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Research interests

My general research interests are in the history of engineering and particularly the history of engineering education, the professionalization of engineering, and the social history of engineering. The primary spatiotemporal focus has been on France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I have completed a history of the French military engineering corps during the Old Regime, which gave me an opportunity to look at the history of artillery fortification during and after the career of the great French military engineer Vauban and the attacks on his ideas by the marquis de Montalembert from the 1770s onward. Recently the diffusion of French models of engineering education to other parts of the world has become more important in my research programme. I am also interested in the history of Canadian engineering a subject that has led me to my current work on the role of engineers in Ontario Hydro, at one time Canada’s (and North America’s) largest non-private electrical utility. My future plans include research in the diffusion of the polytechnical mode of engineering education (pioneered by the eponymous École Polytechnique, founded in Paris during the French Revolution) to the German-speaking lands and Eastern Europe, in particular to the periphery of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century.

Selected publications

  • “L’ingénieur systématique contre les systèmes: La théorisation de la pensée de Vauban et la publication de ses écrits”, pp. 330-339 in Victoria Sanger et Isabelle Warmoes, ed., Vauban, bâtisseur du Roi-Soleil, Paris: Somogy éditions d’art/Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine/Musée de monuments français/Musée de Plans-reliefs, 2007.
  • “Eighteenth-Century French Fortification Theory After Vauban: The Case of Montalembert” in Brett Steele and Tamera Dorland, eds., The Heirs of Archimedes: Science and the Art of War through the Age of Enlightenment, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 333-359.
  • Conserving the Enlightenment: French military engineering from Vauban to the Revolution, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
  • “Diverging Parallel Lives in Science: Unpublished Correspondence from Georges-Frederic Parrot to Georges Cuvier,” Journal of Baltic Studies, 35:3 (Fall 2004), 297-320.
  • La Republique avait besoin de savants: les débuts de l’ècole polytechnique: l’ècole centrale des travaux publics et les cours révolutionnaires, de l’an III, Paris: Belin, 1987.


Victor Boantza, (Supervisory committee), “Styles of Experimental Reasoning in Early Modern Chemistry,” conferred June 2009.

Scott Campbell, (Supervisor), “The Premise of Computer Science: Establishing Modern Computing at the University of Toronto, 1945-1964,” conferred November 2006.

Marionne Cronin, (Supervisor), “Flying the Northern Frontier: The Mackenzie River District and the Emergence of the Canadian Bush Plane, 1929-1937,” conferred November 2006.

Vivien Hamilton, (Supervisory committee), “’Incongruent Bedfellows’: Physics and Medicine in the Formation of North American and British Radiology, 1896-1930,” conferred November 2012.

Michelle Hoffman, (Supervisory committee), “Constructing School Science: Physics, Biology and Chemistry Education in Ontario High Schools, 1880-1940,” conferred June 2013.

Bradley King, (Co-supervisor / Ian Robertson), “The Electrification of Nova Scotia, 1884 – 1973: Technological Modernization as a Response to Regional Disparity” (1994 – 1999) Graduated 1999.

Sarah Kriger, (Supervisor), “Fighting Ghosts, Playing Whist, and Fencing with Fire: Three Technologies of Illusion in Performance in Nineteenth-century London,” conferred November 2012.

Wilfred Lockett, (Co-supervisor / Bert S. Hall), “Jakob Leupold and the Theatrum Machinarum, 1989–1994,” conferred June 1994.

Hanna Martinsen, (Supervisory committee), “Technology in Fashion: French Textile Printing Industry, 1750-1820,” in progress.

David McGee, “Floating Bodies, Naval Science: Science, Design and the Captain Controversy, 1860-1871,” (Assumed supervision after departure of original supervisor, Bruce Sinclair, University of Toronto in 1989), conferred June 1994.

Allan Olley, (Supervisory committee), “Computer Methods in Celestial Mechanics: The Case of Wallace Eckert,” conferred June 2011.

Vera Pavri-Garcia, (Supervisor), “Technological Doublespeak: Metaphors, Public Policy and the Development of Canada’s First Domestic Communications Satellite System, 1966-1970,” conferred November 2005.

Kristen Schranz, (Supervisory committee), “Creating and Sustaining Practical Chemistry in Late Eighteenth-Century Birmingham: The Corresponence and Material Networks of James Keir and the Lunar Society,” in progress.

Ian Slater, (Supervisor), “The Bungling Giant: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and Next-Generation Technology, 1980 – 1994,” conferred November 2005.

Leslie Tomory, (Supervisor), “The Origins of the Manufactured Gas Industry,” conferred June 2009.

Jonathan Turner, (Supervisor), “The Defence Research Board of Canada, 1947-1974,” conferred November 2012.

Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, (Supervisory committee), “From the Hands of Quacks: Aural Surgery, Deafness, and the Making of a Specialty in 19th Century London,” in progress.


Contact Information

  • Personal Title: Professor
  • Location: VC 205
  • E-mail address: j.langins@utoronto.ca