Date of Award
Master of Arts Degree
Humphrey, Thomas J.
Shelley E. Rose
Industrialization defined nineteenth-century Britain, bringing large-scale changes to the social order. Observers perceived that machines stood at the heart of these changes as much as inventors, manufacturers, and operatives, if not more so. A range of writers expressed their awareness of the transformative power of technology by endowing machines with a sense of life and influence according to four broad characterizations: machines as instruments of civilizational advancement disguised as mundane tools, organic life, bringers of order, and near-mythical embodiments of power. Critics of industry coopted such lofty language and turned it on its head to depict machines as destructive, sometimes monstrous forces. More broadly, nineteenth-century sources indicate a perception of machines as channels for the human will, for better and worse, performing tasks that human beings cannot accomplish alone. A study of NASA’s dramatic retirement of the Cassini space probe illustrates how nineteenth-century characterizations of machines have persisted into the twenty-first century. In conclusion, the influential roles in which industrial-era authors cast machines derived from their power and seeming autonomy as well as from their close relationship to human beings and human ambition. As automation advances in the twenty-first century, the tendency to personify machines will also persist in forms that evolve with time and technological change.
Halamek, Julia R., "Mechanical Transformations: the Active Roles of Machines In British Industrial-era Writings" (2021). ETD Archive. 1233.