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Booms, Busts, and the World of Ideas: Enrollment Pressures and the Challenge of Specialization

David Kaiser
Osiris
Vol. 27, No. 1, Clio Meets Science: The Challenges of History (2012), pp. 276-302
DOI: 10.1086/667831
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667831
Page Count: 27
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Booms, Busts, and the World of Ideas: Enrollment Pressures and the Challenge of Specialization
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Abstract

Historians of recent science face a daunting challenge of scale. Local case studies—our principal means of interrogating past scientific practices—fail to capture the sweep and texture of some of the most dramatic changes in scientific life since World War II. During that period, most facets of research grew exponentially, from numbers of practitioners to numbers of research articles published in any given specialty. The explosive growth placed unprecedented pressure on the intellectual coherence of various disciplines. Drawing on examples from the postwar physics profession in the United States, I suggest that simple quantitative methods can aid in elucidating patterns that cut across isolated case studies, suggesting themes and questions that can guide close, archival research.

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