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History of Technology

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A Revolutionary History of the Computer

In The Government Machine, Jon Agar traces the mechanization of government work in the United Kingdom from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. He argues that this transformation has been tied to the rise of "expert movements," groups whose authority has rested on their expertise. The deployment of machines was an attempt to gain control over state action—a revolutionary move.

Transforming Science and Sound

At the end of the nineteenth century, acoustics was a science of musical sounds; the musically trained ear was the ultimate reference. Just a few decades into the twentieth century, acoustics had undergone a transformation from a scientific field based on the understanding of classical music to one guided by electrical engineering, with industrial and military applications. In this book, Roland Wittje traces this transition, from the late nineteenth-century work of Hermann Helmholtz to the militarized research of World War I and media technology in the 1930s.

The Shaping of Modern Knowledge

A system can describe what we see (the solar system), operate a computer (Windows 10), or be made on a page (the fourteen engineered lines of a sonnet). In this book, Clifford Siskin shows that system is best understood as a genre—a form that works physically in the world to mediate our efforts to understand it. Indeed, many Enlightenment authors published works they called “system” to compete with the essay and the treatise.

The Struggle to Shape and Control the Electric Power Industry

For more than a century, the interplay between private, investor-owned electric utilities and government regulators has shaped the electric power industry in the United States. Provision of an essential service to largely dependent consumers invited government oversight and ever more sophisticated market intervention. The industry has sought to manage, co-opt, and profit from government regulation. In The Power Brokers, Jeremiah Lambert maps this complex interaction from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

An Illustrated History

The bicycle ranks as one of the most enduring, most widely used vehicles in the world, with more than a billion produced during almost two hundred years of cycling history. This book offers an authoritative and comprehensive account of the bicycle’s technical and historical evolution, from the earliest velocipedes (invented to fill the need for horseless transport during a shortage of oats) to modern racing bikes, mountain bikes, and recumbents.

Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism

In the fascist regimes of Mussolini’s Italy, Salazar’s Portugal, and Hitler’s Germany, the first mass mobilizations involved wheat engineered to take advantage of chemical fertilizers, potatoes resistant to late blight, and pigs that thrived on national produce. Food independence was an early goal of fascism; indeed, as Tiago Saraiva writes in Fascist Pigs, fascists were obsessed with projects to feed the national body from the national soil.

Competing Visions of Technology in 1960s America

In the late 1960s an eclectic group of engineers joined the antiwar and civil rights activists of the time in agitating for change. The engineers were fighting to remake their profession, challenging their fellow engineers to embrace a more humane vision of technology. In Engineers for Change, Matthew Wisnioski offers an account of this conflict within engineering, linking it to deep-seated assumptions about technology and American life.

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

People have had trouble adapting to new technology ever since (perhaps) the inventor of the wheel had to explain that a wheelbarrow could carry more than a person. This little book by a celebrated MIT professor—the fiftieth anniversary edition of a classic—describes how we learn to live and work with innovation. Elting Morison considers, among other things, the three stages of users’ resistance to change: ignoring it; rational rebuttal; and name-calling.

US Technological Collaboration and Nonproliferation

In the 1950s and the 1960s, U.S. administrations were determined to prevent Western European countries from developing independent national nuclear weapons programs. To do so, the United States attempted to use its technological pre-eminence as a tool of “soft power” to steer Western European technological choices toward the peaceful uses of the atom and of space, encouraging options that fostered collaboration, promoted nonproliferation, and defused challenges to U.S. technological superiority.

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