David E. Nye

David E. Nye is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota and Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. The author of twelve books with the MIT Press, including American Technological Sublime, he was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal in 2005 and was knighted by the Queen of Denmark in 2013.

  • Seven Sublimes

    David E. Nye

    A reconception of the sublime to include experiences of disaster, war, outer space, virtual reality, and the Anthropocene.

    We experience the sublime—overwhelming amazement and exhilaration—in at least seven different forms. Gazing from the top of a mountain at a majestic vista is not the same thing as looking at a city from the observation deck of a skyscraper; looking at images constructed from Hubble Space Telescope data is not the same as living through a powerful earthquake. The varieties of sublime experience have increased during the last two centuries, and we need an expanded terminology to distinguish between them. In this book, David Nye delineates seven forms of the sublime: natural, technological, disastrous, martial, intangible, digital, and environmental, which express seven different relationships to space, time, and identity.

    These forms of the sublime can be experienced at historic sites, ruins, cities, national parks, or on the computer screen. We find them in beautiful landscapes and gigantic dams, in battle and on battlefields, in images of black holes and microscopic particles. The older forms are tangible, when we are physically present and our senses are fully engaged; increasingly, others are intangible, mediated through technology. Nye examines each of the seven sublimes, framed by philosophy but focused on historical examples.

    • Hardcover $35.00
  • Conflicted American Landscapes

    Conflicted American Landscapes

    David E. Nye

    How conflicting ideas of nature threaten to fracture America's identity.

    Amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties: Americans invest much of their national identity in sites of natural beauty. And yet American lands today are torn by conflicts over science, religion, identity, and politics. Creationists believe that the biblical flood carved landscapes less than ten thousand years ago; environmentalists protest pipelines; western states argue that the federal government's land policies throttle free enterprise; Native Americans demand protection for sacred sites. In this book, David Nye looks at Americans' irreconcilable ideas about nature.

    A landscape is conflicted when different groups have different uses for the same location—for example, when some want to open mining sites that others want to preserve or when suburban development impinges on agriculture. Some landscapes are so degraded from careless use that they become toxic “anti-landscapes.” Nye traces these conflicts to clashing conceptions of nature—ranging from pastoral to Native American to military–industrial—that cannot be averaged into a compromise. Nye argues that today's environmental crisis is rooted in these conflicting ideas about land. Depending on your politics, global warming is either an inconvenient truth or fake news. America's contradictory conceptions of nature are at the heart of a broken national consensus.

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  • American Illuminations

    American Illuminations

    Urban Lighting, 1800–1920

    David E. Nye

    How Americans adapted European royal illuminations for patriotic celebrations, spectacular expositions, and intensely bright commercial lighting to create the world's most dazzling and glamorous cities.

    Illuminated fêtes and civic celebrations began in Renaissance Italy and spread through the courts of Europe. Their fireworks, torches, lamps, and special effects glorified the monarch, marked the birth of a prince, or celebrated military victory. Nineteenth-century Americans rejected such monarchial pomp and adapted spectacular lighting to their democratic, commercial culture. In American Illuminations, David Nye explains how they experimented with gas and electric light to create illuminated cityscapes far brighter and more dynamic than those of Europe, and how these illuminations became symbols of modernity and the conquest of nature.

    Americans used gaslight and electricity in parades, expositions, advertising, elections, and political spectacles. In the 1880s, cities erected powerful arc lights on towers to create artificial moonlight. By the 1890s they adopted more intensive, commercial lighting that defined distinct zones of light and glamorized the city's White Ways, skyscrapers, bridges, department stores, theaters, and dance halls. Poor and blighted areas disappeared into the shadows. American illuminations also became integral parts of national political campaigns, presidential inaugurations, and victory celebrations after the Spanish-American War and World War I.

    • Hardcover $30.00
  • The Environmental Humanities

    The Environmental Humanities

    A Critical Introduction

    Robert S. Emmett and David E. Nye

    A concise overview of this multidisciplinary field, presenting key concepts, central issues, and current research, along with concrete examples and case studies.

    The emergence of the environmental humanities as an academic discipline early in the twenty-first century reflects the growing conviction that environmental problems cannot be solved by science and technology alone. This book offers a concise overview of this new multidisciplinary field, presenting concepts, issues, current research, concrete examples, and case studies. Robert Emmett and David Nye show how humanists, by offering constructive knowledge as well as negative critique, can improve our understanding of such environmental problems as global warming, species extinction, and over-consumption of the earth's resources. They trace the genealogy of environmental humanities from European, Australian, and American initiatives, also showing its cross-pollination by postcolonial and feminist theories.

    Emmett and Nye consider a concept of place not synonymous with localism, the risks of ecotourism, and the cultivation of wild areas. They discuss the decoupling of energy use and progress, and point to OECD countries for examples of sustainable development. They explain the potential for science to do both good and harm, examine dark visions of planetary collapse, and describe more positive possibilities—alternative practices, including localization and degrowth. Finally, they examine the theoretical impact of new materialism, feminism, postcolonial criticism, animal studies, and queer ecology on the environmental humanities.

    • Hardcover $90.00
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  • Technology Matters

    Technology Matters

    Questions to Live With

    David E. Nye

    Discusses in nontechnical language ten central questions about technology that illuminate what technology is and why it matters.

    Technology matters, writes David Nye, because it is inseparable from being human. We have used tools for more than 100,000 years, and their central purpose has not always been to provide necessities. People excel at using old tools to solve new problems and at inventing new tools for more elegant solutions to old tasks. Perhaps this is because we are intimate with devices and machines from an early age—as children, we play with technological toys: trucks, cars, stoves, telephones, model railroads, Playstations. Through these machines we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world. As adults, we retain this technological playfulness with gadgets and appliances—Blackberries, cell phones, GPS navigation systems in our cars.

    We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making. In Technology Matters, Nye tackles ten central questions about our relationship to technology, integrating a half-century of ideas about technology into ten cogent and concise chapters, with wide-ranging historical examples from many societies. He asks: Can we define technology? Does technology shape us, or do we shape it? Is technology inevitable or unpredictable? (Why do experts often fail to get it right?)? How do historians understand it? Are we using modern technology to create cultural uniformity, or diversity? To create abundance, or an ecological crisis? To destroy jobs or create new opportunities? Should "the market" choose our technologies? Do advanced technologies make us more secure, or escalate dangers? Does ubiquitous technology expand our mental horizons, or encapsulate us in artifice?

    These large questions may have no final answers yet, but we need to wrestle with them—to live them, so that we may, as Rilke puts it, "live along some distant day into the answers."

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  • America as Second Creation

    America as Second Creation

    Technology and Narratives of New Beginnings

    David E. Nye

    An exploration of the dialogue that emerged after 1776 between different visions of what it meant to use new technologies to transform the land.

    After 1776, the former American colonies began to reimagine themselves as a unified, self-created community. Technologies had an important role in the resulting national narratives, and a few technologies assumed particular prominence. Among these were the axe, the mill, the canal, the railroad, and the irrigation dam. In this book David Nye explores the stories that clustered around these technologies. In doing so, he rediscovers an American story of origins, with America conceived as a second creation built in harmony with God's first creation.

    While mainstream Americans constructed technological foundation stories to explain their place in the New World, however, marginalized groups told other stories of destruction and loss. Native Americans protested the loss of their forests, fishermen resisted the construction of dams, and early environmentalists feared the exhaustionof resources. A water mill could be viewed as the kernel of a new community or as a new way to exploit labor. If passengers comprehended railways as part of a larger narrative about American expansion and progress, many farmers attacked railroad land grants. To explore these contradictions, Nye devotes alternating chapters to narratives of second creation and to narratives of those who rejected it.Nye draws on popular literature, speeches, advertisements, paintings, and many other media to create a history of American foundation stories. He shows how these stories were revised periodically, as social and economic conditions changed, without ever erasing the earlier stories entirely. The image of the isolated frontier family carving a homestead out of the wilderness with an axe persists to this day, alongside later images and narratives. In the book's conclusion, Nye considers the relation between these earlier stories and such later American developments as the conservation movement, narratives of environmental recovery, and the idealization of wilderness.

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  • Consuming Power

    Consuming Power

    A Social History of American Energies

    David E. Nye

    Nye uses energy as a touchstone to examine the lives of ordinary people engaged in normal activities.

    How did the United States become the world's largest consumer of energy? David Nye shows that this is less a question about the development of technology than it is a question about the development of culture. In Consuming Power, Nye uses energy as a touchstone to examine the lives of ordinary people engaged in normal activities. He looks at how these activities changed as new energy systems were constructed, from colonial times to recent years. He also shows how, as Americans incorporated new machines and processes into their lives, they became ensnared in power systems that were not easily changed: they made choices about the conduct of their lives, and those choices accumulated to produce a consuming culture. Nye examines a sequence of large systems that acquired and then lost technological momentum over the course of American history, including water power, steam power, electricity, the internal-combustion engine, atomic power, and computerization. He shows how each system became part of a larger set of social constructions through its links to the home, the factory, and the city. The result is a social history of America as seen through the lens of energy consumption.

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  • American Technological Sublime

    American Technological Sublime

    David E. Nye

    American Technological Sublime continues the exploration of the social construction of technology that David Nye began in his award-winning book Electrifying America. Here Nye examines the continuing appeal of the "technological sublime" (a term coined by Perry Miller) as a key to the nation's history, using as examples the natural sites, architectural forms, and technological achievements that ordinary people have valued intensely.

    Technology has long played a central role in the formation of Americans' sense of selfhood. From the first canal systems through the moon landing, Americans have, for better or worse, derived unity from the common feeling of awe inspired by large-scale applications of technological prowess. American Technological Sublime continues the exploration of the social construction of technology that David Nye began in his award-winning book Electrifying America. Here Nye examines the continuing appeal of the "technological sublime" (a term coined by Perry Miller) as a key to the nation's history, using as examples the natural sites, architectural forms, and technological achievements that ordinary people have valued intensely.

    American Technological Sublime is a study of the politics of perception in industrial society. Arranged chronologically, it suggests that the sublime itself has a history - that sublime experiences are emotional configurations that emerge from new social and technological conditions, and that each new configuration to some extent undermines and displaces the older versions. After giving a short history of the sublime as an aesthetic category, Nye describes the reemergence and democratization of the concept in the early nineteenth century as an expression of the American sense of specialness.

    What has filled the American public with wonder, awe, even terror? David Nye selects the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Erie Canal, the first transcontinental railroad, Eads Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, the major international expositions, the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, the Empire State Building, and Boulder Dam. He then looks at the atom bomb tests and the Apollo mission as examples of the increasing ambivalence of the technological sublime in the postwar world. The festivities surrounding the rededication of the Statue of Liberty in 1986 become a touchstone reflecting the transformation of the American experience of the sublime over two centuries. Nye concludes with a vision of the modern-day "consumer sublime" as manifested in the fantasy world of Las Vegas.

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  • Electrifying America

    Electrifying America

    Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940

    David E. Nye

    How did electricity enter everyday life in America? Using Muncie, Indiana—the Lynds' now iconic Middletown—as a touchstone, David Nye explores how electricity seeped into and redefined American culture. With an eye for telling details from archival sources and a broad understanding of cultural and social history, he creates a thought-provoking panorama of a technology fundamental to modern life.

    Emphasizing the experiences of ordinary men and women rather than the lives of inventors and entrepreneurs, Nye treats electrification as a set of technical possibilities that were selectively adopted to create the streetcar suburb, the amusement park, the "Great White Way," the assembly line, the electrified home, and the industrialized farm. He shows how electricity touched every part of American life, how it became an extension of political ideologies, how it virtually created the image of the modern city, and how it even pervaded colloquial speech, confirming the values of high energy and speed that have become hallmarks of the twentieth century. He also pursues the social meaning of electrification as expressed in utopian ideas and exhibits at world's fairs, and explores the evocation of electrical landscapes in painting, literature, and photography. Electrifying America combines chronology and topicality to examine the major forms of light and power as they came into general use. It shows that in the city electrification promoted a more varied landscape and made possible new art forms and new consumption environments. In the factory, electricity permitted a complete redesign of the size and scale of operations, shifting power away from the shop floor to managers. Electrical appliances redefined domestic work and transformed the landscape of the home, while on the farm electricity laid the foundation for today's agribusiness.

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  • Image Worlds

    Image Worlds

    Corporate Identities at General Electric, 1890-1930

    David E. Nye

    By viewing the corporation as a communicator, Image Worlds links the histories of labor, business, consumption, engineering, and photography, providing a new perspective on one of the largest and most representative corporations.

    General Electric was one of the first modern industrial corporations to use photographs and other media resources to create images of itself; and the GE archives, comprising well over a million images, form one of the largest privately held collections in the world. To produce this venturesome book, David Nye has used these vast archives to develop a new approach to corporate ideology through corporate iconography.

    Image Worlds embraces symbols, intentional signs, and photographs on the one hand and the history of institutional and technological development on the other. It views photography as a developing technology with a history of its own, and presents the corporation as a communicator as well as a producer and employer.

    Illustrated with nearly 60 photographs from the archives, the book identifies five "image markets" that GE sought to organize and address. Company engineers, workers, and managers received publications designed to appeal to their presumed interests. Some of these grew into public journals with a scientific-educational mission; others were restricted in circulation even within the company. At the same time, illustrated mass-media advertising was created to reach potential consumers of GE products. Advertising that presented an image of GE as a place where "progress was the most important product." While GE was promoting this enlightened image, the company was also using its resources to reach the voting public, hoping to gain their support for private electrification in the national debate over municipal power.

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