Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 6:00pm

Technology and Society: Engineering Cultures, Chemistry, and Social Order in the Second Industrial Revolution (1890 to 1930) 


Presented by Adelheid Voskuhl, Fall 2017 Noshir Mistry Senior Fellow


This lecture is concerned with the major surge of modernization and industrialization in the Western world around 1900 and contemporary debates among engineers—including chemical engineers—about the “consequences” of technology in society. The United States and Germany were the two leading countries of the Second Industrial Revolution, and it was here that engineers first formulated political theories, ethics, and metaphysics of technology and traded them across the Atlantic Ocean. Engineers were also at this time trying to constitute themselves as a new profession and social elite, facing often fierce opposition from traditional elites, such as the nobility, military, attorneys and physicians, practitioners of the “hard” sciences of chemistry and physics, and senior members of the civil service. Engineers, who had concerns about transferable skills, migration, philosophical reflection, and upward social mobility, were also a microcosm of larger segments of the population who were aspiring to become recognized citizens of the emerging secular bourgeois states. Taking the example of the relationship between engineers, chemical engineers, and chemists, Voskuhl explores this understudied intersection of industrial experts and traditional social elites.


About the Speaker

Heidi Voskuhl teaches the history of technology in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD from the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University and taught at the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, first as assistant professor, then as associate professor. Her first book, Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self (University of Chicago Press, 2013), received the Jacques Barzun Prize for cultural history in 2014. Her larger interests include the philosophy of technology, modern intellectual history, and theories of media and textuality. She is currently working on a book project on the role of the philosophy of technology in engineers’ efforts to constitute themselves as a new professional group during the Second Industrial Revolution.


About the Series

The Rohm and Haas Fellow in Focus lecture series gives the Institute’s scholars an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience interested in history, science, and culture. Fellow in Focus lectures are presented by the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry. The lecture is free to attend, please register here.