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Engineering science in Glasgow: W.J.M. Rankine and the motive power of air

Marsden, Ben (1992) Engineering science in Glasgow: W.J.M. Rankine and the motive power of air. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86115) (KAR id:86115)

Language: English

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This thesis analyses the construction of academic engineering education in Glasgow University during the tenure of the first two professors of civil engineering and mechanics, concentrating on the second, William John Macquorn Rankine (1820-72). His education, engineering activities, and involvement in societies (engineering, scientific, local or peripatetic) both enabled the establishment of supportive social networks and made available resources for the creation of an 'engineering science' which was perceived as academically acceptable and practically beneficial. University allies furthered academic integration. Societies and journals provided extensive opportunities to promote, publicize and legitimate academic engineering.

Chapter one demonstrates the diversity of academic engineering, with content contingent upon social pressures, personal inclinations of incumbent professors, and local justificatory frameworks. Chapters two and three analyse Rankine's interactions within educational, scientific and practical engineering contexts in Scotland and Ireland during the 1830s and 1840s as active publishing participant.

Chapters four and five present a study of the 'air-engine' which aroused phenomenal public interest in the late 1840s and early to mid 1850s. An example of a 'failed technology' often neglected by historians, its contemporary significance saw it annexed to the cause of energy physics: 'realized' in an 'improved' form by Rankine and James Robert Napier (1821-79) as the embodiment of a harmony between theory and practice; paraded as a new source of motive power usurping the steam-engine; adduced as evidence for the supremacy of dynamical theories of heat; and manipulated as propaganda for the re-vitalization of the Glasgow chair of civil engineering and mechanics.

Chapter six charts the career of Lewis Gordon, first professor of civil engineering and mechanics, demonstrating the manifold difficulties faced in establishing academic engineering in Glasgow in the 1840s. Chapter seven exhibits the intense campaign accompanying Rankine's re-establishment of engineering in the University, with the air-engine playing a major role.

Finally, chapter eight examines the synthesis of concepts central to scientific and engineering practice (measurement and economy) through efficiency to construct a coherent directive for academic engineering with 'engineering science' central.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86115
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
T Technology > TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:29 UTC
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2021 13:43 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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