Rosalind Williams

Rosalind Williams is Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology.

  • Notes on the Underground, New Edition

    Notes on the Underground, New Edition

    An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination

    Rosalind Williams

    Real and imagined undergrounds in the late nineteenth century viewed as offering a prophetic look at life in today's technology-dominated world.

    The underground has always played a prominent role in human imaginings, both as a place of refuge and as a source of fear. The late nineteenth century saw a new fascination with the underground as Western societies tried to cope with the pervasive changes of a new social and technological order. In Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams takes us inside that critical historical moment, giving equal coverage to actual and imaginary undergrounds. She looks at the real-life invasions of the underground that occurred as modern urban infrastructures of sewers and subways were laid, and at the simultaneous archaeological excavations that were unearthing both human history and the planet's deep past. She also examines the subterranean stories of Verne, Wells, Forster, Hugo, Bulwer-Lytton, and other writers who proposed alternative visions of the coming technological civilization. 

    Williams argues that these imagined and real underground environments provide models of human life in a world dominated by human presence and offer a prophetic look at today's technology-dominated society. In a new essay written for this edition, Williams points out that her book traces the emergence in the nineteenth century of what we would now call an environmental consciousness—an awareness that there will be consequences when humans live in a sealed, finite environment. Today we are more aware than ever of our limited biosphere and how vulnerable it is. Notes on the Underground, now even more than when it first appeared, offers a guide to the human, cultural, and technical consequences of what Williams calls “the human empire on earth.”

    • Paperback $24.95
  • Retooling

    Retooling

    A Historian Confronts Technological Change

    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.

    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.

    • Hardcover $44.00
    • Paperback $30.00

Contributor

  • Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Elting E. Morison

    An engaging look at how we have learned to live with innovation and new technologies through history.

    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. He recounts the illustrative anecdote of the World War II artillerymen who stood still to hold the horses despite the fact that the guns were now hitched to trucks—reassuring those of us who have trouble with a new interface or a software upgrade that we are not the first to encounter such problems.

    Morison offers an entertaining series of historical accounts to highlight his major theme: the nature of technological change and society's reaction to that change. He begins with resistance to innovation in the U.S. Navy following an officer's discovery of a more accurate way to fire a gun at sea; continues with thoughts about bureaucracy, paperwork, and card files; touches on rumble seats, the ghost in Hamlet, and computers; tells the strange history of a new model steamship in the 1860s; and describes the development of the Bessemer steel process. Each instance teaches a lesson about the more profound and current problem of how to organize and manage systems of ideas, energies, and machinery so that it will conform to the human dimension.

    • Paperback $19.95