The French Revolution and Industrial Revolution together inaugurated the modern era. But recent historical "revisionists" have divorced eighteenth-century material conditions from concurrent political struggles. This book's anti-teleological approach repudiates technological determinism to document the forging of a new relationship between technology and politics in Revolutionary France. It does so through the history of a particular artifact--the gun. Expanding the "political" to include conflict over material objects, Ken Alder rethinks the nature of engineering rationality, the origins of mass production, and our interpretation of the French Revolution.
Near the end of the Enlightenment, a cadre of artillery engineers transformed the design, production, and deployment of military guns. Part 1 shows how the gun, the first artifact amenable to scientific analysis, was redesigned by engineers committed to new meritocratic forms of technological knowledge and how the Revolutionaries and artillery officer Napoleon exploited their techno-social designs.
Part 2 shows how the gun became the first artifact to be mass producedwith interchangeable parts, as French engineers deployed "objective" drawings and automatic machinery to enforce production standards in the face of artisanal resistance. And Part 3 places the gun at the center of a technocratic revolution led by engineers on the Committee of Public Safety, a revolution whose failure inaugurated modern capitalist techno-politics. This book offers a challenging demonstration of how material artifacts emerge as the negotiated outcome of political struggle.