Michael D. Gordin

Title
Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History; Professor of History
Office Phone
Office
305 Dickinson Hall
Office Hours

On Leave 2023-2024

Bio/Description

Michael Gordin specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian, European, and American history. He came to Princeton in 2003 after earning his A.B. (1996) and his Ph.D. (2001) from Harvard University, and serving a term at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He has published articles on a variety of topics, such as the introduction of science into Russia in the early 18th century, the history of biological warfare in the late Soviet period, the relations between Russian literature and science, as well as a series of studies on the life and chemistry of Dmitrii I. Mendeleev, formulator of the periodic system of chemical elements. His first book is a cultural history of Mendeleev in the context of Imperial St. Petersburg, A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table (Basic Books, 2004). He has also worked extensively in the early history of nuclear weapons, and is the author of Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War (Princeton, 2007), a history of the atomic bombings of Japan during World War II, and an international history of nuclear intelligence, Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly (FSG, 2009), as well as co-editor (with G. John Ikenberry) of The Age of Hiroshima (Princeton, 2020). In 2012, University of Chicago Press published his history of the controversies surrounding the boundary between science and pseudoscience focusing on the career of Immanuel Velikovsky, entitled The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe, and in 2013, the press also released How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality, which he co-authored with Lorraine Daston, Paul Erickson, Thomas Sturm, Rebecca Lemov, and Judy Klein. In 2015 University of Chicago Press and Profile Books published his Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English, a history of modern science from the point of view of the languages in which science has been conducted. In 2020 he published Einstein in Bohemia (Princeton), which follows the intertwined paths of Albert Einstein and the city of Prague (where he taught during 1911-1912) across the twentieth century. His most recent book, On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford, 2021), uses the history and philosophy of "pseudoscience" to explore some features of how modern science works; this was published in paperback as Pseudoscience: A Very Short Introduction. He has also co-edited the four-volume Routledge History of the Modern Physical Sciences (2001), with Peter Galison and David Kaiser, Intelligentsia Science: The Russian Century, 1860-1960 (2008), with Karl Hall and Alexei Kojevnikov, and Utopia/Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility (Princeton, 2010), with Helen Tilley and Gyan Prakash. In 2013-2014, he served as the inaugural director of the Fung Global Fellows Program; and in 2017-2023 he was director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. In 2011 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and was named a Guggenheim Fellow. In 2009 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina, the National Academy of Sciences of Germany.

For more information, and access to select publications, please visit his personal website.

Current Project

Professor Gordin is currently working on a history of the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on science inside and outside of Russia. He maintains an abiding interest in the history of constructed languages.

Teaching Interests

Professor Gordin teaches lecture courses in the history of modern science from 1700 to 1970 (History 292) and the history of contemporary science from 1970 to the present (History 391), and a course focused on the science and history surrounding Albert Einstein (History 398). He teaches undergraduate seminars on the history of pseudoscience, nuclear history, and the Soviet science system, and graduate seminars on global science and on biography.