The main focus of my research has been on the development of civilian nuclear and space programs in the cold war in both Western Europe and the USA. My first immersion in contemporary history of science and technology came when I was nominated to be the British member of a team put together to write the history of CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics outside Geneva, Switzerland). This was followed by an equally formidable team project to write the history of the European Space Agency. To that end I moved to the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where ESA’s archives are lodged. I then spent five years directing the Centre de Recherche en Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques at La Villette, Paris, after which I moved in 2000 to the School of History, Technology and Society at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
My period in Florence had a profound effect on my intellectual trajectory. There I was fully immersed in a community of outstanding historians and graduate students who studied the process of postwar European integration. Their literature and their insights led me to think about organizations like CERN and ESA as expressions of a more general process of European economic and political integration. This approach crossed the Atlantic with me in 2000, and has been enriched by further intellectual shifts in the United States. In particular the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq produced an outpouring of literature on the nature of American global power. And it pushed US-European relations, beginning with the Marshall Plan, to the center of my attention.
American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe was a product of this convergence. It began from the premise that the US emerged from WWII as the most important scientific and technological power on the globe. It argued that that knowledge/power nexus enabled the State Department, officers in the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and scientific statesmen like Isidor I. Rabi to instrumentalise American science as a political weapon to shape research trajectories in line with US interests in the region. In particular I began to realize that American ‘soft power’ was used in an attempt to steer European nuclear and space agendas along civilian as opposed to military trajectories, i. e. as an instrument of non-proliferation.Hence the title of my current monograph, in preparation, Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe. Strategies of Nonproliferation.
Focusing on scientific and technological cooperation, rather than rivalry, in the cold war has drawn me into debates on transnational history, more specifically on how and why knowledge moves across the borders of nation states. It has stimulated my study of Eisenhower’s atoms for peace program and my more recent work on the global dissemination of gas centrifuge enrichment technology. It is a major leitmotif of our NASA in the World, Fifty Years of International Collaboration in Space. This book explores how NASA reconciled its need to ensure US space leadership with its injunction to collaborate internationally – a potentially contradictory mission that called for balancing restrictions on knowledge sharing with a policy of generous circulation. This tension between the regulation and circulation of sensitive knowledge in the asymmetric transnational space constituted by the US and its western allies in the cold war is at the core of my current research interests. It spills over into contemporary attempts to tighten up regulatory regimes controlling the flow of sensitive knowledge in American research universities like Georgia Tech, which I am studying with a grant from the NSF.