Jennifer K. Alexander

Associate Professor
HSTM Director of Graduate Studies
Mechanical Engineering
239 Mechanical Engineering
+1 612 626 7309
Jennifer K. Alexander portrait

Modern industrial/technological culture; science, technology, and religion; history of engineering; technology and the body; historiography; modern Europe, modern US

I am a historian of modern technology, with specialization in technology and religion; industrial culture; and engineering, ethics, and society.  I hold an M.A. in modern German history, and a PhD in history of technology, emphasizing modern Europe, from the University of Washington (Seattle).  Before coming to Minnesota I held a research fellowship at CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), Paris.  My early articles and first book, The Mantra of Efficiency, focused on foundational concepts of industry and industrial culture; the translation of technological values into social values; the mathematics of machine performance; and the developing cultural power of a particular technological value:  efficiency.  Mantra of Efficiency was awarded the Edelstein Prize by the Society for the History of Technology, as outstanding book published in the preceding three years.  My current research focuses on technology and religion.  I am at work on a book manuscript analyzing the international religious critique of technology that developed following WWII.  Methodologically, I ask how religious and theological interpretations of technology have changed over time; how, over time, technologies and engineering have extended their reach into the human world over time through a developing technological orthodoxy; and how these changes have affected each other.  In particular, my research seeks to understand the widespread mobilizing of religious critique of technology in the post-war world.  I teach courses in history of technology, engineering ethics, theories of technological change, and religion and technology.

Sidney M. Edelstein Prize, Society for the History of Technology, outstanding book published in the preceding three years, Mantra of Efficiency (2010).

Selected Publications
The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). Order through Johns Hopkins University Press

“Rationalization comes to Rome:  Fascism and the Third International Congress on the Scientific Management of Labor, Rome, 1927” in Evert Peeters, ed., Between Autonomy and Engagement:  Performances of Scientific Expertise, 1860-1960 (London:  Pickering & Chatto, Series History and Philosophy of Technoscience, 2015):  147-160. 

“Radically religious:  Ecumenical Roots of the Critique of Technological Society,” in Helena Jerónimo, José Luís Garcia, Carl Mitcham, eds., Jacques Ellul and the Technological Society in the Twenty-First Century (Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London:  Springer Verlag, 2013):  191-203.

“Thinking again about science in technology,” Isis 103 (2012):  518-26.

“The power to give credit and blame,” History and Technology 28 (2012):  83-92.

“The Concept of Efficiency:  An Historical Analysis,” in Anthony Meijers, ed., Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, v. 8:  Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences (Elsevier, 2009):   1007-1030.

"Efficiencies of Balance: Technical Efficiency, Popular Efficiency, and Arbitrary Standards in the Late Progressive Era USA." Social Studies of Science 38 no. 3 (2008): 323-349.

"An Efficiency of Scarcity: Using Food to Increase the Productivity of Soviet Prisoners of War in the Mines of the Third Reich." History and Technology 22 no. 4 (2006): 391-406.

"Efficiency and Pathology: Mechanical Discipline and Efficient Worker Seating in Germany, 1929–1932." Technology and Culture 47 no. 2 (2006): 286-310.