POPULAR KINEMATICS: TECHNICAL KNOWING IN THE AGE OF MACHINES

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The history of knowledge easily includes the history of science but has a harder time including the history of technology. Although the historical profession has productively explored how technology is knowledge, the framing of this equivalence can itself be historicized, and nineteenth-century analyses of machines offer one opportunity to do so. Taking popular illustrated representations of machine components—mechanisms—as its examples, this essay pursues a mechanic's answer to the question of how technology is knowledge. Henry T. Brown's immensely popular Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements (1868) draws on a long publication tradition to present mechanical motion as the key to understanding machines, a notion that would be revised by practitioners of the emergent science of kinematics and profession of mechanical engineering. Brown's book takes up but does not solve the problem of representing mechanical movement on the page, and it exhibits contradictory commitments to technology as ideational—invented by individuals—and technology as the cumulative expressions of human culture. Itself the product of the latest industrial printing techniques, Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements represents technical knowing as a species of intuitive visualization stimulated by text-image correlation as well as by experiencing machines themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-85
Number of pages19
JournalHistory and Theory
Volume59
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • illustration
  • invention
  • kinematics
  • knowledge
  • technology
  • visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy

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