I am a historian of the social and cultural life of machines. My research focuses on the intertwined histories of nature, technology, trust, and social order in modern Europe and North America. I’m particularly interested in what the history of technological failures reveals about the place of machines and of machine behaviors in the culture and politics of modern societies.
My first book, The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War (MIT Press), won the Sidney Edelstein Prize for best scholarly work in the history of technology. My current book project — Reliable Humans, Trustworthy Machines — investigates how observers from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries saw machine failures as a problem of the self: a problem of the kinds of people that failing machines created, or threatened, or presupposed.