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Engineering the Revolution

Book Engineering the Revolution

Book details

- By: Ken Alder(Author)
- Language: English
- Format: PDF - Djvu
- Pages:496
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 19, 1999)
- Bestsellers rank: 5
- Category: History
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The French Revolution and Industrial Revolution together inaugurated the modern era. But recent historical "revisionists" have divorced eighteenth-century material conditions from concurrent political struggles. This book's anti-teleological approach repudiates technological determinism to document the forging of a new relationship between technology and politics in Revolutionary France. It does so through the history of a particular artifact--the gun. Expanding the "political" to include conflict over material objects, Ken Alder rethinks the nature of engineering rationality, the origins of mass production, and our interpretation of the French Revolution.


Near the end of the Enlightenment, a cadre of artillery engineers transformed the design, production, and deployment of military guns. Part 1 shows how the gun, the first artifact amenable to scientific analysis, was redesigned by engineers committed to new meritocratic forms of technological knowledge and how the Revolutionaries and artillery officer Napoleon exploited their techno-social designs.


Part 2 shows how the gun became the first artifact to be mass producedwith interchangeable parts, as French engineers deployed "objective" drawings and automatic machinery to enforce production standards in the face of artisanal resistance. And Part 3 places the gun at the center of a technocratic revolution led by engineers on the Committee of Public Safety, a revolution whose failure inaugurated modern capitalist techno-politics. This book offers a challenging demonstration of how material artifacts emerge as the negotiated outcome of political struggle.


Winner of the 1998 Dexter Prize, Society for the History of Technology"Engineering the Revolution is a triumph. It deserves to be read widely, and not just as an inquiry into the origins of modern France."--Donald MacKenzie, London Review of Books "Ken Alder has written an ambitious book.... His description of work in the weapons industry and his analysis of the effects of standard measures, such as jigs and gauges, is both fascinating and enlightening. His treatment of the arms manufacturing during the Year II furnishes useful data on this extraordinary phase of the Revolution."--Sam Scott, The Journal of Military History The French Revolution and Industrial Revolution together inaugurated the modern era. But recent historical "revisionists" have divorced eighteenthcentury material conditions from concurrent political struggles. This book's antiteleological approach repudiates technological determinism to document the forging of a new relationship between technology and politics in Revolutionary France. It does so through the history of a particular artifact the gun. Expanding the "political" to include conflict over material objects, Ken Alder rethinks the nature of engineering rationality, the origins of mass production, and our interpretation of the French Revolution. Near the end of the Enlightenment, a cadre of artillery engineers transformed the design, production, and deployment of military guns. Part 1 shows how the gun, the first artifact amenable to scientific analysis, was redesigned by engineers committed to new meritocratic forms of technological knowledge and how the Revolutionaries and artillery officer Napoleon exploited their technosocial designs. Part 2 shows how the gun became the first artifact to be mass producedwith interchangeable parts, as French engineers deployed "objective" drawings and automatic machinery to enforce production standards in the face of artisanal resistance. And Part 3 places the gun at the center of a technocratic revolution led by engineers on the Committee of Public Safety, a revolution whose failure inaugurated modern capitalist technopolitics. This book offers a challenging demonstration of how material artifacts emerge as the negotiated outcome of political struggle.


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  • By R. Albin on June 22, 2015

    An interesting, very well researched, and generally solidly written book on the apparently narrow topic of musket manufacture in France before and during the French Revolution. This is a very ambitious book. Alder is interested in writing history of technology as a form of social and political history. A recurrent and much discussed theme in this book is that technologies do not occur in a vacuum but rather reflect social and political realities and sometime embody the objectives and needs of their makers. Musket manufacture in this context has several interesting dimensions. Efforts to reform and improve manufacture was spearheaded by French artillery engineers, a early effort at a meritocratic managerial elite. A good deal of this book is about the status and efforts of this group under Ancien Regime, and their interactions with traditional institutions of the Ancien Regime, including the royal bureaucracy and established craft-based manufacturing. Alder presents this as an aspect of the Enlightenment in a military form. These efforts continue after the Revolution, particularly in the form of what Alder terms techno-Jacobinism as part of an effort to transform French society, particularly under the threat of internal disunion and external threat.Intertwined with this story is another theme, that of recurrent and ultimately failed efforts to develop manufacturing based on mechanization and interchangeable parts, something that would only be achieved in the USA decades later under the stimulus of Ordnance Department efforts. Alder argues well that the up and downs of these efforts were more related to social and political factors than technical obstacles per se. Alder has some interesting discussion of the nature of proto-industrialization in France and differences with Britain and the USA.Parts of the book are somewhat repetitive as Alder revisits some issues from different perspectives. Alder tends to belabor the social-political nature of the history of technology, making fairly obvious points repeatedly. There is a bit too much discussion of theoretical-historiographic issues, again somewhat repetitive discussion of fairly obvious points.


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