I've taught in the University of Texas History Department since 1985. My main field is the history of science, and my research focuses on the development of electrical science and technology in the 19th century, particularly in the British telegraph industry. In 2015 I was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in recognition of what the APS called my "groundbreaking work on the history of electromagnetism in the nineteenth century and the relationship between physics and technology." In February 2018 I had the honor of delivering the George Sarton Memorial Lecture in the History and Philosophy of Science at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was held here in Austin. My lecture, which was sponsored by the History of Science Society, was on "Imperial Science: Victorian Cable Telegraphy and the Making of 'Maxwell's Equations.'" My article based on the lecture appeared in the July 2018 issue of the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, and earned bachelor's degrees in both History and Physics at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1979. I studied with Professor Tom Hankins, who gave me an excellent start in the history of science. I then went on to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where I worked with Russell McCormmach and Robert Kargon, and received my PhD from the History of Science Department in 1984. After a year on a postdoc at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where I worked with Barney Finn on topics in the history of cable telegraphy, I came to UT as an assistant professor in 1985. I was promoted to associate professor in 1992.
My first book, The Maxwellians, was published by Cornell University Press in 1991; it appeared in a paperback edition in 1994 and was reissued in 2005. A Wikipedia article about it includes some brief quotes from reviews. A Portuguese translation of The Maxwellians was published in 2015 by Editora Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil under the title Os Seguidores de Maxwell. I've also published more than a dozen articles on electrical theory and practice in the 19th century, including one with that title for Volume 5 of the Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). My second book, Pursuing Power and Light: Technology and Physics from James Watt to Albert Einstein, was published in 2010 in the Johns Hopkins University Press series of Introductory Studies in the History of Science. You can find links to the webpages for my books and to PDFs of my articles under the "Publications" tab at the top of this page. Currently I'm writing a monograph on the interaction between the telegraph industry and electrical physics in 19th century Britain (the working title is "Imperial Science: Cable Telegraphy and Electrical Physics in the Victorian British Empire"), and an article on the development and use of the first atomic bombs during World War II. My piece on "Maxwell, Measurement, and Modes of Electromagnetic Theory" appeared in the April 2015 issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences and will provide the basis for a chapter of my book on telegraphy and electrical physics. I've also developed a side interest in the electrical history of the Austin area, which turns out to be unusually rich; you can find some of the pieces I've written on such things as the rise and fall of the Austin Dam in the 1890s, Austin's old electric streetcar system, and the city's much-loved "moonlight towers" under the "Talks and website articles" link above. In November 2018 Mat Hames and his crew filmed me talking about the old Austin Dam and the moonlight towers for a documentary series to be called "Power Trip" that they are making with Michael Webber, a well known expert on energy issues. With luck, the series will be released toward the end of 2019 and you will get a chance to see me declaiming near Tom Miller Dam (the successor to the old Austin Dam) and beneath the moonlight tower on Speedway in Hyde Park.
office: GAR 2.106
University of Texas
128 Inner Campus Drive B7000
Austin, TX 78712