Rebecca Lemov focuses on the history of the behavioral sciences in the Twentieth Century. Her PhD thesis described what she labeled “the laboratory imagination” in 1930s American (U.S.) behaviorism. It posulated that intensive experimentation with the rat-in-maze paradigm led to historical shifts in understanding and intervening in human capabilities. Social and human engineering programs grew apace in the 1930s, and World War II often saw them operationalized. The dissertation inspired a more broad-based book about the quest for a science of social control: World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes, and Men (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). This was named a New York Times “Editors Choice” in 2006. More recently, she has turned to the study of the Cold War, including the topics of brainwashing and the origins of the focus group. A recent publication addressed the re-calibration of rationality as a calculable scientific object during the Cold War. Her current book project examines efforts, from the 1940s through the 1960s, to gather social and psychological data more intensively than ever before, at the cusp of what is now called the “Information Revolution.” In order to proceed, social scientists pioneered a range of new tools and methodologies, including the projective test, the micro-published archive, the structured interview, and other methodically honed means for collecting and preserving “human documents” on a new scale. She is especially interested in methodological innovation during the Cold War.
Rebecca was educated at Yale University (BA, English Literature) and University of California, Berkeley (PhD, Cultural Anthropology). She teaches in the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, where she has been an assistant professor since 2008.