Rosalind Williams




Room E51-278


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Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology (STS)

Rosalind Williams attended Wellesley College and received degrees from Harvard University (B.A., History and Literature), the University of California at Berkeley (M.A., Modern European History) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Ph.D., History). A cultural historian of technology, she explores the emergence of a predominantly built world as the environment of human life, often using imaginative literature as a register of and source of insight into this transition. She has written studies of Lewis Mumford, Jules Romains, Enlightenment thinkers, and technological determinism, among other topics.

Her book Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France (University of California, 1982) is among the first studies of the history of technology with an emphasis on consumption rather than production. Williams’ second book, Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination (MIT Press, 1990), shows how both actual and imaginary underworlds encouraged the emergence of a new kind of environmental consciousness, one based on the perception of living beneath the surface of the earth. The new edition Notes (2008) emphasizes the relevance of subterranean consciousness to current understanding of the implications of climate change. In Retooling: A Historian Confronts Technological Change (MIT Press, 2002), she draws upon her experiences as a historian and MIT dean to comment upon our "technological age." She is completing a book with the working title The Human Empire: Rivers and Romance at the End of the Earth.

Williams’ current project examines the convergence of massive environmental changes in the late nineteenth century Europe (urbanization, globalization, the second industrial revolution, the agricultural crisis), showing how together they fundamentally changed the relationship between human beings and the earth. She draws upon the life experiences and writings of four writers of that time and place (Jules Verne, Emile Verhaeren, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson) to demonstrate the depth and breadth of this change and also to demonstrate the irreplaceable role of literary texts in recording and probing its implications for human life.

Professor Williams came to MIT in 1980 as a research fellow in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. In 1982 she joined the Writing Program (now the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies) as a lecturer. In 1990 she was named Class of 1922 Career Development Professor, and in 1995 became the Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing. From 1991 to 1993 she served as Associate Chair of the MIT Faculty, and from 1995 to 2000 as Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education. In 2001-02 she served as Director of Graduate Studies in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and from 2002-06 as head of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. In 2006 she was named the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology. From 2004 to 2006 she served as president of the Society for the History of Technology.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Building E51-185