Brown Bag Lecture: Chemistry, Engineering, Philosophy: Machine Cultures and Social and Intellectual Elites in the Second Industrial Revolution (1900 to 1930)

September 18, 2017
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture by Adelheid Voskuhl, who teaches the history of technology at the University of Pennsylvania.

This talk is concerned with the machine culture of the Second Industrial Revolution and the contemporary emergence of the subfield of philosophy of technology. It was crucial at the time, and still is, that the field of chemical engineering was the subdiscipline at the center of the Second Industrial Revolution. Its technical and institutional characteristics shaped at all levels this essential process of modernization. Philosophers witnessed this process and newly established technology as an object of theoretical inquiry, grasping in metaphysical, aesthetic, and phenomenological terms the realities of the new machine age. Their discussions attracted the attention of philosophically and politically ambitious engineers, who were at the same time involved in a complex process of social emancipation: being a nascent profession, they aimed to establish themselves as members of political decision-making elites, on par with traditional academic elites, whose identities were often rooted in preindustrial eras. The talk aims to uncover historical connections between the emergence of technology as a subject of philosophical thinking and the emergence of engineers as a social group and elite.

About the Speaker

Heidi Voskuhl teaches the history of technology in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her PhD from the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University and taught after that at the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her first book, Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self (University of Chicago Press, 2013) received the 2014 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History. Her larger interests include the philosophy of technology, modern intellectual history, and theories of media and textuality. She is currently working on a book project on the role of the philosophy of technology in engineers’ efforts to constitute themselves as a new professional group during the Second Industrial Revolution.

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.