I am an historian of American science and technology and professor of history at Drexel University. I hold a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania and was a post-doctoral fellow in the History of Science at Harvard University. Additional details may be found on my CV.
My research and writing have focused on the social relations of technical practice in contexts that include factories, construction industries, and materials testing laboratories, as well as places of post-secondary education, ranging from engineering schools to trade schools and community colleges. I am interested in critiquing such consoling modern projects as “meritocracy” and “diversity” through the study of materials standards, building codes, measurement instruments, textbooks, and the many other protocols and apparatus that direct routine technical practice. Whether written guidelines or mechanical devices, these artifacts may be seen to distribute credit, blame, responsibility and opportunity among those who labor or aspire to labor in technical occupations, and to help ascribe expertise and authority in science, engineering and industry. Entangled with power, these quotidian devices actively produce human differences dependent on those ascriptions, including race, gender, sexuality, and (dis)ability…categories which of course in turn historically justify stratified learning and labor in the United States.
My first book, Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building, 1900–1930, examined the development of concrete testing expertise in American building, including the role of that science-based activity in the nation’s embrace of functionalist design for its commercial architecture. That study found that ideas about class, ethnic, and gender differences could be seen in many supposedly practical innovations on the building site, from new managerial practices to the design of materials and equipment. Continuing that concern with inequity in technical occupations, I then completed a historical study of race in U.S. higher engineering education: Race, Rigor and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line. The book combines a case-based narrative, covering engineering instruction at historically black and traditionally white schools since the 1940s, with some constructive suggestions on how to change the character of American STEM professions.
I have now begun a new historical project on the false consolations of “STEM Diversity,” a world of ostensibly welcoming educational and workforce reforms formulated after the Civil Rights era in the U.S. Inclusive programming and a “rainbow” sensibility regarding human difference can offer significant interpersonal support and resources to marginalized communities, but nonetheless the potential here for structural change is limited. STEM fields have largely disregarded the essentialist and assimilationist character of diversity ideologies and the stubborn(and related) nature of economic stratification in America. Cases include the recent proliferation of certificate and two-year degree programs in the vast range of undertakings known as “nanomanufacturing,” and the promissory claims of other high-tech sectors. The book suggests that intersectional and indeterminate confrontations with identity are needed if the persistent inequities of American learning and labor are to be dismantled.
All of these projects have been grounded in my local, national, and international scholarly communities, which include the Society for the History of Technology, the Society for the Social Studies of Science, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the International Network for Engineering Studies. I have also pursued applications for my historical findings within educational and policy settings. I am the co-Editor- in-Chief, with Tiago Saraiva, of the international journal, History+Technology.