This fascinating volume shows that dams, highways, and canals are much more than large technical systems. Ten exciting case studies from around the world reveal unexpected connections between infrastructure, science, and the environment. Going beyond traditional studies of engineering history, the authors illustrate how all kinds of scientists eagerly grabbed the opportunities that technical projects offered.
Beyond the Lab and the Field analyzes infrastructures as intense sites of knowledge production in the Americas, Europe, and Asia since the late nineteenth century. Moving beyond classical places known for yielding scientific knowledge, chapters in this volume explore how the construction and maintenance of canals, highways, dams, irrigation schemes, the oil industry, and logistic networks intersected with the creation of know-how and expertise. Referred to by the authors as “scientific bonanzas,” such intersections reveal opportunities for great wealth, but also distress and misfortune. This volume explores how innovative technologies provided research opportunities for scientists and engineers, as they relied on expertise to operate, which resulted in enormous profits for some. But, like the history of any gold rush, the history of infrastructure also reveals how technologies of modernity transformed nature, disrupting communities and destroying the local environment. Focusing not on the victory march of science and technology but on ambivalent change, contributors consider the role of infrastructures for ecology, geology, archaeology, soil science, engineering, ethnography, heritage, and polar exploration. Together, they also examine largely overlooked perspectives on modernity: the reliance of infrastructure on knowledge, and infrastructures as places and occasions that inspired a greater understanding of the natural world and the technologically made environment.
Historians of science usually consider laboratories, the field, or researchers’ desks as places of knowledge production. Contributors to this insightful volume open our eyes and show how the construction of large-scale infrastructures also presented opportunities for research and data collection, enriching many disciplines—including geology, ethnography, and polar exploration—but not without consequences. They provide a fantastic panorama of well-written new stories that enrich our views on the relationship between infrastructure and knowledge since the late nineteenth century.