I am a historian of the social and cultural life of machines. I write about topics ranging from the history of music studios and of artificial life to space technologies and the technological geographies of islands. My research generally engages two broad themes: the changing historical boundaries between technology and nature; and the historical intersections of machines and ideas of the self. Instead of exploring those questions through working technologies, I’m particularly interested in histories of technological failure — breakdowns, malfunctions, accidents — and what they reveal about the place of machines and the stakes of machine failures in the culture, politics, and economics of modern societies.
My first book, (MIT Press), explored how technological failures defined conceptions of hostile northern nature and of national identity in Cold War Canada. The book received the 2018 Sidney Edelstein Prize for best scholarly work in the history of technology. I am also the co-editor, with Tina Adcock, of (UBC Press), which examines the complex interconnections between science, technology, and modernity in Canada. My current book project — Unreliable Humans/Fallible Machines — is funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant and investigates how people from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries saw machine failures as a problem of the self: a problem of the kinds of people that failing machines created, or threatened, or presupposed.
I am a member of the Executive Council of the Society for the History of Technology and a contributing editor for Technology’s Stories. I am also a co-founder of Toronto’s TechnoScience Salon, a public forum for humanities-based discussions about science and technology. From 2016-2017, I was the Northrop Frye Fellow at the University of Toronto. I have also held visiting positions at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and currently hold an ongoing visiting professorship at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Assas).