Vincent Femia

Graduate Student

My work focuses on the intersection of science, governance, and urban history in the United States from the end of the Civil War to roughly World War I. My dissertation, “Magnificent Distances: The Rise and Fall of the Capital City of Science, 1865-1920,” explores Washington, D.C.’s period of scientific preeminence. It analyzes the inseparability of science and city—how city development, culture, and politics dictated the objects and interests of science, and how the institutions and practices of science altered the city’s identity, priorities, and built environment. Through this dissertation, I show how scientists in Washington took land, manipulated local governance, and cultivated a culture of civic science in the city, thus making the construction of a postbellum scientific state part and parcel of building a modern capital city. I also analyze this history of what I call “capital science” through the lens of long Reconstruction, wedding the rise and fall of particular civic and political commitments in both the city and capital science to the work of astronomy, chemistry, anthropology, and other disciplines in a growing scientific state. My work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Washingtonian, The Metropole, and the Journal of Urban History

I graduated from Kenyon College with High Honors, majoring in history and minoring in both physics and music. While at Kenyon, I spent two summers at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where I worked as an Explainer on the museum floor, conducted an appraisal of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Collection, and worked as a Research Assistant in the Space History Department. I received a Landon Warner Research Grant from Kenyon College for work on my honors thesis, and in 2017, the College awarded me the Curtis A. Seichter Award for demonstrated excellence in the study of history. After graduating from Kenyon, I completed an M.Phil. in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. At Princeton, I completed General Examination fields in Modern Science, American Urban History, and American History (Reconstruction to World War I). In 2024, leading up to my dissertation defense, I will be a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow. 

Year of Study
Fifth Year
Area of Interest
Cultural History
History of Science Communication
Modern Science
Political History
Social History
Urban History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
North America