Project (2010-2011)

Styles of Science Communication. German-American Transfer Histories, 1945–84

Ina Heumann's research examined science communication as a cultural, social, and epistemic practice that is shaped by its historical contexts as well as its material and medial conditions. She did so by focusing mainly on two popular science magazines, and the archival material surrounding them, Bild der Wissenschaft and Scientific American, established in West Germany in 1964, and in New York in 1948, respectively.

Both magazines and their relationship are part of a history of imitation and nationalization, and thus an extremely complex example for processes of producing popular knowledge. They are framed by a history of two-way transfer that extends from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Berlin to the Air University in Texas, from aero-medical human experiments in Dachau to space medical tests in Ohio, from Wernher von Braun to Walt Disney and from Scientific American, Inc. in New York to the Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt in Stuttgart. These two magazines’ entangled histories allow the history of political and scientific developments to be blended with a media history of cinematic, visual, and rhetorical innovations of communication strategies. Thus they bring together dimensions that are usually treated separately or even wholly neglected in studies of popular science.

This dissertation project was structured into three chapters that focused on the historiography, the physiology, and the political epistemology of popular science. The diverse levels of examination were tied together by the concept of style. Following its methodological use in literary criticism, Bildwissenschaft, and art history, it firstly paved the way for analyzing the specific “poetics of (popular) science” (J. Rancière), and thus the rhetorical, visual, and editorial production of authority and truth. Secondly, the term "style" refers to the science historical concept of “thought style” (K. Mannheim, L. Fleck, J. Harwood). As such it focused on historical, sociological, and political contexts of the respective collectives of editors, authors, and illustrators. “Style” served as a methodological link between the materiality and the content of both magazines, between contexts and worldviews, between sociopolitical developments and communication strategies, and therefore enables popular science to be interpreted as a historically, socially, and epistemologically situated and saturated practice.