New in Isis: History of Textbooks, Funding

The March 2012 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. Included in this issue are a couple of articles of interest to historians of psychology. In “Senator Fred Harris’s National Social Science Foundation Proposal” Mark Solovey explores efforts to reform American social science funding during the 1960s. Additionally, a special Focus section in this issue explores the role of textbooks in the sciences. The section itself is introduced by Marga Vicedo, who then goes on in a separate piece to discuss textbook depictions of Harry Harlow’s research with rhesus monkeys. (AHP’s previous posts on Harlow’s work can be found here.) Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Senator Fred Harris’s National Social Science Foundation Proposal: Reconsidering Federal Science Policy, Natural Science–Social Science Relations, and American Liberalism during the 1960s,” by Mark Solovey. The abstract reads,

During the 1960s, a growing contingent of left-leaning voices claimed that the social sciences suffered mistreatment and undue constraints within the natural science– dominated federal science establishment. According to these critics, the entrenched scientific pecking order in Washington had an unreasonable commitment to the unity of the sciences, which reinforced unacceptable inequalities between the social and the natural sciences. The most important political figure who advanced this critique, together with a substantial legislative proposal for reform, was the Oklahoma Democratic Senator Fred Harris. Yet histories of science and social science have told us surprisingly little about Harris. Moreover, existing accounts of his effort to create a National Social Science Foundation have misunderstood crucial features of this story. This essay argues that Harris’s NSSF proposal developed into a robust, historically unique, and increasingly critical liberal challenge to the post–World War II federal science establishment’s treatment of the social sciences as “second-class citizens.”

“Introduction: The Secret Lives of Textbooks,” by Marga Vicedo. The abstract reads,

Textbooks have a low status in the history of science because they have been seen as mere repositories for scientific knowledge. But historians have recently shown how they play a number of roles that can illuminate different aspects of the history of science, from priority disputes to pedagogical practices. The essays in this Focus section aim to expand our vision of textbooks further by showing how they perform various hybrid functions in scientific development.

“Playing the Game: Psychology Textbooks Speak Out about Love,” by Marga Vicedo. The abstract reads,

Starting in 1958, Harry Harlow published numerous research papers analyzing the emotional and social development of rhesus monkeys. This essay examines the presentation of Harlow’s work in introductory psychology textbooks from 1958 to 1975, focusing on whether the textbooks erased the process of research, presented results without hedging, and provided a uniform account of Harlow’s work and results. It argues that many textbooks were not passive vehicles of knowledge transmission; instead, they played a role similar to articles of meta-analysis and literature reviews.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

One thought on “New in Isis: History of Textbooks, Funding

  1. Good to see you review this, Jacy. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. In addition to the good points made by Vicedo, Solovey, and I’d add, Adam Shapiro, regarding the value of textbooks as primary history of science documents, I have found them quite useful across a spectrum of questions as well as surprisingly revealing of the personalities and passions of their authors, who, as teachers in high school and colleges, often used the platform offered by the textbook to gain authority within their respective disciplines.

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