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ABSTRACT While historical studies of “popular science,” variously conceived, have grown in number and sophistication, they have sometimes seemed marginal to the discipline. James Secord's recent call to reintegrate the histories of both science popularization and science in popular culture within a more comprehensive history of “knowledge in transit” promises to overcome this marginalization. At the same time, however, Secord suggests that “popular science” should be abandoned as a “neutral descriptive term” because it is historically freighted, not least with “diffusionist baggage.” This Focus section explores the historical and historiographical implications of abandoning an essentialist definition of “popular science” and of examining instead its complex and varied history as an actors' category during the last two centuries. The essays emphasize the importance of transnational and interdisciplinary perspectives in exploring the very diverse ways in which the discourses and practices of “popular science” have been employed. In addition, they consider the implications of the modernity of such discourses and practices for the history of science in the longue durée.
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