Technology and Culture 45.1 (2004) 241-246
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Brooke Hindle, 1918-2001
Judith A. Mcgaw
With Brooke Hindle's death, the Society for the History of Technology lost another of the small group who shaped our organization in its formative years and continued to offer guidance and direction as we grew and developed. We are fortunate that Brooke was given several significant opportunities to reflect on a professional career that began during World War II and continued productive for well over a half century. His 1983 essay in the William and Mary Quarterly's "Early American Emeriti" series surveys scholarship on the early American period, Brooke's initial concern and his continuing, although by no means exclusive, interest. 1 Appropriately, he examines all three fields—science, technology, and material culture—to which his work made fundamental contributions. Shortly thereafter, Technology and Culture published his "Intellectual Autobiography," prepared when he received the society's Leonardo da Vinci Medal and tracing with characteristic modesty salient aspects of his career. 2 In addition, Robert Post's 1994 retrospective, part of a volume that revisited and extended Brooke's pioneering Technology in Early America, offers a judicious appreciation of important aspects of his career. 3 [End Page 241]
Rather than reiterate what these works already offer, it strikes me that I can usefully remember Brooke by reaching out, as he perennially did, to a new audience: the many current and future members of this society whose concentration on more recent technological history means they know little about his life and work. What might those privileged to know and work with Brooke wish to tell those who have yet to discover his legacy? Or, to use a term to which Brooke gave renewed life, what about Brooke's career should we encourage young historians to emulate?
First, I offer a few chronological facts, the historian's essential scaffolding. Brooke was born and raised just outside Philadelphia, quite near the scenes of the early American scientific and technological dramas he came to study. He began his undergraduate career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed it at Brown, where he found in Carl Bridenbaugh a valued, continuing mentor. Richard H. Shryock directed his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where Brooke's career bracketed an interlude of World War II naval service. He then rejoined Bridenbaugh, now at the fledgling Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia; Brooke became its second research associate (they are now known as fellows). Thereafter he served two major institutions long and well. At New York University (1950-74) he was a professor, dean of University College, and head of the All-University History Department. At the Smithsonian's National Museum of History and Technology (later renamed the National Museum of American History) he was director (1974-78) and senior historian (1978- 85). Along the way he authored or edited a dozen books and dozens of articles, book chapters, introductions, reports, and other short pieces. And he helped create a number of museum exhibits, notably the Smithsonian's Engines of Change, which received SHOT's 1987 Dibner Award. In sum, Brooke valued and exemplified the virtues of productivity and hard work.
What we especially remember is the quality of that work. Those who studied with Brooke or have read much of what he wrote know his fondness for Douglass Adair's definition of history: "a dialogue in the present with the past about the future." 4 This sense of history's "relevance," a word that gained currency only in the later 1960s, informed Brooke's work from the outset in such works as The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735-1789 (1956) and David Rittenhouse (1964). As Hunter Dupree astutely noted when reviewing Brooke's final book, Lucky Lady and the Navy Mystique: The "Chenango" in WW II (1991), a study of the escort carrier on which he served as radar maintenance officer and Combat Information Center watch officer: "In his classic works on early American science and [End Page 242] technology and in his biography of David...