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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) ix-x

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In This Issue

One common thread running through this characteristically diverse group of articles is the authors' concern with origins. David Mindell ("Opening Black's Box: Rethinking Feedback's Myth of Origin") notes that the story of Harold Black's moment of insight into feedback theory on the Lackawanna ferry in 1927 has become the stuff of legend, an inspirational tale told to generations of engineering students. The legend unfortunately obscures the sources of a fundamental concept in twentieth-century technology: "It skips over the inventors themselves . . . reveals little about the concrete problems these men worked on . . . [and] removes feedback theory from its engineering culture." Mindell's article is "a reexamination of the sources," a retelling of the familiar narrative "not as a heroic tale but as the story of an engineer solving the technical problems of a particular place and time and trying to convince others to support his solutions."

Much has been written on the history of government-sponsored research, and Joanne Abel Goldman contributes to this body of scholarship here with her article "National Science in the Nation's Heartland: The Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University, 1942-1965." The Ames Laboratory is distinguished from its counterparts in Berkeley, Los Alamos, and Argonne by its particularly close ties with Iowa State University. Goldman focuses her attention on the origins and growth of that relationship, and on the role played by the laboratory's first director, Frank Spedding, in defining it. The struggle between university, federal government, and Spedding to assert distinct spheres of influence and to control the relations among them, Goldman observes, "offers new insights into the subtle and not so subtle consequences . . . of the postwar national science effort."

Not quite so much, perhaps, has been written on the importance of tinkering in the history of technology, but it is a theme of enduring interest and a focus of several recent publications. To these may now be added Yuzo Takahashi's "A Network of Tinkerers: The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan." Takahashi notes that the common view of the postwar growth of Japan's consumer electronics industry as "the result of a collaboration between big business and government ministries" neglects an important foundation of that industry's success, namely, the existence of "a culture of 'tinkering' with consumer electronics." In the years following the Second World War, "a network of inventors, tinkerers, and small businesses developed an unofficial sector of radio manufacturing," writes Takahashi, and later helped launch the television kit industry, a critical incubator for that sector of consumer electronics. The influence of this network on the success of the Japanese electronics industry was profound.

Wiebe Bijker and Karin Bijsterveld ("Women Walking through Plans: Technology, Democracy, and Gender Identity") address the "history of women's participation in public housing in the Netherlands" through the history of the Vrouwen Adviescommissies voor de Woningbouw, Women's Advisory Committees on Housing. On the level of the particular, Bijker and Bijsterveld are concerned with "women and their relation to public housing, architecture, and city planning." More generally, they intend to explore the broader question of how "citizens influence the technological building of society." In the largest sense, their article is concerned with the "democratization of technological culture."

As we did on the last occasion when SHOT held its annual meeting outside the United States, we have assembled some reviews of museums of technology in the region of this year's meeting in Munich--defining that region broadly enough to include Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Many thanks are due to our colleagues Wolf Peter Fehlhammer, Wilhelm Fuessl, Eva Mayring, Stefan Zeilinger, Michael Hascher, and Louis Hutchins, for this brief introductory guide to the technological cornucopia of the museums of Central Europe. [End Page ix]

Finally, Kenneth Lipartito's "The Historian in the Rose Garden?" reviews several recent "policy histories" that bear on technology and technology policy. His graceful essay may be of particular interest in light of the conversation ongoing in SHOT about how (not to say whether) historians of technology might reach...


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