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

The 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, I explore this understudied intersection of industrial experts and traditional social elites. I lay bare the diverse types of social and cultural capital that engineers used to carve out places for themselves in a society in which they were not unequivocally recognized as members of leading and distinguished classes.

The speaker, Heidi Voskuhl, teaches the history of technology in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

March 15, 2018

6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.

Science History Institute

315 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event is free, registration requested. Here is the link: