Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
2008 to 2009
Dissertation Research Fellow
Energy Highways: Canals, Pipes, and Wires Transform the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1820-1930
Coal canals, oil pipelines, and electricity transmission wires transformed the American mid-Atlantic region between 1820 and 1930. By providing cheap, reliable, and abundant energy, these technologies changed the mid-Atlantic from a largely rural society based on agriculture and commerce in 1820 to an urban and industrialized society powered by fossil fuels in 1930. However, not all canals, pipelines, and wires had the same social effects. Choices about how these technologies were built, how they were operated, and where they went shaped patterns of regional development, American industrialization, and energy use. This research challenges conventional histories that focus exclusively on energy production by demonstrating the important links between energy flows and social change. The three most important archives for my project are the Hagley Museum and Library (e.g., the records of the Pennsylvania Water and Power Company), the Library Company of Philadelphia (e.g., government reports, scientific surveys, corporate pamphlets, and technical volumes detailing the history of the coal and oil industries), and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (e.g., archival papers of the Wurtz family, coal pioneers). In addition, I will perform research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Franklin Institute, and the American Philosophical Society. Read Chris's report on his PACHS-sponsored research here.