CFP: Pedagogy, Popularization, and the Public Understanding of Science

The fellows of the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Science History Institute are pleased to invite proposals for a two-day graduate and early-career conference on science education, science popularization, and their histories. The conference will be held at the Institute in Philadelphia on May 28 to 29, 2020.

We are interested in 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 will be 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.
We invite proposals on a broad range of topics and questions, including but not limited to

  • Science education and the practice of science
    How do laboratory practices of teaching and research shape one another? At what point does a science student become a professional scientist, and what are the effects of the ambiguous timing of that transition?  
  • Systems of science education
    How are the structures of formal science education built, maintained, and overhauled? What historical forces have shaped and continue to shape educational systems in current use?  
  • The use of history in teaching science
    What messages or skills are historical narratives of science used to teach, overtly or tacitly? Who decides what stories are told and how? How do those narratives translate into student conceptions of historical and current science? How do they affect perceptions of the racial, class, and gendered dimensions of science?  
  • Popularization as science education
    What are the histories and effects of narratives created by science-related media? How and why have fictional portrayals of science changed? How have popular media narratives contributed to the public image and self-image of the scientist?
  • Popular histories of science
    How have portrayals of the history of science in popular media changed in television, books, movies, and online? Why do specific histories become popular (in any sense of the term) over time, who chooses them, and for what purposes?

Please submit an abstract or session proposal of up to 250 words per presentation and a two-page CV for each participant to We encourage proposals particularly for assembled panels, roundtables, or alternative session formats, especially those including participants from a range of institutions. (Please include an additional 250-word session summary per panel.) Interested senior scholars are invited to contact us directly about serving as panel moderators and discussants.
The deadline for all submissions is February 3, 2020, and notification of acceptance will be made by February 28. Conference travel and accommodation subsidies are available for accepted speakers.
Download Call for Papers (PDF)
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