Monday, September 15, 2014

Civil Engineering in 2014 is Looking Like Civil Engineering in 1914

In many respects, civil engineering mirrors the complexities, constraints, and opportunities of whatever society and times it is embedded in.  Technology is always in fluid transition impacting engineering, but the shifts in the economic, social, and political foundations of society have a far greater impact on the practice engineering.

This "we are a product of our times" can be easily seen as we observe the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  Margaret MacMillan has written a fascinating book, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914.  One cannot read this book and not come away impressed with the similarities between 1914 and 2014. Consider the standing of Britain at the turn of the 20th century and the standing of the United States at the start of the 21st as described by MacMillan:

"Britain, like other dominant powers before and since, was aware that the world was changing and that it faced new challenges.  Its empire was too big and too spread out - which prompted arguments from imperialists at home to take even more territories to protect existing ones and the crucial shipping and telegraph routes.  Its industrial output, while still great was less in terms of the world's total was new powers such as Germany and the United States were catching up fast and older ones such as Japan and Russia were entering the industrial age fast at high speed.  And being first can lead to problems in the long run.  Britain's industrial infrastructure was old and not being renewed quickly enough.  Its education system was turning out too many classicists and not enough engineers and scientists."

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