Histories of Science, Technology, and the Self
I am a historian of the social and cultural life of machines. I write about topics ranging from the history of music studios to the technological geographies of islands. A major aspect of my research focuses on histories of technological failure — breakdowns, malfunctions, accidents — and what they reveal about the place of machines and of machine behaviors in the culture, politics, and economics 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 the best scholarly book in history of technology. My current book project, Reliable Humans: Trustworthy Machines, examines how people from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries understood machine failures as a problem of the self — a problem of the kinds of people that failing machines created, or threatened, or presupposed.
I received my PhD in history of science from Harvard University. I am currently Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada, where I teach courses in the history of science and technology, and in modern cultural history.
Sidney Edlestein Prize
The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017)
Winner of 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.”
Abbott Payson Usher Prize
Malleability and Machines: Glenn Gould and the Technological Self
Winner of the 2017 Abbott Payson Usher Prize. The Usher Prize is awarded annually to “the author of the best scholarly work published during the preceding three years under the auspices of the Society for the History of Technology.”
Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies
I was recently interviewed for a new documentary on propaganda featuring Shepard Fairey, Astra Taylor, Ai Weiwei, and others. You can watch the trailer here. It premieres April 28th and will be available on PBS: “In a world where access to media is unprecedented, the global conversation around the propagation of information, “alternative facts” and “fake news” has never been more heated. As media outlets become increasingly polarized, and as social media rules information feeds, where does propaganda come into play? How is it influencing changes in the world order? Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies demystifies the predominant means and methods of propagandist persuasion that have been employed by those seeking power. It explores and analyzes the present day landscape and contextualizes it by looking back at key epochs of history when propaganda defined nations and kept populations in check.”
Natural Disasters and Technological Failures
What does a natural disaster look like? My recent post on the MIT Press Blog explores how failing machines and technological infrastructures shape our understandings of the natural world and its catastrophic potentials. Read the full post here: https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/natural-disasters-and-technological-failures.
The Sentimental Machine
My recent 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 chapter of my new book explores how spectacular failures in complex systems transformed the category of “accidents” in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.
Made Modern examines the complex interconnections between science, technology, and modernity in Canada. Co-edited with Tina Adcock, it’s the first major collection of its kind in thirty years, drawing together wide-ranging topics to interrogate the place of science and technology in shaping Canadians’ experience of themselves and their place in the modern world.