Reliable Humans, Trustworthy Machines: A History of the Technological Self


Project Summary:

Supported by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, this project examines how modern observers from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries saw the failure of machines as a problem of the self — a problem of the kinds of people that failing machines created, threatened, or presupposed.

Project Description:

Supported by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, this project examines how modern observers from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries saw the failure of machines as a problem of the self — a problem of the kinds of people that failing machines created, threatened, or presupposed. The project focuses on three prominent case studies: 1) anxieties about the fallibility of the guillotine in Revolutionary France; 2) concerns over the nature of railway accidents in Victorian Britain; and 3) worries about industrial breakdowns in Progressive-Era America. Rather than isolated episodes, the case studies track—through space, time, and specific technologies—a genealogy of our contemporary understandings for how and why machines fail. Together, they pursue three aims: I) to investigate how and why modern observers understood, explained, and represented machine failures; II) to identify sources for a broader history of technological failure; and III) to explore the history of failing machines as a cultural history of the modern self.

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Funded

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Principal Investigator

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SSHRC

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