Origins and development of engineering as a profession and an examination of its values. The place of technology in society and the nature of technological decisions... (Calendar)

Objective. My main aim in this course is to get students to read, think, and learn a bit about the profession for which they are doing all this hard work and study to enter. At the end of it, I hope you will see engineering in some historical and social context.

The course consists of three parts, of roughly equal length. No text is specified for the first part, but the main reference is Cardwell.  (See references below). Part 2 uses Postman (and Florman), and Part 3 uses   Schinzinger & Martin. The texts and references  are supplemented by guest lectures and videos.

Part 1. A Brief History of Technology, and the Development of a Profession.

In the first part of the course we will talk about our roots , i.e. the beginnings of engineering as a recognizable profession. The natural subject area for this is the history of science and technology. This is a vast area, and we clearly will have to be selective. The beginnings of modern engineering occurred in what is generally referred to as the Industrial Revolution, mainly centered in Britain during the 100 year period starting about the mid seventeen hundreds. This period was characterized by great advances in science, and even more impressively, in technology.

Some of the topics:

What is "Professional" about Engineering?.. Some brief remarks about the laws regarding the practice of engineering, engineering regulation, and terminology.

Credit Where It's Due. This video describes the society into which the Industrial Revolution was born. It stresses the exploitative nature of the English economy, and the tremendous market awaiting new products by the mid 18th century.

Out of the Fiery Furnace. This video starts with the famous Newcomen engine, and covers several turning points in technology.

Questions for an Innovation. The answers to these questions illustrate how innovation takes place and how it is viewed.

The Steam Engine and James Watt. How James Watt took Newcomen's fire engine and made it really work.

Engineers Must Not Only be Ingenious, They Must Have Nerve... a look at the entrepreneurial engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)

The Electric Age. More Scientists and Engineers, including Faraday, Maxwell, Edison and Tesla.

Part 2. Technology, Science, and Society.

We look at the widely read book by Postman, in which he defines technopoly as "the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology."

Some headings from the lectures:

What is Postman Worried About?

Mixed Blessings; Technophiles and Technophobes... King Thamus, and other one-eyed prophets.

The Science Takeover... Then came James Watt... and Adam Smith.

Science Can Solve All Our Problems...(?)

Prophets at Work... The year 2000, seen from 1968.

The Ideology of Machines: Medical Technology.

The Ideology of Machines: Computer Technology.

Attempting Solutions... Does society have goals?... and what is the responsibility of engineers in solving the problems of technopoly?

Part 3. Ethics in Engineering.


Introduction. Case studies provide some motivation. Introduction to our Code of Ethics.

Moral Reasoning and Ethical Theories  What's behind Codes of Ethics.

Gilbane Gold. A fictional (but realistic) case study in engineering ethics. Produced for the National Society of Professional Engineers (US). Video plus in-class exercises and discussion.

Safety and the Experimental Nature of Engineering. Safety and the engineer's responsibility, and the notion and perceptions of risk.

Employee Engineers: Their Rights and Responsibilities.

Whistle Blowing... one of the more troublesome ways of dealing with an ethical problem.

The Challenger Disaster... with video and exercises. We use Internet material, and from Roger Boisjoly, who was the engineer centrally involved, but was unable to prevent the tragedy.

Texts: Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, 1993.
Schinzinger, Roland and Martin, Mike W.  Introduction to Engineering Ethics.  Mcgraw-Hill, 2000.

References: Cardwell, Donald. The Fontana History of Technology. Fontana, 1994.
Florman, Samuel C. The Civilized Engineer. St. Martins Press, 1987. (Available in the bookstore in photocopy).

Evaluation: 3 Assignments at 15 marks each. Final exam 55 marks.

Last modification: G R Peters, 9 Jan 2003.