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Joseph D. Martin

Teaching Associate

Research Interests

History of American physical sciences and technology; general philosophy of science

I am a historian of modern science and technology, focusing on the physical sciences in Cold War America. My interests lie in the sciences of complex matter—solid state physics, condensed matter physics, and materials science—and the ways in which physicists’ philosophical and ideological commitments shaped the institutional structure of these fields. My 2018 book, Solid State Insurrection, traces the growth of American solid state physics, showing how it remade the scope and mission of American physics and the identity of American physicists in ways that helped physics maintain its outsized role on Cold War American society. My current long-term project investigates the role of industrial patronage in post–World War II university research. It complements and contrasts existing accounts of the military-industrial-academic complex at institutions such as MIT, Stanford, and Caltech by examining institutions where industry and academia partnered to order to check government influence over basic research, especially in nuclear science. Examining the conviction that industry support offered an avenue to academic freedom—which might seem strange from a twenty-first century standpoint—offers a fresh perspective on the attitudes that shaped early Cold War science. 

In addition, I maintain an interest in the philosophy of science, in particular in the question of the extent to which successful science is contingent or inevitable. I am interested in exploring the consequences of that question for historical methodology, especially for counterfactual reasoning in the practice of history of science.



Books and Edited Works

Solid State Insurrection: How the Science of Substance Made American Physics Matter. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018.

Tools in Materials Research, WSPC Encyclopedia of the Development and History of Materials Science. World Scientific, under contract. Co-editor with Cyrus Mody.

‘Emerging Prospects for History of the Physical Sciences’, special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 46, no. 3 (2016). Co-editor with Amy A. Fisher.

‘Making the History of Physics Dirtier: Solid State Physics in the Twentieth Century’, special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 45, no. 5 (2015). Co-editor with Michel Janssen.

Co-Editor in Chief, Physics in Perspective, 2018–Present (Managing Editor, 2015–2018)

Co-Editor in Chief, Endeavour, 2015–2018


Selected Articles and Book Chapters

‘Negotiating History: Contingency, Canonicity, and Case Studies’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A (2019): in press. (Co-authored with Agnes Bolinska; winner of the 2019 IUHPST Essay Prize in History and Philosophy of Science)

‘Prestige Asymmetry in American Physics: Aspirations, Applications, and the Purloined Letter Effect’, Science in Context 30, no. 4 (2017): 475–506.

‘Resource Letter HCMP-1: History of Condensed Matter Physics’, American Journal of Physics 85, no. 2 (2017): 87–97.

‘The Peaceful Atom Comes to Campus’, Physics Today 69, no. 2 (2016): 40–46.

‘Emerging Prospects for History of the Physical Sciences’, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 46, no. 3 (2016): 261–69. (Co-authored with Amy A. Fisher).

‘Nuclear, High Energy, and Solid State Physics’, In The Blackwell Companion to the History of American Science, ed. Georgina M. Montgomery and Mark A. Largent (Blackwell, 2016), 186–98.

‘Fundamental Disputations: The Philosophical Debates that Governed American Physics, 1939–1993’, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 45, no. 5 (2015): 703–57.

‘Beyond the Crystal Maze: Twentieth-Century Physics from the Vantage Point of Solid State Physics’, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 45, no. 5 (2015): 631–40. (Co-authored with Michel Janssen).

‘What’s in a Name Change? Solid State Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Materials Science’, Physics in Perspective 17, no. 1 (2015): 3–32.

‘Evaluating Hidden Costs of Technological Change: Scaffolding, Agency, and Entrenchment’, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 19, no. 1 (2015): 1–25.

‘Is the Contingentist/Inevitabilist Debate a Matter of Degrees?’, Philosophy of Science 80, no. 5 (2013): 919–30.


Selected Book Reviews

'Truth with a Vengeance', Science 360, no. 6391 (25 May 2018): 864. [Review: Errol Morris, The Ashtray (Or the Man Who Denied Reality) (Chicago, 2018)].

‘The Experimenter’s Redress’, H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews. June, 2018. [Review: Jon Butterworth, Most Wanted Particle: The Inside Story of the Hunt for the Higgs, the Heart of the Future of Physics (The Experiment, 2015)].

‘Who Owns the Twentieth Century? (And Is It Worth Owning?)’, Isis 108, no. 1 (2017): 149–57. [Essay review: Stephen G. Brush with Ariel Segal, Making 20th Century Science: How Theories became Knowledge (Oxford, 2015) and Jon Agar, Science in the 20th Century and Beyond (Wiley, 2012)].

‘A Paean to Contingency’, Metascience 25, no. 3 (2016): 437–41. [Essay review: Léna Soler, Emiliano Trizio, and Andrew Pickering, eds., Science as it Could Have Been: Discussing the Contingency/Inevitability Problem (Pittsburgh, 2015)].

‘New Straw for the Old Broom’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 54 (2015): 138–43. [Essay review: Jimena Canales, The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time (Princeton, 2015)].

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, by Steven Weinberg and In the Light of Science: Our Ancient Quest for Knowledge and the Measure of Modern Physics by Demetris Nicolaides’, Physics Today 68, no. 4 (2015): 53–54.

‘Linnda R. Caporael, James R. Griesemer, and William C. Wimsatt (eds.): Developing Scaffolds in Evolution, Culture, and Cognition’, Acta Biotheoretica 62, no. 4 (2014): 531–35. 


Current Projects

Industrial Patronage and the Cold War University

Contingency in the History and Philosophy of Science

Tools in Materials Research



In addition to lecturing on the history of modern science and technology, I am available to supervise Part II, Part III, and MPhil essays and dissertations in a range of topics in the history and philosophy of science and technology. You can find a list of topics on the dissertation and essay supervisors page.

Examples of Supervised Work

• "Aesthetics and the practice of theoretical physics"

• "Philosophy of Scientific Knowledge Produced in Secrecy: A Case Study of DARPA"

• "Institutionalising Science in Post-War Britain: A Case Study of Churchill College, Cambridge, 1950–1966"

• "Building a Global Network: The World Day Program as a Web of International Science"

• "The (Un)Making of Cybernetics: A Case Study in the Collapse of an Undisciplined Science"

• "Atoms for Peace and Profit: Radioisotope Distribution, Research Reactor Proliferation, and US Private Industry"