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Stephen G. Brush papers

 Collection 0294-UA

Stephen G. Brush (1935-) is a physicist and historian of science who worked at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California, before coming to the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1968. At the University of Maryland, he held the position of associate professor in the History Department as well as the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics (IFDAM), later the Institute for Physical Science and Technology (IPST), later becoming full professor, and finally Distinguished University Professor of the History of Science. Dr. Brush's papers document his life and career and include research and lecture notes, and drafts of publications, as well as extensive correspondence. The files chronicle Brush's work in the history of physics, especially on the origin of the solar system and moon, statistical mechanics, and the kinetic theory of heat.


  • 1888-2006
  • Majority of material found within 1965-2000

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Some papers are restricted, including letters of recommendation and referee reviews of papers submitted to journals.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


10.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The papers of Stephen G. Brush date from 1888 to 2006, with the bulk of materials documenting his professional career from 1965 to 2000. The collection reflects Dr. Brush's academic interests and activities as well as some personal interests. Approximately two-thirds of the collection consists of correspondence. Dr. Brush's papers also include research and lecture notes, publication drafts, information pertaining to professional meetings, materials from the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics (IFDAM) and its successor Institute for Physical Science and Technology (IPST), photographs, and Dr. Brush's 1951 Westinghouse Talent Search charts. Some of Dr. Brush's main correspondents include Mara Beller, Hugh E. DeWitt, Gerald Holton, Dirk ter Haar, Hans Kangro, Thomas S. Kuhn, Larry and Rachel Laudan, Wilfried Schröder, Michael M. Sokal, Frank J. Tipler, and Clifford A. Truesdell.


Stephen George Brush was born on February 12, 1935. He spent his childhood in Orono, Maine, and while still in high school was one of 40 national winners in the 1951 Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He received his A. B. in Physics summa cum laude at Harvard College (1955) and his D. Phil. in theoretical physics at Oxford University (1958). He held a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford (1955-58) and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship at Imperial College, London (1958-59). He married Phyllis Egbert and has two children.

Dr. Brush was employed as a physicist at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California, from 1959 to 1965, doing theoretical research on the properties of matter at high temperatures and high pressures, and on the history of kinetic theory and statistical mechanics. Among his contributions to theoretical physics was the first computer calculation ("Monte Carlo" simulation) showing that idealized classical plasma could condense to an ordered solid state. This result has been used in recent studies of stellar and planetary structure.

From 1965 to 1968 Dr. Brush participated in the development of the "Project Physics" course for high schools at Harvard University. This course was designed to attract students who would not become physics majors but who might need to know something about science and might be more interested in a historical approach. He also held a part-time position at Harvard University as a lecturer on physics and history of science from 1966 to 1968.

In 1968, Dr. Brush came to the University of Maryland, College Park, as its first full-time historian of science. He served as a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher in 1980-81, and in 1995 was named Distinguished University Professor, with a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology. In 1975, he helped to organize the Committee on the History and Philosophy of Science, which administered a graduate degree program in cooperation with the departments of History and Philosophy, and served as chairperson of the committee for several years. He taught introductory and advanced courses and directed graduate work in the history of science, especially physical sciences and mathematics since 1500.

At the University of Maryland, Dr. Brush served as President of the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) from 1979 to 1980, and during the following decade participated in the negotiations that led to the removal of the AAUP censure of the University. He also served as chair of the Faculty Council from 1982 to 1983 and was elected to the Campus Senate to represent the History Department in 1991. He chaired the Human Relations committee of the Senate in from 1991 to 1992, 1993 to 1994, and 2004 to 2005..

As a faculty member, Dr. Brush actively participated in the campus-wide efforts to eliminate discriminatory practices, recognize cultural diversity, and improve undergraduate education. Through articles in The Faculty Voice and through the Campus Senate, he advocated policy changes such as dropping the mandatory use of the SAT in undergraduate admissions, increasing the funding for campus libraries, and developing upper-level certificate programs to fill a gap in general education offerings.

He held visiting appointments at UCLA, the University of Minnesota, and the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton).

An outgrowth of the 1960s Harvard project was a historically-oriented college textbook co-authored with Gerald Holton, Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science (1973), the second edition of a 1952 book with the same title by Holton. The third edition, titled Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond, was published in 2001. In November 2001, Dr. Brush was awarded the Joseph Hazen Education Prize of the History of Science Society, awarded each year "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the teaching of the history of science," including influential writing or preparation of pedagogical materials as well as classroom teaching.

Dr. Brush has published four monographs on topics in the history of science. The Kind of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century (two volumes, 1976) won the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society. Two others deal with related subjects: The Temperature of History: Phases of Science and Culture in the 19th Century(1978) and Statistical Physics and the Atomic Theory of Matter from Boyle and Newton to Landau and Onsager (1983). A three-volume work, A History of Modern Planetary Physics was published in 1996. In 2004, he received the History of Geology Award from the Geological Society of America, primarily on the basis of the research reported in this work. Earlier publications on the history of planetary physics won the Pollock Award of the Dudley Observatory in 1987.

Brush is co-author, editor, or translator of ten other books on physical science and its history. In more than 200 articles, notes, and book reviews, published in scientific and historical journals, he has discussed a variety of topics including kinetic theory, statistical mechanics, viscosity, superfluid helium, phase transitions, irreversibility, James Clerk Maxwell, Ludwig Boltzmann, Ernst Mach, Hannes Alfván, interatomic forces, the radiometer, the origin of the solar system and of the moon, physical and chemical structure of the Earth's interior, the age of the Earth, Comte's positivism, Big Bang cosmology, Mendeleev's Periodic Law, benzene, Morgan's chromosome theory of heredity, and the relation between relative deprivation and collective violence. Dr. Brush's current research as of 2006 is a cross-disciplinary study, "How ideas became knowledge," based on historical cases in which theories were accepted or rejected on the basis of empirical tests of predictions, or for other reasons. The project is also designed to find out whether scientists behave as philosophers say they should. Reports on ten of these cases (taken from astronomy, physics, chemistry and social science) have been published so far. His research has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, and a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

Dr. Brush was President of the History of Science Society in 1990 and 1991; he has chaired the Education Committee of this Society, served on its Council and the editorial board of its journal Isis, and has been its Washington Representative. He was founding editor of the History of Physics Newsletter. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and served as a member of the APS Council, representing the History of Physics Division, of which he was a co-founder. He was a member of the APS Education Committee and helped to organize a program for high school physics teachers. He chaired the History of Physics Advisory Committee of the American Institute of Physics, and was a member of the committee to plan the centennial celebration (in 1999) of the American Physical Society. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a full member of the Acadámie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences.

In addition to his research, Dr. Brush published expository articles on three major themes of general interest: the use of history of science in science education; the creation-evolution controversy; and women in science. These articles led to numerous invitations to lecture at universities, teacher-training workshops, and churches.

Dr. Brush retired in 2006 and was appointed Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the History of Science.


This collection is arranged into seven (7) series.

Series 1
Personal Information
Series 2
Correspondence and Papers (By Author)
Series 3
Correspondence and Papers (By Topic)
Series 4
Unpublished Papers
Series 5
Series 6
Copies of Correspondence Between Other Scientists
Series 7

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Dr. Stephen G. Brush donated his papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in June 2006.

Processing Information

Dr. Brush had provided an extensive box inventory of his papers and had ordered them in series before the processing began. All duplicate materials were pulled unless they had evidentiary annotations. All paper clips were removed, as well as those staples which were rusting. Many of the original folders were replaced with acid-free folders. The materials in the correspondence folders labeled "Misc." for each alphabetical letter were reorganized, and the Clippings were separated from the Unpublished Papers series into their own series.

The photographs were isolated and placed in the final series with separation sheets marking their original locations. Oversize material was also put into a separate folder.

Guide to the Stephen G. Brush papers
Processed by Ariel Segal
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Dr. Stephen G. Brush arranged for Ariel Segal to process these papers in the summer of 2006.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742