Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

The National Academy of Sciences in the American Democracy: A History


In 2014, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Daniel J. Kevles and Peter Westwick were invited to write the 150th anniversary history of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and were given unprecedented access to its extensive archival collection, much of which had never attracted scholarly attention. Their manuscript, tentatively titled The National Academy of Sciences in the American Democracy: A History is now very close to completion. The book is a contextual as well as an institutional history. It situates the Academy in both American and global history, covering the history of the natural and social sciences as well as engineering and medicine. It aims to weave the internal evolution of the Academy together with its impact on American government and society--and vice versa.

Recorded March 2, 2023

Closed captioning is available on YouTube.



Daniel Kevles
Stanley Woodward Professor Emeritus of History, History of Medicine & American Studies; Adjunct Professor, Law School
Yale University



Ruth Schwartz Cowan
Janice and Julian Bers Professor Emerita
History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania


Peter Westwick
Adjunct Research Professor of History
University of Southern California



Insights from the Collections

The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as its national context and other national science organizations. See the Consortium search hub to find more.
More from the Speakers
Daniel Kevles
The Physicists: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America. Alfred A. Knopf. 1978.
In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Alfred A. Knopf. 1985. With new preface Harvard University Press, 1995.
The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project. Coeditor with Leroy Hood. Harvard University Press. 1992.
The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character. W. W. Norton. 1998.
Inventing America: A History of the United States. Coauthor with Alex Keyssar, Pauline Maier, and Merritt Roe Smith. W. W. Norton. 2002. 2nd edition, 2006.
Ruth Schwartz Cowan
More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. Basic Books. 1983.
A Social History of American Technology. Oxford University Press. 1997.
Heredity and Hope: The Case for Genetic Screening. Harvard University Press 2009.
Peter Westwick
The National Labs: Science in an American System, 1947-1974. Harvard University Press. 2003.
Into the Black: JPL and the American Space Program, 1976-2004. Yale University Press. 2006.
Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California. Huntington Library Press and University of California Press. 2012.
The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing. Coauthor with P. Neushul. Random House. 2013
Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft. Oxford University Press. 2020.