In a narrative that is overwhelmingly positive, the history of engineering is commonly told as a story of progress and achievement. From the Brooklyn Bridge and the Hoover Dam to countless roadway and water projects across America, engineers designed and built an infrastructure that not only drove progress and growth, but also protected public health, safety, and welfare. From Edison’s lightbulb and Bell’s telephone to computers and the Internet, engineers created technologies that revolutionized the way we live and work. And, from mechanical and electrical devices to chemical processes, members of the Engineering Community were central to both industrial and consumer revolutions in the United States and across the world.
Members of the Engineering Community can and should take pride in this promethean legacy, one that continues as we move into a new century.
In his theories about the human psyche, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung describes a shadow that accompanies the face we present to the public and ourselves. That shadow is “full of those things we have no wish to be, and certainly no wish to present to the public: our fears, our insecurities, our anxieties.[i]” Taking a cue from Jung, we might ask – is there a “shadow story” of engineering in the United States? Does our dominant narrative obscure or ignore parts of our history where engineers were involved in technological developments that were deeply harmful to individuals and groups within our society?
A thorough examination of the history of engineering and race in the United States reveals significant racial injustice and harm that resulted from some actions by engineers. If the engineering community is going to do its part to heal these past racial harms and write a new narrative for the future – one that combines technological innovations and achievements with concrete contributions toward racial equity, this shadow story must be brought into the light.
Confronting this shadow does not diminish the dominant story. Rather, stepping up and owning this part of engineering’s history can result in a positive shift in values and behaviors; creating new foundation stones upon which members of the Engineering Community can build in their stewardship of technology and nature on behalf of society for the benefit of all[ii].
Illuminating the Shadow… Read More