Gerald Holton

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Gerald Holton
Born (1922-05-22) May 22, 1922 (age 95)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality Austrian
Alma mater School of Technology, City of Oxford (Cert.)
Wesleyan University (B.A., M.A.)
Harvard University (A.M., Ph.D.)
Scientific career
Institutions Wesleyan University
Brown University
Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Percy Williams Bridgman

Gerald James Holton (born May 23, 1922)[1] is Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and professor of the history of science, emeritus, at Harvard University.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born 1922 in Berlin to Austrian parents, Holton grew up in Vienna, attending Humanistisches Gymnasium before emigrating to England in 1938 thanks to the Kindertransport. He received an electrical engineering certificate at the School of Technology, City of Oxford in 1940, and then a B.A. in 1941 and a M.A. in 1942 at Wesleyan University.[2][3] As a student of Percy Williams Bridgman in physics, he obtained his A.M. and Ph.D. at Harvard University respectively in 1946 and 1948.


His chief interests are in the history and philosophy of science, in the physics of matter at high pressure, in education, and in the study of career paths of young scientists. Along with co-author Gerhard Sonnert he has studied and published works on the gender gap in science studies and careers. In 1952, he published Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Sciences, a seminal work in the development of physics education, which led to Harvard Project Physics, the NSF sponsored national curriculum-development project that he co-directed.[3]

Gerald Holton is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1956),[4] as well as several American and European learned societies, including the German Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He served as President of the History of Science Society from 1983-84[5] and served on a number of U.S. National Commissions, including those on UNESCO and Excellence on Education. He also served on the board of trustees of Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1972-1978, as well as of the Boston Museum of Science,the National Humanities Center, and Wesleyan University.

His book publications include Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, The Scientific Imagination, Einstein, History and Other Passions, Science and Anti-Science, and Victory and Vexation in Science. He is also author, with Gerhard Sonnert, of What Happened to the Children Who Fled from Nazi Persecution, and "Who Succeeds in Science--The Gender Dimension".

Holton is founding editor of the quarterly journal Daedalus, and founder in 1972 of the Newsletter on Science, Technology, and Human Values (from 1976 Science, Technology, and Human Values).[2] He was also on the editorial committee of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. Professor Holton has received the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society, the Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics, the Abraham Pais Prize of the American Physical Society, the Robert A. Millikan award and Oersted Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Ehrenkreuz of the Republic of Austria (2008).

In 1981 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Holton for the tenth Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Holton was the first scientist selected for this honor, and his lecture was entitled "Where is Science Taking Us?"[6] In his lecture, Holton argued that Jefferson's vision of science as a force for social improvement was still viable, opined that there had been a "relocation of the center of gravity" of scientific inquiry toward solving society's important problems,[7] and cautioned that science education had to be improved dramatically or only a small "technological elite" would be equipped to take part in self-government.[8]

A considerable collection of his papers have been collected, processed, and annotated by the archivists at Harvard University Archives, donated by Holton since 2007.

Selected bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Holton, Gerald J. "United States Public Records Inde". familysearch. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Gerald James Holton personal archive, 1919-2011, 2013 and undated-an inventory". Harvard University Archives. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Gerald Holton Wins Pais Prize", History of Physics Newsletter, American Physical Society, Spring 2008.
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 5, 2014. 
  5. ^ The History of Science Society "The Society: Past Presidents of the History of Science Society" Archived December 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine., accessed 4 December 2013
  6. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (accessed January 22, 2009).
  7. ^ Alvin Krebs and Robert McG. Thomas, "Notes on People; Jeffersonian Theory Gets New Lease on Life," New York Times, May 12, 1981.
  8. ^ "Holton, in Jefferson Lecture, Criticizes Science Education," Harvard Crimson, May 15, 1981.

External links[edit]