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Breathing Race into the Machine

The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics

Lundy Braun


In the antebellum South, plantation physicians used a new medical device—the spirometer—to show that lung volume and therefore vital capacity were supposedly less in black slaves than in white citizens. At the end of the Civil War, a large study of racial difference employing the spirometer appeared to confirm the finding, which was then applied to argue that slaves were unfit for freedom. What is astonishing is that this example of racial thinking is anything but a historical relic.

In Breathing Race into the Machine, science studies scholar Lundy Braun traces the little-known history of the spirometer to reveal the social and scientific processes by which medical instruments have worked to naturalize racial and ethnic differences, from Victorian Britain to today. Routinely a factor in clinical diagnoses, preemployment physicals, and disability estimates, spirometers are often “race corrected,” typically reducing normal values for African Americans by 15 percent.

An unsettling account of the pernicious effects of racial thinking that divides people along genetic lines, Breathing Race into the Machine helps us understand how race enters into science and shapes medical research and practice.

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Breeding Contempt

The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States

Mark A. Largent

Most closely associated today with the Nazis and World War II atrocities, eugenics is sometimes described as a government-orchestrated breeding program, other times as a pseudo-science, and often as the first step leading to genocide. Less frequently is it depicted as a movement having links to the United States. But eugenics does have a history in this country, and Mark Largent tells that story by exploring one of the most disturbing aspects, the compulsory asterilization of more than 64,000 Americans.

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Broken Hearts

The Tangled History of Cardiac Care

David S. Jones

Still the leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease challenges researchers, clinicians, and patients alike. Each day, thousands of patients and their doctors make decisions about coronary angioplasty and bypass surgery. In Broken Hearts David S. Jones sheds light on the nature and quality of those decisions. He describes the debates over what causes heart attacks and the efforts to understand such unforeseen complications of cardiac surgery as depression, mental fog, and stroke. Why do doctors and patients overestimate the effectiveness and underestimate the dangers of medical interventions, especially when doing so may lead to the overuse of medical therapies? To answer this question, Jones explores the history of cardiology and cardiac surgery in the United States and probes the ambiguities and inconsistencies in medical decision making. Based on extensive reviews of medical literature and archives, this historical perspective on medical decision making and risk highlights personal, professional, and community outcomes.

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Building the New Man

Eugenics, Racial Science and Genetics in Twentieth-Century Italy

By Francesco Cassata

Discusses several fundamental themes of the comparative history of eugenics: the importance of the Latin eugenic model; the relationship between eugenics and fascism; the influence of Catholicism on the eugenic discourse and the complex links between genetics and eugenics. It examines the Liberal pre-fascist period and the post-WW2 transition from fascist and racial eugenics to medical and human genetics. As far as fascist eugenics is concerned, the book provides a refreshing analysis, considering Italian eugenics as the most important case-study in order to define Latin eugenics as an alternative model to its Anglo-American, German and Scandinavian counterparts. Analyses in detail the nature-nurture debate during the State racist campaign in fascist Italy (1938–1943) as a boundary tool in the contraposition between the different institutional, political and ideological currents of fascist racism.

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The Business of Civil War

Military Mobilization and the State, 1861–1865

Mark R. Wilson

This wide-ranging, original account of the politics and economics of the giant military supply project in the North reconstructs an important but little-known part of Civil War history. Drawing on new and extensive research in army and business archives, Mark R. Wilson offers a fresh view of the wartime North and the ways in which its economy worked when the Lincoln administration, with unprecedented military effort, moved to suppress the rebellion. This task of equipping and sustaining Union forces fell to career army procurement officers. Largely free from political partisanship or any formal free-market ideology, they created a mixed military economy with a complex contracting system that they pieced together to meet the experience of civil war. Wilson argues that the North owed its victory to these professional military men and their finely tuned relationships with contractors, public officials, and war workers. Wilson also examines the obstacles military bureaucrats faced, many of which illuminated basic problems of modern political economy: the balance between efficiency and equity, the promotion of competition, and the protection of workers' welfare. The struggle over these problems determined the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars; it also redirected American political and economic development by forcing citizens to grapple with difficult questions about the proper relationships among government, business, and labor. Students of the American Civil War will welcome this fresh study of military-industrial production and procurement on the home front—long an obscure topic.

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The Business of Speed

The Hot Rod Industry in America, 1915–1990

David N. Lucsko

Since the mass production of Henry Ford’s Model T, car enthusiasts have been redesigning, rebuilding, and reengineering their vehicles for increased speed and technical efficiency. They purchase aftermarket parts, reconstruct engines, and enhance body designs, all in an effort to personalize and improve their vehicles. Why do these car enthusiasts modify their cars and where do they get their aftermarket parts? Here, David N. Lucsko provides the first scholarly history of America’s hot rod business. Lucsko examines the evolution of performance tuning through the lens of the $34-billion speed equipment industry that supports it. As early as 1910, dozens of small shops across the United States designed, manufactured, and sold add-on parts to consumers eager to employ new technologies as they tinkered with their cars. Operating for much of the twentieth century in the shadow of the Big Three automobile manufacturers—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—these businesses grew at an impressive rate, supplying young and old hot rodders with thousands of performance-boosting gadgets. Lucsko offers a rich and heretofore untold account of the culture and technology of the high-performance automotive aftermarket in the United States, offering a fresh perspective on the history of the automobile in America.

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Caligula's Barges and the Renaissance Origins of Nautical Archaeology under Water

John M. McManamon

Sometime around 1446 A.D., Cardinal Prospero Colonna commissioned engineer Battista Alberti to raise two immense Roman vessels from the bottom of the lago di Nemi, just south of Rome. By that time, local fishermen had been fouling their nets and occasionally recovering stray objects from the sunken ships for 800 years. Having no idea of the size of the objects he was attempting to recover, Alberti failed.

For most of the next 500 years, various attempts were made to recover the vessels. Finally, in 1928, Mussolini ordered the draining of the lake to remove the vessels and place them on the lake shore. In 1944, the ships burned in a fire that was generally blamed on the Germans.

John M. McManamon connects these attempts at underwater archaeology with the Renaissance interest in reconstructing the past in order to affect the present. Nautical and marine archaeologists, as well as students and scholars of Renaissance history and historiography, will appreciate this masterfully researched and gracefully written work.

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“Cap” Cornish, Indiana Pilot

Navigating the Century of Flight

by Ruth Ann Ingraham

Clarence “Cap” Cornish was an Indiana pilot whose life spanned all but five years of the Century of Flight. Born in Canada in 1898, Cornish grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He began flying at the age of nineteen, piloting a “Jenny” aircraft during World War I, and continued to fly for the next seventy-eight years. In 1995, at the age of ninety-seven, he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest actively flying pilot. The mid-1920s to the mid-1950s were Cornish’s most active years in aviation. During that period, sod runways gave way to asphalt and concrete; navigation evolved from the iron rail compass to radar; runways that once had been outlined at night with cans of oil topped off with flaming gasoline now shimmered with multicolored electric lights; instead of being crammed next to mailbags in open-air cockpits, passengers sat comfortably in streamlined, pressurized cabins. In the early phase of that era, Cornish performed aerobatics and won air races. He went on to run a full-service flying business, served as chief pilot for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, managed the city’s municipal airport, helped monitor and maintain safe skies above the continental United States during World War II, and directed Indiana’s first Aeronautics Commission.

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Cars for Comrades

The Life of the Soviet Automobile

by Lewis H. Siegelbaum

The automobile and Soviet communism made an odd couple. The quintessential symbol of American economic might and consumerism never achieved iconic status as an engine of Communist progress, in part because it posed an awkward challenge to some basic assumptions of Soviet ideology and practice. In this rich and often witty book, Lewis H. Siegelbaum recounts the life of the Soviet automobile and in the process gives us a fresh perspective on the history and fate of the USSR itself.

Based on sources ranging from official state archives to cartoons, car-enthusiast magazines, and popular films, Cars for Comrades takes us from the construction of the huge "Soviet Detroits," emblems of the utopian phase of Soviet planning, to present-day Togliatti, where the fate of Russia's last auto plant hangs in the balance. The large role played by American businessmen and engineers in the checkered history of Soviet automobile manufacture is one of the book's surprises, and the author points up the ironic parallels between the Soviet story and the decline of the American Detroit. In the interwar years, automobile clubs, car magazines, and the popularity of rally races were signs of a nascent Soviet car culture, its growth slowed by the policies of the Stalinist state and by Russia's intractable "roadlessness." In the postwar years cars appeared with greater frequency in songs, movies, novels, and in propaganda that promised to do better than car-crazy America.

Ultimately, Siegelbaum shows, the automobile epitomized and exacerbated the contradictions between what Soviet communism encouraged and what it provided. To need a car was a mark of support for industrial goals; to want a car for its own sake was something else entirely. Because Soviet cars were both hard to get and chronically unreliable, and such items as gasoline and spare parts so scarce, owning and maintaining them enmeshed citizens in networks of private, semi-illegal, and ideologically heterodox practices that the state was helpless to combat. Deeply researched and engagingly told, this masterful and entertaining biography of the Soviet automobile provides a new perspective on one of the twentieth century's most iconic-and important-technologies and a novel approach to understanding the history of the Soviet Union itself.

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Cash For Your Trash

Scrap Recycling in America

Carl A. Zimring

In Cash for Your Trash, Carl A. Zimring provides a fascinating history of scrap recycling, from colonial times to the present. Integrating findings from archival, industrial, and demographic records, and moving beyond the environmental developments that have shaped modern recycling enterprises, Zimring offers a unique cultural and economic portrait of the private businesses that made large-scale recycling possible.

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