Michael Gordin

Professor of History, Associated Faculty, Slavic
Department of History
Email Address: 
Office Location: 
305 Dickinson Hall

Michael Gordin specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian history, and currently serves as the director of the Fung Global Fellows Program. 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, an international history of nuclear intelligence, Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly (FSG, 2009), and a history of the controversies surrounding the boundary between science and pseudoscience focusing on the career of Immanuel Velikovsky, The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2012).  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 2011 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and was named a Guggenheim Fellow.


Current Project: 

Professor Gordin is currently working on a book project concerning the history of "scientific languages": that subset of international languages which dominate international communication in the natural sciences. The book traces the history of these languages from the dominance of Latin in the Renaissance, to the nineteenth-century amalgam of French, German, and English, to the present-day omnipresence of English. The project emphasizes the particular role of language in the history of chemistry, and includes accounts of the rise of Russian as a scientific language and experiments with artificial languages (Esperanto and Ido) for the communication of science.

Courses Taught: 

Professor Gordin teaches lecture courses in the history of modern science (History 292), technology and society (Engineering/Sociology/History 277), and translation in the history of science (History 397), and seminars on nuclear-weapons history, the history of pseudoscience, the Soviet science system, and biography.