Americans and
science fiction
in the early
cold war

"Uncertain Futures" began as an attempt to explain the explosion of science fiction on the American literary scene in the first two decades of the cold war era. I began with the hypothesis that beginning in summer 1945, science fiction owed its popularity to the atomic bomb and the cold war with the Soviet Union, and the host of anxieties those two developments produced in American culture and politics. This hypothesis turned out to be already well documented.

More importantly, though, it turned out to be incomplete.

Previous histories of American science fiction have given too much weight to the bomb and the cold war, and not nearly enough to other explanatory factors: the postwar economy, the paperback book, and the self-organizing tendencies of science fiction fans. This exhibit (and the academic paper on which it is based) are an attempt to add these important pieces to the puzzle, without discounting the explosive impact of the bomb and the cold war on the rise of American science fiction.


This exhibit is also an experiment in digital humanities. It tries to be two things:

  1. A useful starting point for both casual readers and historians interested in science fiction or the intersection of history and popular culture.
  2. A serious historical argument, based on primary source research, in a novel and engaging format.

I'm a Master's student in history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I conducted the bulk of the research for this exhibit in the spring of 2010 for a class taught by Heather Cox Richardson on writing history for popular audiences. I built the online exhibit in the summer of 2010 as part of an internship at the UMass-Amherst Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA).

This exhibit was designed and built using the resources of the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I owe thanks to Thijs de Vries for initial web design help, and to Rob Cox of SCUA for oversight and troubleshooting throughout. Thanks especially to the UMass-Amherst Science Fiction Society (members past and present), for generous use of their library, archived materials, and the historical goldmine that is the society's scrapbook.


Email me at uncertainfuturessf@gmail.com.

Copyright 2010, Morgan Hubbard