OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Sarah Bridger

Portrait of Sarah Bridger
Image Credit: Margaret Bodemer

Sarah Bridger is an associate professor of history at the California Polytechnic State University. Her research focuses on intellectual history and the history of science in the twentieth-century United States, with a particular emphasis on competing visions of politics, economics, and ethics in times of social upheaval. She is the author of Scientists at War: The Ethics of Cold War Weapons Research (2015), which examines ethical debates among scientists involved in military advising and research from Sputnik to Star Wars. This book won the Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s book award and, as a dissertation, the Society of American Historians' Allan Nevins Prize. Bridger is currently at work on a history of American scientists in the 1970s as they debated what counts as science and who counts as a scientist.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

A historical overview of key ethical debates among American scientists involved in military advising and research during the Cold War, with particular attention to how the Vietnam War transformed ideas about ethical responsibility and the role of the individual scientist.
During the 1970s, passionate and sometimes violent political disagreements wracked the scientific community in the United States. Insurgent movements on campuses called for an end to classified research and university defense contracting. New Left factions linked deep structural critiques of American science to damning analyses of imperialism and global inequity, challenging notions of neutrality and demanding sweeping changes at all research levels. Yet at the very moment when critics were launching powerful new intellectual attacks on science, women were entering STEM fields in record numbers, where they confronted sexism within their professions and a maelstrom of epistemological battles over essentialism, objectivity, and the social construction of scientific facts. Overlapping contingents of antiwar activists, feminists, and citizen scientists argued over two central questions: What counts as science? And who counts as a scientist? These interlocking disputes over the practice and meaning of science in the 1970s shaped scientific discourse and activism in the late Cold War and have had far-reaching implications for popular attitudes and policies in the twenty-first century.