Memorable Structures and Inventions Since 1800

Moderators: Larry Ambs & Bob Romer
Time: Mondays, 10:00 am–noon
Place: UMass Transit Facility, Commonwealth Avenue, Amherst
Parking: Parking in adjacent Lot 45; directions will be given

We will study some of the great inventions or structures of the last 200 years and their technical, cultural and social consequences.

Think about some of the inventions that have changed the world – the telegraph, the automobile, the steam engine, the cotton gin, … Or the structures that perhaps have not themselves changed the course of history but have dramatically changed the history of a country – The transcontinental railroad across the U.S., the Boston subway, the Panama Canal, the Erie Canal, the Grand Coulee Dam, Mass Production, the Atomic Bomb…

The list is endless. For every example we can think of, there are stories – who invented it, who built it, did it require novel building techniques, how long did it take, and what motivated the inventors or builders? Authors such as David McCullough have written books on these topics (The Brooklyn Bridge, The Wright Brothers, etc.). However most of these treatments only considered the event. What about the consequences of the event? – How did the US before the railroad was built or before there was a telegraph, differ from what our country was afterward? What was the effect of the Erie Canal, and why did it fall into disuse? What were the social effects of the existence of a rapid transit system in Boston or New York?

Format: Seminar

Role of participants: Each member of the seminar will be responsible for a 30-minute presentation on some of the history and consequences of a memorable invention or structure of his or her choice. Some seminar members might consider partnering to discuss the automobile and its effects. Then the two of you could take a two-hour session, with one presentation concentrating on automobiles, Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line, etc., while the other person would concentrate on what the automobile culture has done.

Number of participants (including the moderators): 18

Resources: Many books have been written on the numerous topics which could be selected by participants. The internet will also be a valuable source. A list of potential topics will be available at the Spring Preview and discussion of a topic with the moderators is encouraged.

The Moderators: Both moderators have been interested in the interaction of technology and society for many years. Since joining LIR they have moderated many seminars dealing with culture and society.