This article examines the impact of war and peace on common technologies of daily life, such as passenger rail cars in Japan from the 1880s to 1950s. It highlights the roles of two groups of actors in the transition from wooden cars to steel after the military defeat in 1945: ordinary railway passengers capitalizing on reconfigured power relationships in society, and former military engineers reconfiguring the engineering culture. The successful shift from wood to steel in the Japanese National Railways provides a case study of how and why nonweapons technology could become adaptable, accommodating, and innovative after war.
Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists’ claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership. Epithets—especially joy rider—reflected and reinforced the prevailing social construction of the street. Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians’ legitimacy in most of the street. Though many pedestrians resented and resisted the term and its connotations, motordom's campaign was a substantial success.
The use of the term “master-slave” is currently quite common in technical descriptions of control relation between two devices: automotive clutch and brake systems (master cylinder, slave cylinder), clocks, flip-flop circuits, computer drives, radio transmitters, and others. This essay describes the history of its technical use, dating from its origin in 1904, and the various relations between its technical usage and its racialized social connotations. We then examine various hypotheses for why a morally objectionable analogy became so popular, comments by African American engineers both for and against its continued usage, and some recommendations for altering its usage in the future.
The exhibit Charles Sheeler: Across Media, held at the Art Institute of Chicago between October and January, 2007, demonstrates how this important American modernist (1883–1965) rendered urban and industrial subjects in drawing, painting, photography and film. Originally mounted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, it is the first show devoted equally to Sheeler’s paintings and photography and to their interaction in his art making. Like the accompanying catalogue of the same name by Charles Brock (University of California Press), the exhibit is organized around the themes of cross-media dialogue, industry, and later works.
This retrospective review of Donald Worster’s 1979 prize-winning history, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, explores the book’s lasting contributions to the fields of environmental history, Western history, agricultural history, and the history of technology. It highlights Worster’s emphasis on capitalism as a mediating force between nature and culture and between technology and the environment, as well as its role in handicapping natural resources reform efforts on the Great Plains, especially those proposed by soil conservationists, agronomists, and ecologists during the New Deal.
This review essay of Starling Lawrence's The Lightning Keeper asks whether it is possible to write a straightforward epic in praise of good old-fashioned American industry and ingenuity in our jaded present. Cohen reflects on the novel's blurring of history and fiction and on the author's decision to present both himself and his fictional narrator as historians. What seems to be at stake is the re-enchantment of modernity. The book's unusual incorporation of real and fake archival material as supportive apparatus occasions a discussion of what kind of relationship we can have to the technological marvels of yesteryear: awe-filled, ironic, nostalgic, or some amorphous and unsatisfactory blend of all three?