The Unreliable Nation wins 2018 Sidney Edelstein Prize

My book — The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War  (MIT Press) —  has won the 2018 Sidney Edelstein Prize from the Society for the History of Technology. The Edelstein Prize is awarded to “an outstanding scholarly book published in the history of technology during the preceding three years.” The Unreliable Nation explores how two powerful and persuasive ways of understanding the modern nation — the natural and the technological — mapped onto and shaped each other in the two decades after World War II. It argues that the practices and ambitions that created the nation as a…

New Book

Made Modern explores the complex interconnections between science, technology, and modernity in Canada. It draws together leading scholars from a wide range of fields to enrich our understanding of history inside and outside Canada’s borders. Organized around three key themes – bodies, technologies, and environments – the book’s chapters examine how science and technology have allowed Canadians to imagine and reshape themselves as modern. Focusing on topics as varied as colonial anthropology, scientific expeditions, electrotherapy, the occult sciences, industrial development, telephony, patents, neuroscience, aviation, space science, and infrastructure, the contributors explore Canadians’ modern engagements with science and technology and situate…

The Sentimental Machine

My new piece on the guillotine in Cosmologics Magazine: “The idea of an unerring, public execution machine embodied both a belief in the redemptive power of sentiment and an anxiety about the perils of unsettling human emotion.” The full-length journal article is available in History of the Human Sciences.

The Dangers of Systems

This paper, planned for a special issue of Osiris, explores how spectacular failures in complex systems transformed the category of “accidents” in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The vast expansion of Victorian rail networks in the 1840s and 1850s helped create a society of strangers that defined both modern Britain and modernity itself. But that expansion also created deep anxieties about the dangers of large-scale systems, their tendency to multiply horrific accidents, and even to make those accidents inevitable. Whereas accidents had previously been freak occurrences, by the 1860s, railway systems were seen as the material sites where impossible conjunctions of imperfect…

Malleability and Machines: Glenn Gould and the Technological Self

This article on Glenn Gould won the 2017 Abbot Payson Usher Prize for best scholarly work published during the preceding three years under the auspices of the Society for the History of Technology. You’ll find it in Technology and Culture. Citation from the prize committee: “After a careful and deliberate discussion, the Usher Prize Committee unanimously selected Edward Jones-Imhotep’s Malleability and Machines: Glenn Gould and the Technological Self for the 2017 Abbot Payson Usher Prize. In examining the “musical ideals” that pianist Gould pursued, Jones-Imhotep creates a new picture of the artist — one rooted in the “technological self” where morality, materiality, and aesthetics came…

Maintaining Humans

This chapter forms part of a flourishing interest in histories of maintenance. It explores how maintenance and repair became an object of intense interest for the cold-war human sciences. Some of the key concerns of maintenance are to watch, observe and guard—all activities central to the experience of the Cold War. In that context, the figure of the maintenance technician itself became a focus of intense observation and anxiety for the human sciences. Taken up by engineering psychology, it was quickly positioned at the intersection of a newly rationalized material culture of war, and a set of legible human capacities designed…

Broken: an interactive exhibit

David Pantalony (of the Canada Science and Technology Museum) and I organized this workshop as part of Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology. The idea was to have an interactive exhibit that focused on breakage as an entry point into issues of materiality. There is a long tradition of seeing breakage and broken objects as a place to ask deep historical and philosophical questions about technology in particular. But like so much writing about technology, those thoughts have often stood apart from actual things. David and I wanted to take up those issues with things in…

Science, Technology, and the Modern in Canada

In December 2013, Professor Richard Jarrell passed away suddenly at the height of a forty-three year career at York University. Jarrell was one of the founders of the field of history of Canadian science and technology, co-founding its premier scholarly organization, helping to inaugurate its annual conference and to found its journal. In honour of his contributions, we’re organizing a conference in his memory. Like the edited volume to follow, the conference engages the complex historical interconnections between science, technology, and the modern in Canada. Celebrating and extending Jarrell’s own interests and contributions, it also draws on new insights and approaches…

Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology

Almost a year ago now, I organized a conference on materiality in historical studies of science and technology. I was inspired by the renewed interest in materiality that had seemed to take hold of scholars working in history of science and technology, and cognate fields. It seemed that after the turn to discourse and signs in the late twentieth century, recent work had revived its focus on matter and meaning, and particularly on their fusion in the concern over “things”. Although the conference was interested in the idea and the reality of things, it also wanted to recognize that concerns over…