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Learning With 18th Century Engineers

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.679.1 - 6.679.11



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Thomas Rich

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

Session 2366

Learning with 18th Century Engineers

Thomas P. Rich Mechanical Engineering Department Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA


Learning traditional engineering coursework within an historical context can be both interesting and instructive for students. In addition it offers some educational opportunities for students to broaden their view of where engineering fits into the overall spectrum of human activity. Mechanical engineering seniors at Bucknell have been learning engineering and design from some engineers who practiced in the 1700’s. Two of these engineers (artists, patriots, etc.), Charles Willson Peale and Thomas Paine, were bridge designers, and another, Johann Christopher Christensen designed and supervised construction of America’s first powered waterworks. Engineering student teams at Bucknell have studied these early designs and used them as a basis for senior design projects. Based upon their evaluation of the historic designs, the teams produced their own designs of replicas of the early works, and then they built and tested them. Because of the relative simplicity of the 18th Century designs, students applied engineering principles to them and saw new meaning in the fundamental concepts that they employed. They also came to appreciate the talents and skills of these early engineers, who did not have the benefit of modern engineering theory and computational methods.

I. Engineering within an Historical Context

Some of the most fascinating stories of human creativity, ingenuity, perseverance and accomplishment can be found in the history of engineering. As such this history can serve as a source of inspiration, motivation and good, technical content for engineering students. Identification of suitable historical examples and the incorporation of them into engineering courses present a pleasurable challenge and some surprising educational benefits. * Students learn about the human dimension of engineering and about the engineers of the past as people, who have made contributions to their societies. * Students learn about the significance of engineering accomplishments and the corresponding impact upon different aspects of civilization. * Students gain an appreciation for how their subjects have developed with respect to content and time. * Students learn the application of fundamental engineering principles upon easily understood systems because of the relative simplicity of old, historical engineering processes and equipment. Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Rich, T. (2001, June), Learning With 18th Century Engineers Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9508

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