A Historian Confronts Technological Change

By Rosalind Williams

A humanistic account of the changing role of technology in society, by a historian and a former Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education at MIT.





A humanistic account of the changing role of technology in society, by a historian and a former Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education at MIT.

When Warren Kendall Lewis left Spring Garden Farm in Delaware in 1901 to enter MIT, he had no idea that he was becoming part of a profession that would bring untold good to his country but would also contribute to the death of his family's farm. In this book written a century later, Professor Lewis's granddaughter, a cultural historian who has served in the administration of MIT, uses her grandfather's and her own experience to make sense of the rapidly changing role of technology in contemporary life.

Rosalind Williams served as Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education at MIT from 1995 through 2000. From this vantage point, she watched a wave of changes, some planned and some unexpected, transform many aspects of social and working life—from how students are taught to how research and accounting are done—at this major site of technological innovation. In Retooling, she uses this local knowledge to draw more general insights into contemporary society's obsession with technology.

Today technology-driven change defines human desires, anxieties, memories, imagination, and experiences of time and space in unprecedented ways. But technology, and specifically information technology, does not simply influence culture and society; it is itself inherently cultural and social. If there is to be any reconciliation between technological change and community, Williams argues, it will come from connecting technological and social innovation—a connection demonstrated in the history that unfolds in this absorbing book.


$44.00 X ISBN: 9780262232234 270 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262731638 270 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in


  • ...a fascinating account of the new relationships between technology and culture...a literary jewel.

    Manuel Castells

    Project Muse

  • An epic account of the struggle to humanize engineering education.

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Easy to read and understand, William's work provides interesting insights on modern culture and our obsession with technology.

    Library Journal

  • Rosalind Williams... has written a very personal, autobiographical book.

    Paul E. Ceruzzi


  • We have Williams to thank for a thoughtful, cogent, and historically well-informed analysis of the engineering profession.

    Karl Stephan



  • In Retooling, Rosalind Williams has written a book that darts across genres as she grapples with the meaning of contemporary engineering through the lens of MIT. Williams's perspective is current, vivid, and smart, framed by a strong sense of where the Institute has been and where it is heading now, even as the institution faces tough internal debates about the role of work, enterprise, and teaching. The status of women faculty, student suicides, and the events of September 11 figure alongside arguments about the meaning of re-engineering and virtual learning. Throughout, Williams offers us a complex vision of engineering from the central administration of one of its great citadels.

    Peter Galison

    Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University


  • Winner, Jackets Category, 2003 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Book, Jacket, and Journal Show