W. Bernard Carlson

Chair, Department of Engineering and Society; Joseph L. Vaughan Professor of Humanities; Professor of History; Director, Engineering Business Programs

W. Bernard Carlson
W. Bernard Carlson is the Joseph L. Vaughan Professor of Humanities, Chair of the Department of Engineering and Society, and the Director of Technology Entrepreneurship. He also holds a joint appointment with the History Department and is a Center Associate in the Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. As a historian of technology, he has written widely on invention and entrepreneurship as well as on the role of technology in the rise and fall of civilizations. He has served as Secretary for the Society for the History of Technology and is currently on the board of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


email: wc4p (at) virginia.edu
phone: 434-924-6113
office: A237A Thornton Hall


College of the Holy Cross. A.B. in History, 1977.
University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science. M.A., 1981
University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science. Ph.D., 1984.
Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow in Business and Economic History, Harvard Business School, 1988-1989.

Research Areas

History of Technology and Business; Invention as a Cognitive Process; Entrepreneurship; Understanding Engineering as a Discipline and Profession.

Awards and Distinctions

IEEE William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award, 2015 [for Tesla].
Sally Hacker Prize for Best Popular Book, Society for the History of Technology, 2015 [for Tesla].
Elected to the Raven Society, University of Virginia, 2015.
Long-listed for the Winton Prize for Popular Science Writing, Royal Society, 2014.
Sally Hacker Prize for Best Popular Book, Society for the History of Technology, 2008 [for Technology in World History].
Briefed First Lady Hillary Clinton on Thomas Edison and innovation prior to her speech at the Edison National Historic Site, June 1998.
IEEE Life Members Prize in Electrical History, Society for the History of Technology, 1989.

At the University of Pennsylvania:
John E. Rovensky Fellowship in Business History, 1981-1982.
Newcomen Award for Business History, University of Pennsylvania, 1981.
IEEE Fellowship in Electrical History, 1980-1981.

At Holy Cross College:
Phi Beta Kappa
Sigma Pi Sigma (national physics honor society)
Phi Alpha Theta (national history honor society)
Crompton Gold Medal in Physics, 1977.

Recent Courses

STS 1500: Great Inventions that Changed the World
STS 2500: Engineers as Entrepreneurs

Selected Publications

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (Princeton University Press, 2013).

Understanding Inventions that Changed the World, a series of 36 lectures on DVD (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2013).

Technology in World History. 7 volumes. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). General editor and author of 7 chapters.

Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

“The Nature of Power: Synthesizing the History of Technology and Environmental History.” Technology and Culture 52:246-59 (April 2011). With Edmund P. Russell, James Allison, Thomas Finger, John K. Brown, and Brian Balogh.

“Diversity and Progress: How Might We Picture Technology across Global Cultures?” Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 5:128-55 (August 2007).

“Toward a Non-linear History of R&D: Examples from American Industry, 1870-1970” in The Creative Enterprise: Managing Innovative Organizations and People, ed. T. Davila et al. (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2007), 1:43-76.

“The Telephone as a Political Instrument: Gardiner Hubbard and the Political Construction of the Telephone, 1875-1880” in M. Allen and G. Hecht, Eds., Technologies of Power: Essays in Honor of Thomas Parke Hughes and Agatha Chipley Hughes (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), 25-55.

“Invention and Evolution: The Case of Edison’s Sketches of the Telephone,” in J. Ziman, Ed., Technological Innovation as an Evolutionary Process (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 137-58.

“Understanding Invention as a Cognitive Process: The Case of Thomas Edison and Early Motion Pictures, 1888-1891.” Social Studies of Science 20:387-430 (August 1990). With Michael E. Gorman.