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Fellows Conference

Science History Institute

Pedagogy, Popularization, and the Public Understanding of Science

The fellows of the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Science History Institute hosted a two-day graduate and early-career conference on science education, science popularization, and their histories.

The conference explored the interactions between science education and science popularization from the perspective of history and social science. For more than a decade scholarship in these fields has recognized the central role of pedagogy and training in creating new scientists and structuring research practice. This scholarship has also expanded its inquiry to encompass the impact of science and technology on diverse publics in a range of popular media, including print publications, the internet, and entertainment programs. While formal professional training is one segment of science education, the informal educational opportunities offered in these media, together with K–12 science curricula, have a potentially universal reach. In short, the representation of science and its history shapes fundamental conceptions of what science is and what it should be.

We seek to initiate discussion in these areas of inquiry in order to problematize and better understand the categories of “education,” “popularization,” and their histories across diverse sites of potential teaching and learning. Our keynote speakers were John Rudolph, department chair of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Kathryn Olesko, associate professor for the School of Foreign Service and the history department of Georgetown University.



Thursday, October 22, 2020

9:00 a.m.–9:15 a.m.


Charlotte Abney Salomon

9:15 a.m.–10:15 a.m.

Models of Science Education

Moderator: Rebecca Kaplan

10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m.

Science Pedagogy and Place

Moderator: John Rudolph

12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.

Thursday Keynote

Ludwik Fleck, Alfred Schutz, and Trust in Science: The Responsibility of Science Education
Kathryn Olesko

1:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

History of Science Education: Institutions and Advocacy

Moderator: Daniel Jon Mitchell

2:45 p.m.–3:45 p.m.

History of Science Education: Methods and Materials

Moderator: Kathleen Sheppard

4:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m.

Science Popularization in National Historical Context

Moderator: Kathryn Olesko



Friday, October 23, 2020

9:00 a.m.–10:00 a.m.

History of Science Education: Disciplines in Context

Moderator: Brigitte van Tiggelen

10:15 a.m.–11:45 a.m.

Critical Perspectives on Science Pedagogy

Moderator: Doug Larkin

12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.

Friday Keynote

The Rise and Fall of the Scientific Method in American Schools
John Rudolph

1:30 p.m.–3:00 p.m.

Popular Science in Popular Culture

Moderator: Ingrid Ockert

3:15 p.m.–4:15 p.m.

Disaster Science Communication

Moderator: Lisa Ruth Rand

4:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.

Popular Conceptions of Science and Medicine

Moderator: Charlotte Abney Salomon

5:30 p.m.–5:45 p.m.


Charlotte Abney Salomon


Keynote Speakers


Kathryn Olesko headshot

Kathryn Olesko

Kathryn Olesko is a historian of modern science whose main research interests are in measuring practices, science pedagogy, science and engineering in Germany (especially Prussia), and comparative nuclear cultures. Her honors include the Dibner Distinguished Fellowship at the Huntington Library, visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and several fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other foundations. She is an associate professor at Georgetown University affiliated with the science, technology, and international affairs program in the School of Foreign Service, the department of history, and the department of German.



John Rudolph headshot

John Rudolph

John Rudolph is chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His main area of research focuses on the history of science education in American high schools. He also writes on issues related to the nature of science in the present-day school curriculum. His recently published book, How We Teach Science: What's Changed, and Why It Matters (Harvard University Press), examines the varied ways knowledge generation in science—from laboratory work to scientific inquiry—has been portrayed in classrooms over the past 125 years in the United States. Prior to his appointment as a professor, he spent a number of years teaching physics, chemistry, and biology in middle schools and high schools across Wisconsin. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.


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Detail of Monsanto Hall of Chemistry pamphlet cover, 1955.