‘This War for Men’s Minds’: The Birth of a Human Science in Cold War America

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  • Department of Science Studies
The past decade has seen an explosion of work on the history of the human sciences during the Cold War. This work, however, does not engage with one of the leading human sciences of the period: linguistics. This article begins to rectify this knowledge gap by investigating the influence of linguistics and its concept of study, language, on American public, political and intellectual life during the postwar and early Cold War years. I show that language emerged in three frameworks in this period: language as tool, language as weapon, and language as knowledge. As America stepped onto the international stage, language and linguistics were at the forefront: the military poured millions of dollars into machine translation, American diplomats were required to master scores of foreign languages, and schoolchildren were exposed to language-learning on a scale never before seen in the United States. Together, I argue, language and linguistics formed a critical part of the rise of American leadership in the new world order — one that provided communities as dispersed as the military, the diplomatic corps, scientists and language teachers with a powerful way of tackling the problems they faced. To date, linguistics has not been integrated into the broader framework of Cold War human sciences. In this article, I aim to bring both language, as concept, and linguistics, as discipline, into this framework. In doing so, I pave the way for future work on the history of linguistics as a human science.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Volume23
Issue5
Pages (from-to)131-155
Number of pages25
ISSN0952-6951
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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