About Amy E. Slaton

I am an historian of American science and technology and professor of history at Drexel University. I hold a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania and was a post-doctoral fellow in the History of Science at Harvard University. Additional details may be found on my C.V.

My research and writing have focused on the social relations of technical practice in contexts that include factories, construction industries, and materials testing laboratories, as well as places of post-secondary education, ranging from engineering schools to trade schools and community colleges. I am interested in the social utility of such seemingly value-neutral objects as materials standards, building codes, measurement instruments, textbooks, and the many other protocols and apparatus that direct routine technical practice. Whether written guidelines or mechanical devices, these artifacts may be seen to distribute credit, blame, responsibility and opportunity among those who labor in technical occupations, and to reveal ascriptions of expertise and power in science, engineering and industry.

My first book, Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building, 1900–1930, examined the development of concrete testing expertise in American building, including the role of that science-based activity in the nation’s embrace of functionalist design for its commercial architecture. That study found that ideas about class, ethnic, and gender differences could be seen in many supposedly practical innovations on the building site, from new managerial practices to the design of materials and equipment.  Continuing that concern with inequity in technical occupations, I then completed a historical study of race in U.S. higher engineering education: Race, Rigor and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line. The book combines a case-based narrative, covering engineering instruction at historically black and traditionally white schools since the 1940s, with some constructive suggestions on how to change the character of American STEM professions.

I have now begun a new project, in collaboration with Mary Ebeling, on the recent proliferation of certificate and two-year degree programs in the vast range of undertakings known as “nanomanufacturing.” We are studying programs in Southeastern Pennsylvania through which governmental, industrial, and educational partners join together to offer training to those who may aspire to employment in the so-called nanosector. We ask about the viability of such programs and the origins of planners’ optimism about nanomanufacturing in light of notably slow growth in that sector.  We see parallels between this programming and earlier well-intentioned but perhaps selective projections for regional economic growth, many of which have functioned to the continuing disadvantage of economically marginalized citizens.

All of these projects have been grounded in my local, national, and international scholarly communities, which include the Society for the History of Technology, the Society for the Social Studies of Science, the Philadelphia Center for the History of Science, and the new International Network for Engineering Studies. I have also pursued applications for my historical findings within educational and policy settings.

E-mail: slatonae@drexel.edu

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