The Dexter Prize
Since 1968 the Society for the History of Technology has annually awarded the Dexter Prize to the author of an outstanding book in the history of technology published in any of the preceding three years. The prize is funded by the Dexter Chemical Corporation of New York City, manufacturers of industrial chemicals. In 1998 the prize was awarded to Ken Alder, for his Engineering the Revolution: Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763–1815 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). The citation read:
Spanning the five decades and more from the end of the Seven Years War to Waterloo, this richly textured, heavily documented, and smoothly written study centers on the attempt by French military engineers to apply engineering rationality through interchangeable parts manufacturing to the reorganization of mass warfare. They failed, but in showing how and why success eluded them Ken Alder illuminates a wide range of topics and issues respecting a crucial half century of French (and Western) history.
Engineering the Revolution is divided into three parts, each of three chapters. The first, “Engineering Design: Capital into Coercion, 1763–1793,” focuses on the specifics of artillery design and deployment within the more general framework of the application of engineering rationality to the formation of the absolutist state. Covering the same three decades as the first part, part 2, “Engineering Production: Coercion into Capital, 1763–1793,” considers the specifics of ordnance production, with close attention to such topics as the regimentation of work and resistance to it, the developing logic of interchangeability, and the limits of the state’s role in capitalist production. Part 3, “Engineering Society: Technocracy and Revolution, 1794–1815,” merges the themes of the first two parts and carries them forward through the Napoleonic reaction, exploring the impact of engineers in charge on civil as well as military society.
In Engineering the Revolution, Ken Alder succeeds on several different levels. Not only does he informatively address the basic features [End Page 623] of military technological and engineering development, he sets these topics firmly in the context of changing military values, thought, policy, and institutions from the end of the Seven Years War to the fall of Napoleon. He sets these topics no less firmly in the context of Enlightenment rationalism, utilitarian values, and engineering institutions. But he does a good deal more. He connects military technological concerns to such major issues in modern European historiography as the divergent courses of economic development in France and England, the characteristics of the absolutist state, the meanings of the Enlightenment, and the causes of the French Revolution. In doing so, he thoughtfully engages recent scholarship across academic fields ranging from social studies of science to theories of modernization.
Historians of technology and science will learn a good deal from reading Engineering the Revolution, but so too will historians in fields as diverse as military, political, social, cultural, economic, labor, and business. And though we hesitate to speak for other humanists and social scientists, we believe anyone interested in such topics as the social role of engineers, the politics of artifacts, or the military sources of social change will also benefit from a careful study of this remarkable book.
The Abbott Payson Usher Prize
The Usher Prize was established in 1968 to honor the scholarly contributions of the late Dr. Usher and to encourage the publication of original research of the highest standard. It is awarded annually to the author of the best scholarly work published during the preceding three years under the auspices of the Society for the History of Technology. The 1998 prize went to David Mindell for his essay “‘The Clangor of that Blacksmith’s Fray’: Technology, War, and Experience Aboard the USS Monitor,” which appeared in Technology and Culture 36, no. 2 (April 1995). The citation read:
Within recent years, some military historians have begun asking questions that resemble the concerns of many historians of technology, for both groups have attempted to bring into focus the responses and reactions of those people most intimately connected to the activity they study. In the history of technology, increased attention has been devoted to both workers and to the users of technological systems, while some...