Leo Marx

Leo Marx is Senior Lecturer and Kenan Professor of American Cultural History, Emeritus, at MIT.

  • Does Technology Drive History?

    Does Technology Drive History?

    The Dilemma of Technological Determinism

    Leo Marx and Merritt Roe Smith

    These thirteen essays explore a crucial historical questionthat has been notoriously hard to pin down: To what extent,and by what means, does a society's technology determine itspolitical, social, economic, and cultural forms?

    These thirteen essays explore a crucial historical question that has been notoriously hard to pin down: To what extent, and by what means, does a society's technology determine its political, social, economic, and cultural forms? Karl Marx launched the modern debate on determinism with his provocative remark that "the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist," and a classic article by Robert Heilbroner (reprinted here) renewed the debate within the context of the history of technology. This book clarifies the debate and carries it forward.Marx's position has become embedded in our culture, in the form of constant reminders as to how our fast-changing technologies will alter our lives. Yet historians who have looked closely at where technologies really come from generally support the proposition that technologies are not autonomous but are social products, susceptible to democratic controls. The issue is crucial for democratic theory. These essays tackle it head-on, offering a deep look at all the shadings of determinism and assessing determinist models in a wide variety of historical contexts.

    ContributorsBruce Bimber, Richard W. Bulliet, Robert L. Heilbroner, Thomas P. Hughes, Leo Marx, Thomas J. Misa, Peter C. Perdue, Philip Scranton, Merritt Roe Smith, Michael L. Smith, John M. Staudenmaier, Rosalind Williams

    • Hardcover $37.50
    • Paperback $40.00
  • The Railroad in American Art

    Representations of Technological Change

    Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Susan Danly, Susan Fillin -. Yeh, Gail Levin, Kenneth Maddox, Leo Marx, James F. O'Gorman, and Dominic Ricciotti

    Of all the innovations of the industrial revolution, it was the railroad that took strongest hold on the collective American imagination. These essays on paintings, prints, and photographs explore the wealth of railroad imagery in American art - from Thomas Cole's pastoral landscapes to the industrial muscle of works by Bellows, Luks, Marsh, and Sloan, and evocations of the frontier in photographs by Andrew Joseph Russell and William Henry Jackson. The Railroad in American Art had its origins in a 1981 exhibit at the Wellesley College Museum on "The Railroad in the America Landscape: 1850-1950." The show attracted much attention because of the remarkable quality and diversity of the images collected, but it also raised numerous questions that are taken up in this more thorough exploration of the intriguing connections between art, technology, and American culture. Susan Danly lays the ground with a survey of the uses of railroad imagery in American art over the last 150 years. Seven shorter essays then focus on specific images or themes. Kenneth W Maddox looks at the confrontation between economic development and the vanishing wilderness of Native Americans in Asher B. Durand's Progress. Nicolai Cikovksy, Jr., clarifies the place that George Inness's popular but enigmatic Lackawanna Valley had in his career.Susan Danly uses Andrew Joseph Russell's photographic album The Great West Illustrated to show the impact that railroad patronage had on artists' aesthetic concerns. Leo Marx concludes the book with a historical exploration of the theme of the railroad-in-the landscape. In an iconological analysis, he shows how railroad imagery was used to represent a variety of deep social and cultural concerns on the part of American artists. James F. O'Gorman examines the sources for H. H. Richardson's "man-made mountain" designed for the Ames family (Boston backers of the Union Pacific Railroad) in Wyoming. Dominic Riciotti follows the railroad to the city - the urban train, subway, and elevated - as a force for ever-changing technology, while Susan Fillin-Yeh explores the dual nature of Charles Sheeler's fascinating and powerful painting Rolling Power, which functioned both as a work of fine art and as a piece of commercial advertising. Turning to the railroad imagery in Edward Hopper's work, Gail Levin shows how public image and personal psyche can become deeply intermingled in an artist's work.

    • Hardcover $45.00
    • Paperback $17.95


  • Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Men, Machines, and Modern Times, 50th Anniversary Edition

    Elting E. Morison

    An engaging look at how we have learned to live with innovation and new technologies through history.

    People have had trouble adapting to new technology ever since (perhaps) the inventor of the wheel had to explain that a wheelbarrow could carry more than a person. This little book by a celebrated MIT professor—the fiftieth anniversary edition of a classic—describes how we learn to live and work with innovation. Elting Morison considers, among other things, the three stages of users' resistance to change: ignoring it; rational rebuttal; and name-calling. He recounts the illustrative anecdote of the World War II artillerymen who stood still to hold the horses despite the fact that the guns were now hitched to trucks—reassuring those of us who have trouble with a new interface or a software upgrade that we are not the first to encounter such problems.

    Morison offers an entertaining series of historical accounts to highlight his major theme: the nature of technological change and society's reaction to that change. He begins with resistance to innovation in the U.S. Navy following an officer's discovery of a more accurate way to fire a gun at sea; continues with thoughts about bureaucracy, paperwork, and card files; touches on rumble seats, the ghost in Hamlet, and computers; tells the strange history of a new model steamship in the 1860s; and describes the development of the Bessemer steel process. Each instance teaches a lesson about the more profound and current problem of how to organize and manage systems of ideas, energies, and machinery so that it will conform to the human dimension.

    • Paperback $21.95