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An Integral Approach To Teaching History Across The Engineeing Curriculum

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Ethics & HSS in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.183.1 - 9.183.11



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Paper Authors

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Ethan Brue

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session No: 3261

An Integral Approach to Teaching History across the Engineering Curriculum

Ethan Brue Dordt College

The debate is as old as the profession and the sought after answer remains almost as elusive and ambiguous today as it did a century ago. What is the role of humanities courses in engineering education? How many liberal arts courses requirements should an engineering student take? What do these courses accomplish? Even in the brief history of the engineering profession and the subsequent accreditation movement in engineering education, a consensus has never been reached. Closer to consensus is the conclusion that engineers need some type of humanities based education; although the reasons for this conclusion may be varied, changing, and even conflicting. I suspect it is this perpetual lack of consensus that has entombed the majority of the dialogue in its broadest manifestation, that is, the “humanities courses” debated as an eclectic amalgam. Discussing details within a tenuous consensus is a recipe for trouble. Nonetheless, certain courses have always loitered around the tables of debate. History has been one of them.

In this paper, I am going to work from the commonly held view that the activities of technology and science never unfold independent from cultural beliefs and societal presuppositions. The implications of this understanding are that an engineer cannot engage in good engineering design without a coherent historical/cultural understanding. A thorough study of a social history of technology and science is not simply a nicety; it is a necessity in training engineers to design holistically. While engineers and engineering educators frequently recognize this, a common practice in engineering curriculum is either to relegate the teaching of history to the confines of a single “humanities” option, or to simply offer a regular sprinkling of historical anecdotes and snippets relating to heat transfer, digital signal processing, soil mechanics, etc. as a pedagogical aside. In terms of educating engineers with a propensity for designing holistically, both these approaches are counterproductive. Both approaches only solidify in the minds of engineering students the false notion that while engineering and history may be both good to study, these disciplines are independent from one another and not inseparably intertwined. The development of an integral historical component in the engineering curriculum requires more than just new course development or old course modification; it necessitates interdisciplinary communication and thematic continuity across the boundaries of every course taken by engineering students. Carefully crafting a history of technology “hub” course that enables integral historical reflection in all subsequent engineering courses is only a first step. As an example, I will briefly outline a recently developed engineering course at Dordt College that is designed to help construct a coherent philosophical and historical framework from which the entire engineering curriculum can build upon.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Brue, E. (2004, June), An Integral Approach To Teaching History Across The Engineeing Curriculum Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13990

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