Constructing a Bridge: An Exploration of Engineering Culture, Design, and Research in Nineteenth-Century France and America

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Overview

If it is true, as Tocqueville suggested, that social and class systems shape technology, research, and knowledge, then the effects should be visible both at the individual level and at the level of technical institutions and local environments. That is the central issue addressed in Constructing a Bridge, a tale of two cultures that investigates how national traditions shape technological communities and their institutions and become embedded in everyday engineering practice.Eda Kranakis first examines these issues in the work of two suspension bridge designers of the early nineteenth century: the American inventor James Finley and the French engineer
Claude-Louis-Marie-Henri Navier. Finley -- who was oriented toward the needs of rural, frontier communities -- designed a bridge that could be easily reproduced and constructed by carpenters and blacksmiths. Navier -- whose professional training and career reflected a tradition of monumental architecture and had linked him closely to the Parisian scientific community -- designed an elegant,
costly, and technically sophisticated structure to be built in an elite district of Paris. Charting the careers of these two technologists and tracing the stories of their bridges, Kranakis reveals how local environments can shape design goals, research practices, and design-to-construction processes.Kranakis then offers a broader look at the technological communities and institutions of nineteenth-century France and America and at their ties to technological practice. She shows how conditions that led to Finley's and Navier's distinct designs also fostered different systems of technical education as well as distinct ideologies and traditions of engineering research.The result of this two-tiered, comparative approach is a reorientation of a historiographic tradition initiated by Tocqueville (and explored more recently by Eugene Ferguson, John Kasson, and others) toward a finer-grained analysis of institutional and local environments as mediators between national traditions and individual styles of technological research and design.

The MIT Press

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

"Eda Kranakis has written a finely-researched study in the history of 19th-century technology that contrasts engineering ideas, education, and designs developed in France to those pursued in the United States. Her comparative approach has the technological richness of suspension bridges and the cultural depth of general social theories. This lively book is accessible to the general public and will delight the specialist in either history or technology." David P.
Billington
, Civil Engineering & Operations Research, Princeton University

The MIT Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262112178
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 3/2/2000
  • Series: Inside Technology
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Eda Kranakis is Professor of History at the University of Ottawa and the author of
Constructing a Bridge: An Exploration of Engineering Culture, Design, and Research in
Nineteenth-Century France and America
(MIT Press, 1997).
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
General Introduction 1
I A Tale of Two Bridges: Finley, Navier, and Suspension Bridge Design
1 Finley, Technology, and Frontier Society 17
2 Designing the Chain Bridge 39
3 Finley's Design System in Practice 61
4 Navier: The Making of an Engineer-Scientist 97
5 Theorizing the Suspension Bridge 119
6 The Pont des Invalides 165
II Social Determinants of Engineering Practice: A Comparative View of France and America in the Nineteenth Century
7 The French Technologists 215
8 The American Technologists 233
9 Ideology and Technological Practice 261
General Conclusion 307
Notes 319
Bibliography 397
Index 443
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