Rosalind Williams

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

Recent Honors & Awards

2013 Leonardo da Vinci Medal, Society for the History of Technology

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). Beginning in 1982 she taught in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT. From 1995 to 2000 she served as MIT’s first Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education. In 2001 she joined the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, serving as program head from 2002-06. Her main scholarly affiliation is the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), of which she served as president in 2005-06, and from which she received its highest award, the Leonardo da Vinci Medal, in 2013. She has been awarded honorary degrees from KTH in Stockholm and the Technical University of Eindhoven.

Her first three books (Dream Worlds, Notes from the Underground, Retooling) address this question: what are the implications for human life, both individual and collective, when we live in a predominantly self-constructed world? In responding to it, she has studied the emergence of consumer culture in late l9th century France; in the creation of underworlds, both imagined and actual, as models of a technological environment; and the retooling of MIT as the Institute confronts the effects of an information age of which it has been such a prime generator.

Her new book, The Triumph of Human Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2013) surveys the overarching historical event of our time: the rise and triumph of human empire, defined by the dominance of human presence on the planet. The book examines the works and lives of three well-known writers (Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson) to illuminate the event of consciousness at the end of the 19th century, when humans realized that they were close to mapping the entire globe and that the global frontier was closing.Human Empire is about a still unfolding event of consciousness, as grasped by three writers exceptionally successful in conveying its depth and significance.



2013  Leonardo da Vinci Medal, Society for the History of Technology

Recent Books


The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris, and Stevenson at the End of the World

Rosalind Williams

The Triumph of Human Empire explores the overarching historical event of our time: the rise and triumph of human empire, the apotheosis of the modern ambition to increase knowledge and power in order to achieve world domination, which Williams explores through the lives and works of three writers: Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson.


Notes on the Underground, New Edition

Rosalind Williams

The underground has always played a prominent role in human imaginings, both as a place of refuge and as a source of fear. The late nineteenth century saw a new fascination with the underground as Western societies tried to cope with the pervasive changes of a new social and technological order.

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