History of Technology

The History of Technology Working Group meets monthly to discuss a colleague’s works-in-progress or to discuss readings that are of particular interest to participants.

Meetings are usually held at the Consortium offices in Philadelphia from 6:00 to 7:30 on third Tuesdays. Scholars located anywhere can also participate online.


Please set your timezone at https://www.chstm.org/user

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Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

  • Tuesday, December 21, 2021 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EST

    Joint meeting with the Engineering Studies Working Group
    Ryan Hearty, Johns Hopkins University
    "Monitoring Water Quality in US Rivers in the 1950 and 1960s: information, communication, and applied sciences"

  • Tuesday, January 18, 2022 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EST

    Luis Felipe Eguiarte Souza, University of Minnesota
    "Julian Huxley: 'If I were a dictator', Technocracy in his popular writing and science fiction"

  • Tuesday, February 15, 2022 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EST

    Claire Mayo, University of Tennessee
    "Nineteenth Century Envirotechnical Regimes and the Great Flood of 1910: How Competing Ideas of Water Management Structured the Disaster"

  • Tuesday, March 15, 2022 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EDT

    Liat Spiro, College of the Holy Cross
    "Patentability and Experience: Work, Class, and Risk in the Political Economy of Intellectual Property in Imperial Germany"

  • Tuesday, April 19, 2022 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EDT

    Evan Hepler-Smith, Duke University
    "Chemical ciphers: war and peace"
    ABSTRACT: This chapter, drawn from my book manuscript of the above title, examines information technologies as infrastructure for chemical research in Germany, the US, and the UK during and after World War 2. Chemistry's print-based information infrastructure (handbooks, abstract journals, indexes, nomenclature schemes) enabled war-oriented chemical research projects of novel scale and scope. These projects, wartime pressures, and (in Germany) Nazi persecutions stressed that vital infrastructure to the breaking point. This ws a problem for academic and industrial chemists who saw German, American, and British reference works as a vital basis for their research. While postwar IT entrepreneurs eager to sell machine methods took a keen interest, this was not about replacing print with electronic information systems. Rather, "literature chemists" (a nascent interdisciplinary profession) put machines to work supporting the restoration and rationalization of print compilation, further entrenching print-based conventions for identifying and classifying chemical substances in terms of molecular structure. Building on Bill Rankin's insights regarding the Cold War development-economics context for the emergence of "infrastructure" as a category of economic analysis, this chapter scrutinizes decisions to expend considerable resources in rescuing some of chemistry's canonical printed information resources (and not others). This chapter traces this story through the wartime crash searches for antimalarials, herbicides, insecticies, and nerve gases, and the postwar consolidation of these projects through the articulation of a category of "biologically-active chemical substances." I would also be interested in feedback on the way I am approaching information history in this project as a whole.

  • Tuesday, May 17, 2022 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EDT

    Thomas Zeller, University of Maryland, College Park
    "Consuming Landscapes: What We See When We Drive and Why It Matters"

Past Meetings

  • November 16, 2021

    Madeline Williams, Harvard University
    "Technological Ableism and Typewriters in United States History, 1843-1892"

  • October 19, 2021

    Sam Schirvar, University of Pennsylvania
    "The Politics of Stress: Human Factors Engineering, Occupational Health, and Air Traffic Control, 1968-1981"
    Many conditions in the 1970s United States seemed to indicate that it was an opportune time to address stress as a workplace hazard. Both the federal government and the public demanded research on workplace stress. The decade saw the closest alliances between technical experts and workers in US history as striking coal miners finally won protection from black lung disease and newly created federal agencies went on to regulate numerous workplace hazards. Why then were workers in the United States unable to win significant protections against workplace stress? To answer this question, this paper explores encounters between stress researchers and workers, focusing on human factors specialists and air traffic controllers. Human factors specialists promised to manage worker stress to reduce the risk of disastrous failures in systems like nuclear power plants and airports. They made air traffic controllers, widely seen as the most stressful occupation, their exemplar subjects. At the same time, air traffic controllers placed occupational stress at the center of their grievances leading up to and during the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike. Both efforts failed. This paper uses the professional literature of occupational health and human factors, government reports, and the PATCO archives to show how the epistemic and political struggles of stress researchers and workers were intertwined. I argue that the power to define stress remained with the workers, and making stress an occupational hazard relied on them winning political struggles in the workplace.

  • September 21, 2021

    Zachary M. Mann, University of Southern California.
    "Reading Note G: Ada Lovelace and the Secretarial Labor of Codework."

  • April 20, 2021

    Justin Castro, Arkansas State University; Linda Hall Library. Title: Introduction to "Technocratic Visions: Engineers, Technology, and Society in Mexico, 1876-1946."

  • March 16, 2021

    Mario Bianchini, Georgia Institute of Technology; Linda Hall Library. "The Perfect(able) German Body: Sport as Technological Utopianism in East Germany."

  • February 16, 2021

    Johan Gärdebo, Thematic Studies in Environmental Change, Linköping University. "Following the verbs: How 'Observing the Earth' eventually became the Earth observation satellite SPOT, 1975-1995."

  • November 17, 2020

    William Vogel, University of Minnesota. "Negotiating Cultures of Concealment: Scientists, the Military, and Biological Weapons"  

  • October 20, 2020

    Eric Hintz, Lemelson Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. "Moneyball: the Computational Turn in Professional Sports" 

  • September 15, 2020

    Barbara Hahn, Texas Tech University. Introduction to Technology in the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

  • April 21, 2020

    Emily Gibson, Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, National Science Foundation, "Technology and Policy: Applied research and engineering at the National Science Foundation during the 1970s" 

Group Conveners

  • jalexander's picture

    Jennifer Alexander

    Jennifer Alexander is an Associate Professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota, with specialization in technology and religion; industrial culture; and engineering, ethics, and society.  Her publications include The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). Her current project is a book manuscript analyzing the international religious critique of technology that developed following WWII.  She asks how religious and theological interpretations of technology have changed over time; how, over time, technologies and engineering have extended their reach into the human world over time through a developing technological orthodoxy; and how these changes have affected each other.


  • zmmann's picture

    Zachary Mann

    Zachary M. Mann is a Consortium Research Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in Literature at the University of Southern California. Currently he is also a Mellon-Council for European Studies fellow. Previously he was a Mellon Humanities in a Digital World fellow and a Ransom Center fellow. His work focuses on the intersections of literature, media, and histories of technology, and his dissertation traces the co-evolutions of punch card technology and conceptions of authorship from the eighteenth century to today.


296 Members