The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has selected MIT historian and engineer David A. Mindell as a 2015 AIAA Associate Fellow. 

“It is great honor to be selected,” said Mindell, the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in the Program of Science, Technology and Society (STS), and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “As aerospace engineering grapples with the critical importance of human beings in robotic and unmanned systems, it is heartening to see that the profession values humanistic perspectives.”

The AIAA selects individuals who have accomplished important engineering or scientific research; created original works of outstanding merit; or have made notable contributions to the arts, sciences, or technology of aeronautics or astronautics.

“David’s research has spanned all three areas — arts, sciences, and technology — showing how they are inseparable in the history of flight and space exploration,” said Rosalind Williams, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology and Head of STS. “His election as an AIAA fellow brings honor to STS, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and to MIT, fittingly on the eve of the Institute’s centennial celebration of the nation’s most distinguished aerospace program.”

Mindell will receive the award on Jan. 5, 2015, at a ceremony held in conjunction with the AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in Kissimmee, Florida.


By Kierstin Wesolowski | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

The White House has announced the nomination of MIT’s Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems, as NASA’s deputy administrator, the space agency’s No. 2 leadership position. Newman’s appointment will require approval by the U.S. Senate.

Newman, who has been on the MIT faculty since 1993, is director of MIT’s Technology and Policy Program and MIT Portugal Program, a faculty member in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and a Margaret McVicar Faculty Fellow.

Newman earned her BS from the University of Notre Dame in 1986, followed by three graduate degrees from MIT: two SM degrees, in aeronautics and astronautics and in technology and policy, in 1989, and a PhD in aerospace biomedical engineering, in 1992. She is the author of “Interactive Aerospace Engineering and Design” (McGraw-Hill, 2002), an introductory engineering textbook, and more than 200 papers presented in journals and at refereed conferences.

Newman’s research has included the development of a radical new spacesuit design that is tighter-fitting and would afford much greater mobility and lighter weight than today’s bulky pressure suits. She has focused on quantifying astronaut performance in space, including computer modeling of the dynamics of human motion in microgravity conditions. Newman has also developed exercise countermeasures, serving as principal investigator for three spaceflight experiments, and specializes in understanding partial-gravity locomotion for future planetary exploration. Her development of patented, wearable compression suits has also led her into research on assistive technologies for people with locomotion impairment.

“It’s very exciting, and an enormous honor,” Newman says of her nomination as NASA’s deputy administrator. “Aerospace engineering, of course, is my passion. Maybe I’ve been training for this my whole life!”

Newman says that NASA has “a clear vision” aligned with goals set by the Obama administration, with Mars as the destination in its long-term strategic plan. While the space program may draw most of the agency’s public attention, NASA’s research in aeronautics is no less significant, she says, and has produced “significant aviation advancements.”

The deputy administrator’s specific duties, Newman says, include NASA’s legislative and intergovernmental affairs; communications; the Mission Support Directorate; and international relationships, including the multinational partnership that manages the International Space Station. In addition, the post oversees educational programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

Helping to spur the interest of young people in space, and in engineering in general, will be “a privilege,” Newman says. “I’d like to change the conversation with kids about what it means to be an engineer” — which she calls “the best job in the world, where you get to solve really challenging and extraordinary problems in the service of humankind.”

Newman and her partner Guillermo Trotti, an architect and designer, completed a round-the-world sailing voyage on their boat in 2003. The two are now live-in housemasters at MIT’s Baker House, an undergraduate residence hall.

Newman says she is eager for the challenges of her new job: “I love NASA’s portfolio, and what it’s tasked to do for the nation: pushing the boundaries and leading in aeronautics and space — aircraft, space, planetary and earth sciences, exploration, technology development, and education. I look forward to doing the best work I can, to applying myself 100 percent, to learning a lot, and to advancing our national aerospace goals.”

By David L. Chandler | MIT News Office

The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is very pleased to present the newest members of the MIT SHASS faculty. They come to MIT with diverse backgrounds and vast knowledge in their areas of research: empirics of matching markets; 19th- and 20th-century representations of childhood and the history of children’s literature; international political economy and formal and quantitative methodology; the intersection of philosophy and linguistics; causes and consequences of ethnic conflict; intersection of science, technology, and urban politics in U.S. history; the meaning of natural language expressions; moral philosophy; and game theory, microeconomic theory, and political economy.

Please join us in welcoming these excellent scholars into the MIT community.  

Nikhil Agarwal, Economics

Nikhil Agarwal joins MIT’s Department of Economics faculty in the fall of 2014 as an assistant professor. He received his PhD from Harvard University and was a postdoc at the Cowles Foundation at Yale University.

He studies the empirics of matching markets, or markets where prices do not clear the market. The applications he studies include medical residency markets, kidney donation, and public school choice. His current research focuses on developing methods to analyze data from these markets in order to answer questions about the effects of design on outcomes.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Economics

Charlotte Brathwaite, Music and Theater Arts

Charlotte Brathwaite joins MIT as an assistant professor of theater arts. Prior to coming to MIT, she was a visiting professor of theater and dance at Amherst College. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Amsterdam School for the Arts in the Netherlands and a Master of Fine Arts in directing from the Yale School of Drama.

Brathwaite is co-founder of the Berlin-based performance group Naturaleza Humana. She has assistant-directed for Yale Repertory Theater, Lincoln Center, Yale Opera, Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, Francesca Zambello, and Christian Rath. She has shadowed director Joel Zwick on set at Disney Studios in Los Angeles. This summer she assisted director Peter Sellars’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Stratford Festival in Canada. She is recipient of a Princess Grace Foundation George C. Wolfe Award and the Julian Milton Kaufman Prize for Directing Yale University. 
Profile at MIT SHASS Music and Theater Arts Section

Marah Gubar, Literature

Marah Gubar joins the Literature at MIT’s faculty in fall, 2014 as an associate professor. Previously, she was an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where she directed the nationally recognized Children’s Literature Program. She earned her PhD in English from Princeton University and did her undergraduate work at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she received a BA in English and a BFA in musical theatre. 

Gubar teaches and writes about children’s literature from a variety of periods, but she is especially interested in 19th- and 20th-century representations of childhood and the history of children’s theatre. Her book, “Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature,” was published by Oxford University Press in 2009 and won the Children’s Literature Association’s Book Award. She has also received several teaching prizes, including the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the highest teaching honor given to faculty at Pitt.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Literature at MIT

In Song Kim, Political Science

In Song Kim joins the MIT faculty as an assistant professor of political science. He received his PhD from the Department of Politics at Princeton University, and was awarded the Harold W. Dodds Fellowship for 2012 to 2013 academic year.

His research interests include international political economy and formal and quantitative methodology. His dissertation examines firm-level political incentives to lobby for trade liberalization. Kim is also interested in “big data” analysis of international trade. He is developing methods for dimension reduction and visualization to investigate how the structure of international trade around the globe has evolved over time.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Political Science

Justin Khoo, Linguistics and Philosophy

Justin Khoo joins the MIT faculty as an assistant professor of philosophy. He earned his PhD from Yale in 2013, and he was a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Philosophy last year. His research interests are in philosophy of language, philosophical logic, and metaphysics.

Khoo is currently working on topics at the border between philosophy and linguistics. He has papers on the meaning and conversational pragmatics of conditionals (“if … then”), modals (“may,” “must”), and their interactions. More broadly, he is interested in the nature of language and communication.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Evan Lieberman, Political Science

Evan Lieberman joins MIT as the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa. Previously, Lieberman was a member of the faculty at Princeton University for 12 years, and a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at Yale University. He received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and his BA from Princeton.

Lieberman’s research is concerned with understanding the causes and consequences of ethnic conflict, and the determinants of good governance and policy-making, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. He also writes and teaches on research methods for comparative analysis. Lieberman is the author of two scholarly books, “Race and Regionalism in the Politics of Taxation” (Cambridge, 2003) and “Boundaries of Contagion: How Ethnic Politics Have Shaped Government Responses to AIDS” (Princeton, 2009), as well as numerous scholarly articles. He received the David Collier Mid-Career Achievement Award at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Political Science

Jennifer Light, Program in Science, Technology, and Society

Jennifer Light joins the MIT faculty as a professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and as a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (by courtesy). Previously, Light was at Northwestern University, where she was a professor of communication, history, and sociology. She holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Cambridge.

Light is fascinated by technocratic thinking and its uses in programs of social reform and social control. Light has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and received the Catherine Bauer Wurster Prize from the Society for American City and Regional Planning History. Her latest book, “From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age,” co-edited with Danielle Allen, is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press in the spring of 2015.  
Profile at MIT SHASS Program in Science, Technology and Society

Roger Schwarzschild, Linguistics and Philosophy

Roger Schwarzschild joins the MIT faculty in the fall of 2014 as a professor of linguistics. His work addresses the meaning of natural language expressions. His research foci include plurality, comparatives, measure phrases, and intonational focus. He has taught at Rutgers University, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and at Bar-Ilan University.
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Kieran Setiya, Linguistics and Philosophy

Kieran Setiya joins the MIT faculty as a professor of philosophy. He holds a PhD from Princeton University along with a BA in philosophy from the University of Cambridge; he taught previously at the University of Pittsburgh.

Setiya’s primary interests are in moral philosophy and its intersections with metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind. He is the author of two books, “Reasons without Rationalism” (Princeton University Press, 2007) and “Knowing Right From Wrong” (Oxford University Press, 2012). His current work is on the place of love in moral philosophy, the ethics of procreation, and the midlife crisis.
Kieran Setiya website

Alex Wolitzky, Economics

Alex Wolitzky joins the MIT faculty as an assistant professor of economics. Previously, he was an assistant professor of economics at Stanford University, and before that a postdoc at Microsoft Research. He earned his PhD in economics from MIT and did his undergraduate work at Harvard University, where he received a BA in economics and mathematics.

His main areas of research are game theory, microeconomic theory, and political economy. In game theory, Wolitzky is interested in robust behavior in games and in models of bargaining, repeated games, reputation-formation, and networks. In political economy, he is interested in models of conflict and institutions and their implications for economic outcomes. Wolitzky’s current research projects include a model for comparing centralized and decentralized enforcement of social norms, and a model of optimal taxation and redistribution under the threat of political reform. His research has been published in journals including Econometrica, American Economic Review, and Review of Economic Studies.
Profile at MIT SHASS Department of Economics

By School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Calestous Juma, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT, received a Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize (LAAP) for his leadership in socioeconomic development in Africa. The award will be presented to Juma in Nigeria on Oct. 10 by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

Juma, a visiting professor at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and a research affiliate of the MIT Center for International Studies, is among 16 recipients of this year’s esteemed award. The Millennium Excellence Foundation noted that the nominations were “unprecedented as the laureates met the mark of excellence of distinction never seen in the continent in several decades.”

African heads of state, leaders of industry across the continent, academicians, the diplomatic corps, and a host of politicians will join in to celebrate this year’s laureates.

The LAAP laureates will also participate in an economic forum to discuss issues rising from food security and sustainability to the scourge of Ebola in Africa. The outcomes of the discussions by the laureates will be communicated to African leaders and the general public.

Every two years, members of the Board of Governors of the Millennium Excellence Foundation nominate those who deserve recognition of merit and leadership within critical areas of socioeconomic development in Africa, and of championing and positively impacting the lives of Africans.

For more information on the 2014 LAAP laureates, visit the Millennium Excellence Foundation’s laureates page

By Center for International Studies

This past Saturday, nearly 3,000 attendees ascended upon the North Court of MIT campus for the first-ever MIT Mini Maker Faire.

A celebration of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM), as well as the fun of making, the faire — part of the Maker Faire series started by the editors at Make magazine — featured 110 exhibitors. More than half of these were MIT affiliates, while the rest were local makers.

Known for its passion for making and support for STEAM, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was a fitting place to organize and host this coming together of creators, technologists, scientists, engineers, and artists.

“At MIT we celebrate the artist, the scholar, and the smith,” said Department of Mechanical Engineering “maker czar,” Professor Marty Culpepper, as he surveyed the faire’s high-energy scene. “You’ve got all of that here.” 

The faire attracted a diverse array of attendees. Adults and children, beginners and hobbyists, advocates and experts all made their way through booth after booth, under three separate circus tents, then over to the go-kart course and the Clover and Jose Mexican’s food trucks, and finally on to the panel discussions taking place inside the Ray and Maria Stata Center.

Children sat on the edge of their seats in front of the all-day robot tournament as adult audience members cheered on their favorite bots, built and entered into the tournament by MIT and local makers. Attendees stood in awe of the MIT Hobby Shop exhibit, which displayed exquisite craftworks by Hobby Shop members including instructor Brian Chan ’02, SM ’04, PhD ’09 such as a full-size sculpture of the Iron Man suit, handmade musical instruments, and origami. Other artist exhibitors displayed handmade pillows, jewelry, and photography.

Ariel Segall ’04 performed live demonstrations of the old-fashioned art of hand-tooling designs into leather, while Aleks Nowicki, a teacher at the Technology Children’s Center at the Stata Center, demoed the creation of a boat using a lashed bamboo frame and origami as an example of early childhood maker education. In fact, many of the exhibits focused on engaging young children in STEAM activities. These included MIT spinoff oneTesla, which manufactures musical Tesla coil kits; CrayUp, a 3-D crayon that allows you to draw up from a flat surface and make mini sculptures; and BlocksCAD, an easy-to-use 3-D computer aided design (CAD) tool that children as young as 9 years old can use to design and print their own creations.

Of course, no maker faire would be complete without 3-D printers, and several exhibitors showcased their printers or their 3-D printed products. Case in point was MechE alum-founded NVBOTS, which brought its NVPrinter, the first networked, automated 3-D printer. Another exhibitor, Eric Haines, showcased his open-source program for 3-D printing anything you’ve built in Minecraft, and also presented a panel discussion on the subject. Other panel discussion topics, such as barriers to female makers, DIY DNA, sketching circuits, and high-tech cosplay, were also presented throughout the day, while a go-kart track hosted multiple go-kart races.

“What you see here,” said a lead organizer and dual MechE/Engineering Systems Division graduate student Jessica Artiles of the faire’s success, “is that little extra bit of passion that compels us [at MIT] to stay up at night. Thanks, MIT, for being the best place on earth to nurture our inner child and passion for lifelong learning.”

The MIT Maker Faire was organized by MIT students and staff: Charles Guan ’11, Jamison Go, Jessica Artiles ’12, Daniel Meza, Mark Jeunnette ’02, SM ’13, Brian Chan ’02, SM ’04, PhD ’09, Peggy Conant, Seth Seligman, Amy Zhao, Marcel Thomas ’12, SM ’14, John Bolaji, Alissa Mallinson, and Daniel Dorsch ’12.

By Alissa Mallinson | Department of Mechanical Engineering

In the border region where Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa meet, indigenous hunters have for centuries made and used an impressive array of tools. There is the bow, made from giant raisin trees and called the “vurha” or “uta” in the languages of two ethnic groups in the area, the chiShona and the xiTshangana. Local craftsmen make arrows (“matlhari” or “miseve”), knives (“mukwanga” or “banga”), and axes (“xihloka” or “demo”). Until the advent of colonial rule, villagers also dug pits lined with poison-tipped stakes (“goji” or “hunza”), where animals as big as elephants were captured.

“The hunt was a transient or mobile workspace where work was done on the move,” says Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, an associate professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society. “Boys were schooled in the arts of tracking, shooting, trapping, making weaponry, and using trees as assets for making poisons, medicines, food, and other purposes. The hunt was a professoriate of indigenous knowledge.”

These hunts were also incorporated within a highly spiritualized understanding of forests, animal life, and human behavior, Mavhunga emphasizes. For instance, hunters would never orphan an antelope fawn, and strict local taboos limited elephant hunting to basic needs for meat, skin, and ivory. Chiefs and spirit mediums enforced these rules.

Indeed, the maTshangana calendar is based, in part, on the life cycles of animals: “Mpala,” or November, is when antelopes give birth; “Nkokoni,” or December, is when wildebeest are born and elephants mate. No hunting was allowed during these months.

“Centuries of acquired and received knowledge were available on the annual rates of increase, out of which sustainable yields were calculated,” Mavhunga writes in a new book about technology, society, and nature in southern Africa.

In exploring the hunt as a mobile space for work and education, Mavhunga’s book — “Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe,” just published by MIT Press — is a call for a historical rethinking about the meaning, prevalence, and application of technological innovation in Africa.

“What I am challenging is the idea that technology can only come from outside Africa, from the laboratories and factories,” Mavhunga says. “This general narrative of technology transfer — from the haves to the have-nots — is one I find troubling.”

That isn’t the only thing Mavhunga describes as troubling in his book. The colonial-era portioning of land into game reserves, as he makes clear, has forced indigenous people out of their native lands and criminalized traditional hunting — as “poaching” — while providing local residents no clear economic alternative. That policy has continued in the postcolonial era, to the continued detriment of locals, as Mavhunga emphasizes.

Ordinary people

Mavhunga grew up in rural Zimbabwe; his book involves archival and linguistic research, political analysis, and what he describes as “a wealth of childhood and adult experience” that included making some of the technologies he details.

The work also comes from the scholarly recognition that relatively few studies of African technology have been written from an African point of view. A more common perspective focuses on the Western technologies, such as guns and quinine, which helped enable colonial incursions on the continent. 

“Western scholars talk about technology in the Roman Empire,” Mavhunga says. “What if we were to do this for Africa? If we say that technology is something that comes prior to the colonial period, what does it do to the way we think about history?”

He adds: “What then happens to the idea and practice of technology when its itineraries are so thoroughly dominated by spirituality? What does it say about the meanings of technology within African societies, if one takes vaShona and maTshangana as an example?”

The deep experiential knowledge of the forests that Mavhunga explores in the book also applies to the tsetse fly, known for transmitting the African “sleeping sickness,” or trypanosomiasis. The tsetse fly inhabits low-lying areas, so vaShona and maTshangana tended to develop agriculture in higher-altitude areas.

When the British forcibly occupied Zimbabwe starting in 1890, they had no technology to deal with the tsetse fly, and so deferred to local technological practices instead, such as concentrated human settlements and control of traffic to reduce the spread of trypanosomiasis; forest-clearance efforts that created buffer zones between infected and uninfected areas; and the elimination of wild animals in such areas.

To accomplish this last step, the British employed vaShona and msTshangana hunters, as Mavhunga’s book explains. In so doing, Europe’s colonizers were relying on the more effective technologies of the Africans, in contrast to the more widespread narrative of Western technological superiority.

“I’ve always been somebody who believes ordinary people have something up their sleeves,” Mavhunga says. “They know things that we think they don’t know.”

Two critical debates

“Transient Workspaces” has been well-received by other scholars; Jane Carruthers, a professor emeritus of history at the University of South Africa, calls it a “refreshing history of Zimbabwe [that] offers an original interpretation of African technology.” Bruce E. Seely, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Michigan Technological University, says Mavhunga’s book “upends traditional understandings of everything from African independence movements to poaching to what we think we know about technological innovation.”

Ultimately, Mavhunga hopes to spur debate on both the trajectory of African technology and the basic policy questions surrounding game reserves. Postcolonial African governments, he believes, “need to initiate a serious discussion” about the realities of the game reserves and their consequences.

“A lot of people who fought for independence had been promised that they would reclaim these ancestral lands that were taken away from them by force of arms and arson,” Mavhunga says. The essential issue, he adds, is “how to serve the people and save the animals” in these areas; understanding the traditional practices that let both thrive in the past is a necessary first step, in his view.

“Under colonialism, when the hunt was criminalized, all that knowledge was also criminalized,” Mavhunga says. “And when you criminalize that practice, you destabilize the place where the knowledge existed.”

By Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office

How can Africa find new ways to spark economic growth? That is the focus of a wide-ranging public symposium hosted by the Center for International Studies as part of its Starr Forum event series. The event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 24, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. in the Whitehead Institute’s McGovern Auditorium, and is organized in collaboration with the MIT Africa Interest Group. MIT News discussed the issue with Calestous Juma, the event’s moderator. Juma is the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, and professor of the practice of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Q. You have worked with the African Union as a high-level advisor to develop its new 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, which is a focal point of tomorrow’s Starr Forum symposium. What are some of the distinctive features of this roadmap, regarding the contemporary challenges of growth across the continent?

A. The key distinctive feature of the strategy is the recognition that Africa cannot sustain economic growth and promote prosperity without significant investments in technological innovation. It a departure from traditional growth strategies that focus on raw material exports. This is a bold attempt to reposition Africa as a player in the global knowledge economy. It emphasizes the strategic role of technological innovation in addressing critical challenges such as meeting human needs (such as food and health), improving international competitiveness through trade in manufactured goods, and protecting the environment.

To address these challenges, the African Union focuses on three key areas. The first is to build infrastructure — mainly energy, transportation, water and sanitation, irrigation, and telecommunication. Poor infrastructure is a key obstacle to Africa’s economic development and affects activities ranging from agriculture to health and scientific research. 

Second, Africa will need to upgrade its technical competence and create the skills needed to respond to emerging economic and environmental challenges. This will be done through improving science, technology, engineering, and math education. 

Finally, the strategy outlines measures for promoting technology-based entrepreneurship as the most efficient mechanism for translating technological ideas into goods and services for economic transformation. It underscores the critical role that high-level leaders, especially presidents and prime ministers, can play in fostering interactions among key actors such as government, academia, and business in promoting innovation. 

Q. A variety of countries in Africa have new initiatives to build larger university infrastructures. What are some of the crucial factors in making these efforts successful — and can scientists and technologists use this process to build new bridges to political leaders in Africa? 

A. The first major step in building the technical competence needed to propel African economies is to recognize legacy policies where universities predominantly teach but do undertake much research. National institutes, on the other hand, carry out research but have limited teaching functions. One possible way to solve this problem is to create a new species of universities that combine research, teaching, and entrepreneurial activities under one roof. 

A greater degree of institutional innovation will be needed to align higher technical training with development objectives. This will involve reforms in curriculum, pedagogy, and location of universities to enable them to link more directly with the productive sector. Creating new technology-based universities will complement existing universities that have played an important role in building state institutions. What is needed today is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. 

The reforms needed to reposition higher education institutions will require broad dialogue between government, academia, and the private sector. Governments will need to create mechanisms such as national science and technology academies, as well as offices of science advisors to heads of state. Issues for which governments need urgent advice include the long-term implications of the advent of online education.

Q. We face a variety of challenges when it comes to sustainability, whether relating to food security or climate change, land use, and other issues. In what ways does Africa have novel opportunities to merge innovation and sustainability? 

A. One of the main advantages of being a latecomer is the ability to harness new technologies that have a smaller ecological footprint than older vintages. For example, Africa’s ecological footprint would be much larger if it met its current communication needs using landlines instead of mobile connectivity. This logic of technological leapfrogging has yet to be pursued as policy strategy to promote sustainable development.

There are a number of emerging candidate technologies that help Africa reduce its ecological impact. Transgenic industrial crops such as cotton that have been engineered to resist pests have been demonstrated to reduce the use of harmful pesticides. This technology has been commercially adopted by only three African countries: South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Sudan. Other technologies that could have similar ecological benefits include the use of polymers for the slow release of fertilizers and pesticides. 

Many of these transformational technologies also disrupt traditional social arrangements, and are therefore often associated with public controversies. Promoting ecologically sound development strategies will therefore need to take into account an improved assessment and management of technological risks. Africa has the opportunity to start from scratch by leapfrogging the legacy technologies that the industrialized nations are now burdened with. Mobile phones represent a powerful metaphor of how to think about the ecological function of technological leapfrogging in Africa.

By Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office

Thomas Hughes, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at MIT and Mellon Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away Feb. 3, 2014 at age 89. Hughes, who pioneered the field of the history of technology, was also a founder of the Society for the History of Technology. Below is a reflection on his life and contributions by his MIT colleague Rosalind Williams, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology. 

MIT is justifiably proud of its “lifers”: individuals who enter MIT as freshmen, continue here for graduate school, join the faculty, and live out their entire professional lives under the Great Dome. In some cases — Paul Gray and Sheila Widnall come to mind — the character of the individual becomes so intertwined with the character of the Institute that it becomes hard to know where one stops and the other begins.

Thomas Parke Hughes (1923-2014) was a non-lifer. He came to MIT in the 1960s for a short stint as an assistant professor. He soon moved on to other institutions, where over time he developed into the nation’s pre-eminent historian of technology. When he returned to MIT as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the 1990s and early 2000s, he brought with him a deep understanding of how the history of technology transforms our understanding of general history, as well as of the role and responsibilities of engineering. 

Would he have developed such perspectives if he had spent his whole career at MIT? This is an unanswerable question, but without question Tom Hughes reminds us of the invigorating role of non-lifers in our community.

The nation’s pre-eminent historian of technology 

Born and raised in Richmond, Va., Thomas Parke Hughes served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before earning his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Virginia. He stayed there to get his doctorate in modern European history in 1953. Tom came to MIT in the mid-1960s, when the relatively new School of Humanities and Social Science was trying to figure out how to stock a faculty for an amorphous Course XXI. He was part of a cohort of 13 junior faculty; only one of them (Bruce Mazlish, in history) was ultimately tenured. Along with the rest, Tom departed MIT, first for a temporary appointment at Johns Hopkins University and then for a professorship at Southern Methodist University.

At SMU, Tom published a biography of Elmer Sperry (1971), still valuable reading for anyone interested in engineering control systems and their role in 20th-century history. Primarily on the strength of this acclaimed study, he was invited to become a professor in the Department of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He was 50 years old when he accepted the appointment, which elevated both him and the department to academic fame and glory. Graduate students applied to Penn to work with Tom, and the Philadelphia area became a magnet for historians of technology.

Conceptualizing technological systems, defining structures of modern life 

Tom sealed his pre-eminence in the field with the 1983 publication of “Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930.” This was more than a comparative history of electrification in the United States, Britain, and Germany: It was also a manifesto declaring the concept of technological systems, which reoriented the history of technology from a focus on the invention of devices to a focus on the construction of large complex systems. Because such systems are defining structures of modern life, this reorientation confirmed the history of technology as an element of general history.

Tom began to write for broader audiences, most notably in “American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970″ (1989), which was a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in history. Also in 1990, Tom returned to MIT as a visiting professor. He taught here for a semester and returned for shorter visits to help supervise graduate students and to run workshops on technological systems. The latter involved faculty from across the Institute, especially from the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and from the School of Engineering. 

An enduring affinity for MIT

After retiring from Penn in 1994, Tom was elevated to Distinguished Visiting Professor at MIT, and spent even more time here. In 1998, he was on campus for two months giving a series of lectures on “open technological systems,” which he defined as ones exhibiting “a complex mix of technical, economic, political, social, and environmental factors.” His favorite example was the Central Artery and Tunnel (CAT, better known as Boston’s “Big Dig”), with Fred Salvucci playing the role as chief system-builder. The CAT, along with the SAGE computer-based defense system and ARPANET, were featured in Tom’s book “Rescuing Prometheus” (1998), an influential cluster of case studies of open technological systems.

In a 2002 email to Philip Khoury (then dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) requesting a renewal of his visiting appointment, Tom wrote: “I am so pleased to have the MIT appointment. For years, even decades, I have felt close to MIT, sharing its notable achievements and sensing its problems and opportunities.”

He went on to explain why he felt this closeness: “Over the years, I have tried to understand the character of the engineering profession and, in a limited way, broaden its horizons by helping it to see the central role and daunting responsibilities that it has in the modern world. Engineers lament that they are not appreciated. They do not need the appreciation of others so much as they need secure self-esteem. This would come, I believe, if they accepted the messy complexity and moral dimensions of their calling.”

Technology as a part of a broader human history

Tom was already engaged with the problems and opportunities of engineering when I first met him in the mid-1960s, as a Radcliffe College senior serving him as a research assistant. I enjoyed visiting Tom to discuss my assignments, but the questions he asked me to research were sober and difficult. The imprint of World War II was pronounced. He was already studying the Manhattan Project as an engineering project, a topic he later wrote about in “American Genesis.” He was also, with obvious emotional difficulty, trying to understand the mechanisms of slaughter used in the Holocaust. Many years later I heard him discuss in a seminar the concept of “technological sin” as something both historians and engineers need to contemplate, because the historical world is a sinful one. 

Like William Barton Rogers himself, Tom Hughes came to MIT from Virginia with a vision of what technology and engineering mean in the broad context of human experience. Providing scholarly grounding for that vision was a difficult problem — but Tom would quote Sperry to the effect that he chose the most difficult problems because doing this was a way to avoid vulgar competition.

It took Tom many years in the academic wilderness to redefine technological systems and engineering practice as part of larger history. These views do not come naturally to MIT. We have too much invested in defining engineering as a specialized or semispecialized activity that brings order and moral clarity to the world. But engineering cannot assume “the central role and daunting responsibilities that it has in the modern world” unless we confront its messy complexities and moral ambiguities. They inevitably arise because engineering is inseparable from political, economic, social, and legal structures and activities. By reminding us of this broad historical perspective, Tom Hughes, MIT non-lifer, made an immeasurable contribution to the life of the Institute.


Prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Communication and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Associate News Manager: Kathryn O’Neill
Communications Assistant: Kierstin Wesolowski 

By School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Seven MIT faculty members are among 204 leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the academy announced today.

One of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, the academy is also a leading center for independent policy research. Members contribute to academy publications, as well as studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture, and education.

Those elected from MIT this year are:

  • Elazer Reuven Edelman, the Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Professor of Health Sciences and Technology
  • Michael Greenstone, the 3M Professor of Environmental Economics
  • Keith Adam Nelson, a professor of chemistry
  • Paul A. Seidel, a professor of mathematics
  • Gigliola Staffilani, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Mathematics
  • Sherry Roxanne Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology
  • Robert Dirk van der Hilst, the Schlumberger Professor of Earth Sciences and head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

“It is a privilege to honor these men and women for their extraordinary individual accomplishments,” Don Randel, chair of the academy’s Board of Directors, said in a statement. “The knowledge and expertise of our members give the Academy a unique capacity — and responsibility — to provide practical policy solutions to the pressing challenges of the day. We look forward to engaging our new members in this work.”

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony held on Oct. 11 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge.

Since its founding in 1780, the academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th century, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th century. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

By News Office

MIT Professor Emeritus Leo Marx wrote “The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America” in 1964, before cell phones, the Internet, and computers became omnipresent in American life. Yet today this work — centered on the tensions 19th-century authors saw as shaping American life — remains as relevant as ever.

On Nov. 8, Marx’s colleagues and former students gathered to celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary in an afternoon symposium at MIT. Speakers recounted the legacy of this seminal work in American studies and of the teacher and scholar who penned it.

Through it all, the guest of honor, Marx himself, now 94, sat quietly in the front row. Afterward, Marx called the event “most unusual and terribly moving.”

Two visions that shaped America

“The book is about cultural ambivalences towards the encroaching of science and technology in everyday life,” said David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science. “Marx was writing about railroads and telegraphy, and the larger notion is that technology allows great things — it knit the nation together — but it also seemed to tear down what had been safe spaces of the pastoral.”

“The Machine in the Garden” examines the differences between the “pastoral” and “progressive” ideals that characterized early-19th-century American culture and that have evolved into the basis for current environmental debates.

“The power of Marx’s analysis and prose makes it still worth reading today,” added Kaiser, who is also head of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), which hosted the symposium jointly with the Marx family and Oxford University Press.

Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of MIT’s PhD program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society — which was marked on November 9 with a daylong symposium at MIT — the “Machine in the Garden” event drew more than 200 people to Wong Auditorium to reflect on Marx’s influence, both on his field and on the lives of his students and colleagues.

Daring, enduring, persuasive

After an introduction by Kaiser and a few words by Marx’s son Andrew, the event featured reflections by five key associates, beginning with a representative of the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press.

Emphasizing that it is “a remarkable accomplishment” for any book to remain in print continuously for 50 years, Niko Pfund, president and academic publisher of Oxford University Press USA, reminded everyone of what was happening the year “The Machine in the Garden” was first published: Barry Goldwater was running for president, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, and Elizabeth Taylor had just married Richard Burton (for the first time).

“Through it all, ‘Machine in the Garden’ has consistently been a book people thought was important to read, one that makes sense of our relationship to history and technology,” Pfund said. “The book has gone through dozens of printings and sold hundreds of thousands of copies — an impressive figure by any measure.”

Alan Trachtenberg, a former graduate student of Marx’s who is now a professor emeritus of English and American studies at Yale University, stressed the book’s antecedents in the Cold War. He said “The Machine in the Garden” reveals rich crosscurrents among literary, economic, and political spheres, reflecting both Marx’s experience as a veteran of World War II and his socialist politics.

“What moved me most of all as an aspiring American studies scholar — and has remained a major bequest of the book — was and still is the book’s daring and movingly persuasive historicism,” Trachtenberg said. “Fifty years later, ‘The Machine in the Garden’ remains a work to live up to.”

A legendary teacher

David Nye, professor of American history at the University of Southern Denmark, emphasized that Marx was not only a great writer but a wonderful teacher. Nye studied with Marx as an undergraduate at Amherst College, where Marx taught before coming to MIT in the 1970s to help launch STS.

“One reason the book was so accessible is that it had been taught before it was written; it had been honed over time,” Nye said. “There’s an unfortunate pressure now to rush things into print. The link between teaching and research was clear here.”

Rebecca Herzig PhD ’98 also lauded Marx’s teaching. A former advisee of Marx’s, Herzig is now a professor of women and gender studies at Bates College. “I am and always will be Leo’s devoted student, striving to be half the teacher and half the mensch he is,” she said.

Rosalind Williams, Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology, offered her recollections of teaching classes at MIT with Marx. What impressed her the most, she said, was his relentless dedication to the task. No syllabus was ever complete; Marx was always honing his approach to teaching great literature. And, Williams noted, “He is never teaching his book. He’s teaching the books in his book, classics like ‘Walden’ and ‘Moby Dick.’”

The afternoon’s formal remarks were followed by a lively comments period, which enabled Marx’s many admirers to offer their own recollections of the man and his work.

Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Senior Writer: Kathryn O’Neill
Communications Assistant: Kierstin Wesolowski

By School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences