Ken L. Alder

Northwestern University
Historian; Educator; Writer (novelist)
Humanities and Arts
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois ~Professor of History; Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities. Integrates the history of science and technology with general history, both for scholars and lay readers. Contributions to the history of material culture, labor history, the history of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, law and science, and narrative and creative history. Work wrestles with the degree to which measurement-both of people and of things-blends quantitative and moral judgments. First book of history, Engineering the Revolution: Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815 (1997, repr. 2010), showed how a group of eighteenth-century French engineers created new measurement techniques to assess material objects (such as guns), then turned those techniques on themselves, thereby establishing our modern technocratic meritocracy. Second book, The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World (2002), examined the origins of the metric system and the transformation of scientific error from a moral failing into a manageable social problem. Third book, The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession (2007), examined how Americans' quixotic efforts to measure thoughts with machinery shaped American justice in the twentieth century. Current project is titled The Forensic Self. Published a novel and continues to write fiction.~~
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