Caute, The Dancer Defects. The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Ronald E. Doel ‘Evaluating Soviet Lunar Science in Cold War America’, Osiris, Vol. 7

Jussi M. Hanhimäki and Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Robert A. Jones, ‘They came in peace for all mankind: popular culture as a reflection of public attitudes to space’, Space Policy, February 2004; Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 45-48

John W Jordan, ‘Kennedy's Romantic Moon and Its Rhetorical Legacy for Space Exploration’ Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6: 2, (Summer 2003) pp. 209-231.

Abby J. Kinchy African Americans in the Atomic Age: Postwar Perspectives on Race and the Bomb, 1945–1967 Technology and Culture, April 2009; Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 291-315

Roger D Lanius, John M Logsdon, Robert W Smith, Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (London: Routledge, 2000).

Pamela E. Mack; ‘Space History’ Technology and Culture, ; Vol. 30, No. 3 1989 pp. 657-665

Walter A. McDougall ‘Technocracy and Statecraft in the Space Age--Toward the History of a Saltation’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Oct., 1982), pp. 1010-1040

Susan E. Reid, ‘The Khrushchev Kitchen: Domesticating the Scientific-Technological Revolution’, Journal of Contemporary History, 40: 2 (Apr., 2005), pp. 289-316.

Hugh R. Slotten Satellite Communications, Globalization, and the Cold War Technology and Culture, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Apr., 2002), pp. 315-350

Peter H. Smith ‘The Latin American Press and the Space Race’, Journal of Inter-American Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4

Mark Walker, Science and Ideology: A Comparative History (London: Routledge, 2002)

Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Joseph G. Whelan The Press and Khrushchev's "Withdrawal" From the Moon Race The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 1968), pp. 233-250

Audra J. Wolfe ‘Germs in Space: Joshua Lederberg, Exobiology, and the Public Imagination, 1958-1964’ Isis, Vol. 93, No. 2


Additional Resources:

Matthew Godwin ‘The Cold War and the early space race’ accessible at: