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  • Awards

The Edelstein Prize

The Edelstein Prize is awarded to the author of an outstanding scholarly book in the history of technology published during the preceding three years. Established as the Dexter Prize in 1968 through the generosity of the late Sidney Edelstein—founder of the Dexter Chemical Corporation, noted expert on the history of dyes and dye processes, and 1988 recipient of SHOT’s Leonardo da Vinci Medal—the Edelstein Prize is donated by Ruth Edelstein Barish and her family in memory of Sidney Edelstein and his commitment to excellence in scholarship in the history of technology.

The 2008 Edelstein Prize was awarded to Christine MacLeod for Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism, and British Identity, 1750–1914 (2007). The citation read:

SHOT is pleased to award the 2008 Sidney Edelstein Prize for the outstanding scholarly book in the history of technology published during the preceding three years to Christine MacLeod for Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism, and British Identity, 1750–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

The front piece of the book notes, “This innovative study adopts a completely new perspective on both the industrial revolution and nineteenth-century British culture.” This is no hyperbole. MacLeod examines the early nineteenth century in Great Britain as a period “remarkable for its celebration of heroes,” in which inventors were publicly elevated in stature and renown alongside “warriors, monarchs, and statesmen.” In such a time of change, this new form of hero worship reflected how a nation was being redefined and how the lionizing of “men of peaceful conquest” also challenged aristocratic society, which, in the past, had reserved star status for its members only.

According to MacLeod, the popular celebration of inventors reached a peak in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, with the Great Exhibition of 1851 reflecting many of Britain’s material achievements. And even while technological triumphs were being celebrated, [End Page 127] a “patent controversy,” provoked in part by the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852—the first major reform of the patent system in more than 200 years—also raised questions about the role of inventors in enhancing Britain’s economic power. The outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 and hostilities in India soon after also spurred controversy, as inventors were viewed as either supporters of “technologies of destruction” or indispensable cogs in the military defense of the nation.

This impressive, creative book not only traces the rise and fall of inventors as heroes and celebrities, but attempts to use that subject to deepen our understanding of broader themes, such as “the social history of remembering,” the mythologizing of inventors and invention, and Victorian hero-worshipping and its cultural and class implications, balancing an understanding of providers of invention with the oft-studied voices of dissent about the industrial age. Heroes of Invention, therefore, not only treats a little-studied topic in an important period, but finds broader meaning in its subject that goes well beyond the borders of Great Britain. How did hero worship of inventors speak to a society’s shifting values and practices? How can class sensibilities be challenged by a change in what the public seeks to give attention and acclaim? How does a society interpret its own achievements and failures? These are all transcendental ideas.

Heroes of Invention is not, however, an extended speculative essay. It is deeply grounded in archival research from the Science Museum Library and University College London Archives to the National Archives at Kew, from the photographic collections of Conway Library to the Bolton District Archives. MacLeod exhaustively mined documentary and photographic materials and took particular note of monuments and other cultural artifacts.

The book is splendidly written, capturing the imagination with its fresh approach. We could not be more delighted in honoring Professor MacLeod and her outstanding written achievement.

The Sally Hacker Prize

The Sally Hacker Prize was established in 1999 to recognize the best popular book written in the history of technology during the three years preceding the award. The prize recognizes books in the history of technology that are directed to a broad audience of readers, including students and the interested public. The winners of the 2008 Sally Hacker Prize were editor...


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pp. 127-154
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