Edgerton, David 1959-
Edgerton, David 1959-
(David E.H. Edgerton)
PERSONAL: Born April 16, 1959, in Montevideo, Uruguay. Education: St. John’s College, Oxford, B.A., 1981; Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, Ph.D., 1986. Politics: “Left.”
ADDRESSES: Office—Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ England. E-mail—d. [email protected]
CAREER: Victoria University of Manchester, Manchester, England, lecturer in the economics of science and technology, 1984-85, lecturer at Institute for Science and Technology, 1985-88, lecturer in the history of science and technology, 1988-92; Imperial College London, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, England, faculty member, 1993—, became Hans Rausing professor of history of science and technology. Also serves on Centre for Contemporary British History Committee and Churchill Archives Centre Committee.
MEMBER: British Society for the History of Science (member of council, 1988-91), Economic History Society, Society for the History of Technology. AWARDS, HONORS: T.S. Ashton Prize, Economic History Society, 1992; Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, 2006-09.
England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, Macmillan (London, England), 1991.
(Editor, as David E.H. Edgerton) Industrial Research and Innovation in Business, Edward Elgar Publishing (Brookfield, VT), 1996.
The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Member of editorial boards, Contemporary European History and History and Technology. Contributor to books, including Enterprise, Management and Innovation in British Business, 1914-1960, edited by R.P.T. Davenport-Hines and G. Jones, Frank Cass (London, England), 1988; The Political Economy of Nationalisation, 1920-1950, edited by Robert Millward and John Singleton, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1995; and The Science-Industry Nexus: History, Policy, Implications, edited by Karl Grandin and Nina Wormbs, Watson (New York, NY), 2005. Contributor to journals, including Business History, New Left Review, Twentieth Century British History, New Global Studies, Economics of Peace and Security Journal, and Public Administration.
SIDELIGHTS: David Edgerton, a faculty member at the Imperial College London, writes widely about the cultural history of technology, industry, and economic performance. Edgerton, who teaches at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, has published a number of critically acclaimed books, including Warfare State: Britain, 1920-1970 and The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900.
In England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, Edgerton examines the British aircraft industry in the years before World War I, through the interwar years, and following World War II. In particular, the author challenges the popular notion that England as a nation gave little support to aviation. Edgerton notes, for example, that England’s aircraft industry was the largest in the world during the 1920s, that the nation produced more airplanes than Nazi Germany in 1940, and that well into the 1970s the country owned a large share of the aircraft market, trailing only the United States and the Soviet Union. “Far from England’s being a ‘welfarist’ state lacking interest in advanced technology,” wrote Business History Review contributor Maurice Kirby, “it has, throughout the twentieth century, been a ‘warfare’ state that has accorded very high priority to technological and industrial advance.” Edgerton also examines the close links between the nation’s aircraft industry and the British government, which sponsored research and development programs. “Business historians will be particularly interested in his account of the aircraft industry as largely a creation of the state,” wrote G.C. Peden in Business History, and Kirby asked, “If the aircraft industry was nurtured and protected by successive governments, how can this possibly be reconciled with a so-called anti-industrial and technological bias, let alone with an obsessive concern with socialist-inspired welfare expenditures?” Peden concluded that England and the Aeroplane “is a tour de force, after which the history of the aircraft industry will never be quite the same again.”
Edgerton offers a revisionist look at modern England in Warfare State, “a truly challenging study which should become required reading for historians of twentieth century Britain,” observed a critic in Contemporary Review. Edgerton argues against the view of Britain as a welfare state facing irreversible decline, popularized in Martin Wiener’s 1981 work English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit and Correlli Barnett’s 1986 title The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Power. Instead, the author contends that historians have placed too much emphasis on the nation’s declining economic capacity, thereby diminishing the importance of Britain’s role as a military and technological power. “His foremost accomplishment is to demolish the conventional narrative of the 20th century British state, one supposedly of a pathetic nonstop long-term decline since the First World War, and for which sad fate many historians blame the ‘welfare’ social model,” Alex Barder commented in Logos. “Professor Edgerton, by reasserting the importance of the ‘military-science complex,’ and demonstrating the robust design and production of first class armaments during this supposedly slack period, establishes a far more nuanced historiography that illuminates the strong relationships between the state, intellectuals, technocrats and scientists.” According to Pat Thane, writing in History Today, the author’s “central argument is not that we should reject the term ‘welfare state,’ but that we need to think of the modern British state in more complex and rounded terms and acknowledge the importance of warfare as well as welfare.”
Using a variety of statistical sources, Edgerton demonstrates that Britain devoted enormous resources to its military from 1920 to 1970. According to International Journal reviewer K.C. Epstein, the author “shows that interwar Britain, supposedly demilitarized and pacifist, was already quite heavily militarized; that it grew more militarized during World War II; that it remained so after the war; and that Harold Wilson’s Labour government, which had come to power (and created the Ministry of Technology) believing that Britain was an anti-technological declining power, discovered, once in power, that it was not.” In Warfare State, noted Thane, Edgerton’s primary concern is to “explore the role, and the underestimated importance, in twentieth-century Britain of the close relationship linking the state, technological research and a large, successful military-industrial sector in which was created a powerful armaments industry.”
Edgerton presents an unconventional look at innovation and invention in The Shock of the Old, “a provocative challenge to students of technology,” commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The author asserts that modern society’s fascination with “innovation-centric” thinking often distorts the impact of technological advancements. “What I’m aiming to do is to rethink the place of technology in history; to make it accessible to ordinary historical questioning and investigation,” Edgerton told John Sutherland in the London Guardian. “At the moment our understanding of technology is driven by an obsession with glamorous innovation which systematically narrows our vision and obliterates any comprehensive account of technology’s past.” The author continued, “We are blinded by clichés when we turn our mind to technology. If we stop thinking about technology, as we have conventionally conceived it, and think instead about ‘things,’ we might better grasp the complexities involved.”
In The Shock of the Old, Edgerton looks at advancements in such diverse industries as aviation, nuclear energy, contraceptives, and chemical warfare. “At the heart of Edgerton’s approach is a sweeping preference for use-centered rather than innovation-centered history,” observed American Scientist reviewer Robert McC. Adams. The critic added, “If attention is focused on firsts in invention and on innovation, the history of technology tends to be confined to a handful of countries and even centers within them. If the focus is on the vast array of uses and adaptations of those inventions and innovations, history is, potentially at least, to be found almost everywhere.” The Shock of the Old “is a provocative, concise, and elegant exercise in intellectual Protestantism,” wrote New Yorker critic Steven Shapin, “enthusiastically nailing its iconoclastic theses on the door of the Church of Technological Hype: no one is very good at predicting technological futures; new and old technologies coexist; and technological significance and technological novelty are rarely the same—indeed, a given technology’s grip on our awareness is often in inverse relationship to its significance in our lives. Above all, Edgerton says that we are wrong to associate technology solely with invention, and that we should think of it, rather, as evolving through use.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, April, 2007, Jon Sumida, review of Warfare State: Britain, 1920-1970, p. 593.
American Scientist, July 1, 2007, Robert McC. Adams, “In the World of Use,” p. 368.
Booklist, December 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, p. 9.
British Journal of Sociology, December, 1993, Martin Harris, review of England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, p. 733.
Business History, October, 1992, G.C. Peden, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 104; July, 1997, B.W.E. Alford, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 142; October, 2006, Roger Middleton, review of Warfare State, p. 581.
Business History Review, autumn, 1992, Maurice Kirby, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 622.
California Bookwatch, April, 2007, review of The Shock of the Old.
Capital & Class, spring, 1992, Andrew Friedman, review of England and the Aeroplane.
Chemical Heritage, winter, 2007, review of The Shock of the Old.
Choice, July, 2007, T.S. Reynolds, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 1931.
Contemporary Review, spring, 2007, review of Warfare State.
Economic History Review, February, 1994, Peter Fearon, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 200; August, 1997, Graeme Gooday, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 572; August, 2006, Rodney Lowe, review of Warfare State, p. 649.
Guardian (London, England), August 1, 2006, John Sutherland, “The Ideas Interview: David Edgerton.”
Harvard Business Review, June, 2007, John T. Landry, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 34.
History Today, March, 2006, Pat Thane, review of Warfare State, p. 65; September, 2007, Andrew Robinson, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 66.
International History Review, September, 2007, John R. Ferris, review of Warfare State, p. 649.
International Journal, autumn, 2007, K.C. Epstein, review of Warfare State, p. 992.
Isis, June, 1997, David S. Landes, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 357; March, 2007, Elizabeth Garber, review of Warfare State, p. 210; September, 2007, Thomas P. Hughes, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 642.
Journal of British Studies, January, 2007, Matthew Hendley, review of Warfare State, p. 230.
Journal of Economic History, December, 1997, Ian Inkster, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,”1870-1970, p. 967; December, 2006, Wade E. Shilts, review of Warfare State, p. 1083.
Library Journal, December 1, 2006, James A. Buczynski, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 161.
Logos, spring-summer, 2006, Alex Barder, review of review of Warfare State.
London Review of Books, May 10, 2007, “A Place for Hype,” review of The Shock of the Old, p. 33.
Nature, April 16, 1992, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 636; October 24, 1996, Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 681; April 26, 2007, “A User’s Guide to Technology,”review of The Shock of the Old, p. 980.
New Yorker, May 14, 2007, “What Else Is New?,” review of The Shock of the Old, p. 144.
Publishers Weekly, November 20, 2006, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 54.
Science, March 16, 2007, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 1500.
Science News, February 10, 2007, review of The Shock of the Old, p. 95.
Spectator, April 11, 1992, Terence Keeley, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 35.
Technology and Culture, October, 1992, David R. Woodward, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 834; July, 1998, Timothy Leunig, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 571; April, 2007, Barton C. Hacker, review of Warfare State, p. 459.
Times Higher Education Supplement, January 23, 1998, David Sawers, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970, p. 28; November 25, 2005, “The Might of the Military Tendency,” p. 18; April 13, 2007, “Rocket Science No Match for a Washing Appliance,” review of The Shock of the Old, p. 20.
Times Literary Supplement, November 22, 1991, review of England and the Aeroplane, p. 27; May 25, 2007, “Out of the Flat-pack Wardrobe,” review of The Shock of the Old, p. 27.
Victorian Studies, summer, 1997, Michael Dintenfass, review of Science, Technology, and the British Industrial “Decline,” 1870-1970.
Imperial College London Web site,http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/ (February 1, 2008), “David Edgerton.”*