I really need to start writing here more regularly, and while today’s post won’t be a long one, or one of much substance, I do want to update where I am at as a student of the history of science. First things first, I am not entirely sure I am a student of the history of science, or if I’m a student of the history of technology (I can very firmly state that I am not studying history of medicine). I am pretty well into doing research for my masters thesis this summer, and what I’m discovering is I have no idea if I am studying science or technology, or both, or maybe neither. For the super brief explanation, I’m studying Kurt Vonnegut. Or at least, two of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, Player Piano (1952) and Cat’s Cradle (1963) play a pretty substantial role in what I am interested in, specifically because those two novels were the most influenced by the time that Kurt worked at General Electric in the late 1940s. Yeah, Kurt Vonnegut worked for GE, as a promotional writer. He got the job because his brother, Bernard (who worked as a researcher under Nobel Prize winner, Irving Langmuir), got him the job. GE was pretty influential on Kurt’s view on technology, it might have even made him a self-proclaimed Luddite (according to his autobiography), but Bernard also played a huge role in how Kurt approached science and technology, driving his brother toward STEM subjects from an early age. Irving Langmuir, a chemist whose work ranged from filaments for incandescent lightbulbs which led directly to the discovery of atomic hydrogen to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of monatomic films to his work with Bernard on cloud seeding at GE, was directly the inspiration for Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle. The number of intellectual influences on Kurt are too numerous to discuss here, obviously that’s what my thesis is for. Moreover, I plan on delving into wider cultural discussions of technology and science in a corporate America during the long 1950s. Kurt Vonnegut is important, and acts as a bookend to my discussion, but corporate research, and fears about the rise of technology and science existed outside of Vonnegut’s writing, and I think are closely tied to what Kurt was trying to do as he evolved from his first novel to his fourth. None of that answers my question about whether or not I’m studying the history of science or the history of technology. Maybe I’m doing a bit of both. Scientists play an important role in my discussion, with Bernard and Irving Langmuir as two central characters in Kurt’s life. But fears about technology overtaking man, with corporate America stealing a bit of one’s individual identity, are also important. Frankly, I don’t think I can answer the question of what type of history I am doing at the moment, because, while I’ve read over 30 sources, I haven’t read nearly enough to form anything like an argument, so how can I decide if science or technology are more central to my story.
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