Gas, Bombs, and Rockets: Science-Based Warfare in the 20th Century

History 103S.002

Spring 2007
Instructor (text): 
211 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Thurs 12-2
Also listed as 103D.004

This seminar will examine how modern science changed warfare in the period between 1914 and 1945. The approach is comparative, focusing on developments in Germany and the United States. Instead of simply concentrating on the scientists and administrators who conceived the weapons, we will also try to let the artifacts themselves guide us through the course, regarding them as central ";actors"; on a huge stage of industry and technology. While becoming complex technological systems these weapons tend to group a unique social formation around them, consisting of soldiers, scientists and politicians, sometimes of ";hybrid"; figures acting in more than one of these functions.

Furthermore, we will put the development of these weapons in a broader context of military and economic history, foreign policy and labor relations in countries at war. Gas, bombs, and rockets have not only changed and expanded the battlefield, but also become powerful symbols of fear, altering the public perception of space, vulnerability, and security. We will thus also look at how popular culture dealt with these threats and how it influenced our view of science and technology.
The course will contain a session with the Teaching Library, and students who plan to write their theses in the general area will be introduced to basic primary sources. They will be asked to write a non-binding ";pre-prospectus"; as part of their course work.