How Does a Risk Society Evolve? Controlling Fire in Early America

Arwen Mohun, University of Delaware

Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science, Regional Colloquium

Friday, February 22, 2008 - 6:00pm

Abstract. Over the last few years, STS scholars have become increasingly interested in exploring the role of science and technology in understanding and managing risk in modern, industrialized societies. This chapter is drawn from a book-length study that explores how one such “risk society,” the United States, developed. Fire was the most useful, ubiquitous, and dangerous technology of the pre-modern world. The unique characteristics of fire risk--chronic, human-created, preventable and controllable, potentially leading to overwhelming disaster if not managed correctly--prompted the most elaborate public culture of risk management in pre-industrial Europe and the Americas. This chapter documents the characteristics of that pre-modern risk culture and shows how it was gradually transformed by new ideas and new techniques arising out of the Enlightenment and merchant capitalism. Location: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street Time: 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., followed by social hour with light dinner Download event poster in PDF format. This colloquium is made possible by an educational grant from Merck & Co., Inc.