Engineering the Revolution: Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

1997 Dexter Prize

1997 Dexter Prize from the Society for the History of Technology
Journal of Modern History

"Alder''s work is one of the first in the history of technology to offer a sophisticated historical treatment of skills. By arguing that skills are historically contingent, Alder''s contribution offers a valuable cultural study of the relationship between the rational knowledge of enlightened philosophers and engineers and the artisanal knowledge of skilled craftsmen."

— Myles W. Jackson

Isis

"This richly textured, heavily documented, and fluently written study centers on the attmept by French military engineers to apply engineering rationality--through the use of mass-produced interchangeable parts--to the reorganization of mass warfare. . . . Anyone interested in such topics as the social role of engineers, the politics of artifacts, and the military sources of social change will . . . benefit from a careful study of this remarkable book."

— Barton C. Hacker

American Historical Review

"This is a fine work, grounded in research in French archives and a plethora of other sources. Alder has forcefully demonstrated the role of engineers in fostering social change in the eighteenth-century and revolutionary eras."—Owen Connelly, American Historical Review

— Owen Connelly

Journal of Modern History - Myles W. Jackson

"Alder's work is one of the first in the history of technology to offer a sophisticated historical treatment of skills. By arguing that skills are historically contingent, Alder's contribution offers a valuable cultural study of the relationship between the rational knowledge of enlightened philosophers and engineers and the artisanal knowledge of skilled craftsmen."
Isis - Barton C. Hacker

"This richly textured, heavily documented, and fluently written study centers on the attmept by French military engineers to apply engineering rationality--through the use of mass-produced interchangeable parts--to the reorganization of mass warfare. . . . Anyone interested in such topics as the social role of engineers, the politics of artifacts, and the military sources of social change will . . . benefit from a careful study of this remarkable book."
American Historical Review - Owen Connelly

"This is a fine work, grounded in research in French archives and a plethora of other sources. Alder has forcefully demonstrated the role of engineers in fostering social change in the eighteenth-century and revolutionary eras."
From the Publisher

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691009698
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/1999
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Ken Alder is the Milton H. Wilson Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World and The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: A Revolution of Engineers? 3 Pt. 1 Engineering Design: Capital into Coercion, 1763-1793 Ch. 1 The Last Argument of the King 23 Ch. 2 A Social Epistemology of Enlightenment Engineering 56 Ch. 3 Design and Deployment 87 Pt. 2 Engineering Production: Coercion into Capital, 1763-1793 Ch. 4 The Tools of Practical Reason 127 Ch. 5 The Saint-Etienne Armory: Musket-Making and the End of the Ancien Regime 163 Ch. 6 Inventing Interchangeability: Mechanical Ideals, Political Realities 221 Pt. 3 Engineering Society: Technocracy and Revolution, 1794-1815 Ch. 7 The Machine in the Revolution 253 Ch. 8 Terror, Technocracy: Thermidor 292 Ch. 9 Technological Amnesia and the Entrepreneurial Order 319 Conclusion 344 Abbreviations 353 Notes 355 Bibliography 421 Index 457
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