Date Awarded

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Adrienne Petty

Committee Member

Hiroshi Kitamura

Committee Member

Frederick Corney

Committee Member

Karen Rader


“Marketing Agencies for Science: Nonprofits, Public Science Education, and Capitalism in Modern America” explores how the manmade environment of capitalism generated and transformed nonprofit public science education from the nineteenth century to today. Each chapter considers four untold histories of public-serving organizations—including the Smithsonian Institution and the Science Museum of Virginia—across nearly 200 years to identify common trends in, and unique transformations to, the ways that Americans teach each other about science. Ultimately, nonprofit institutions taught Americans more than lessons in physics or chemistry; they communicated the practical value of scientific knowledge to attract visitors and financial support. For-profit aspects of capitalism, including mass production and the accumulation of capital, were integral to the ways that philanthropic and public-serving organizations—typically designated as nonprofits today—first created and continued to offer science education. The public that nonprofits targeted varied over time, and immigrants, African Americans, and women of all backgrounds demanded affordable access to science instruction, effectively forging a gateway into scientific professions that are still in need of greater diversity today. Furthermore, nonprofit institutions blurred the boundary between accessible science information and profit in the United States as they developed profit-seeking forms and strategies to support public-serving ventures. As such, this project, unlike others that examine public science education, emphasizes how people reproduce and change the conditions of capitalism while embracing its underlying assumptions. Research institutions sold accessible science books to survive economic depressions; curators designed exhibitions to communicate an intimate relationship between scientific discoveries and economic progress; and for-profit corporations funded groundbreaking innovations that redefined, and increased the cost of, science education. As capitalism changed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, so too did the lessons that nonprofits communicated to Americans about science.




© The Author

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