The MIT Press

Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology

Jed Buchwald

Published by: The MIT Press


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Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology


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The Age of Electroacoustics

Transforming Science and Sound

Roland Wittje

At the end of the nineteenth century, acoustics was a science of musical sounds; the musically trained ear was the ultimate reference. Just a few decades into the twentieth century, acoustics had undergone a transformation from a scientific field based on the understanding of classical music to one guided by electrical engineering, with industrial and military applications. In this book, Roland Wittje traces this transition, from the late nineteenth-century work of Hermann Helmholtz to the militarized research of World War I and media technology in the 1930s. Wittje shows that physics in the early twentieth century was not only about relativity and atomic structure but encompassed a range of experimental, applied, and industrial research fields. The emergence of technical acoustics and electroacoustics illustrates a scientific field at the intersection of science and technology. Wittje starts with Helmholtz’s and Rayleigh’s work and its intersection with telegraphy and early wireless, and continues with the industrialization of acoustics during World War I, when sound measurement was automated and electrical engineering and radio took over the concept of noise. Researchers no longer appealed to the musically trained ear to understand sound but to the thinking and practices of electrical engineering. Finally, Wittje covers the demilitarization of acoustics during the Weimar Republic and its remilitarization at the beginning of the Third Reich. He shows how technical acoustics fit well with the Nazi dismissal of pure science, representing everything that “German Physics” under National Socialism should be: experimental, applied, and relevant to the military.

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Neither Physics nor Chemistry

A History of Quantum Chemistry

Kostas Gavroglu and Ana Simões

The evolution of a discipline at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

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Progressive Enlightenment

The Origins of the Gaslight Industry, 1780-1820

Leslie Tomory

An argument that the gas industry was the first integrated large-scale technological network and that it signaled a new wave of industrial innovation.

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Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe

US Technological Collaboration and Nonproliferation

John Krige

In the 1950s and the 1960s, U.S. administrations were determined to prevent Western European countries from developing independent national nuclear weapons programs. To do so, the United States attempted to use its technological pre-eminence as a tool of “soft power” to steer Western European technological choices toward the peaceful uses of the atom and of space, encouraging options that fostered collaboration, promoted nonproliferation, and defused challenges to U.S. technological superiority. In Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe, John Krige describes these efforts and the varying degrees of success they achieved. Krige explains that the pursuit of scientific and technological leadership, galvanized by America’s Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, was also used for techno-political collaboration with major allies. He examines a series of multinational arrangements involving shared technological platforms and aimed at curbing nuclear proliferation, and he describes the roles of the Department of State, the Atomic Energy Commission, and NASA. To their dismay, these agencies discovered that the use of technology as an instrument of soft power was seriously circumscribed, by internal divisions within successive administrations and by external opposition from European countries. It was successful, Krige argues, only when technological leadership was embedded in a web of supportive “harder” power structures.

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From Marconi's Black-Box to the Audion

Sungook Hong

A new look at the early history of wireless communication.


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