By Amber Cleveland
In 2003, political theorist Langdon Winner was invited to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science. Nanotechnology, a field of science based on manipulating matter at the scale of the nanometer, had gained growing recognition as an emerging technology with revolutionary potential, and Winner was called to Washington to participate in a discussion about its possible societal implications.
Winner acknowledged nanotechnology’s bright promise, but also urged committee members to consider what factors could influence the successful adoption of this and other new technologies into society, and to think about what questions should be discussed during the research and development phase to help minimize the potentially disruptive impacts of powerful technological developments.
Today, Winner continues to study the ways in which technological breakthroughs ranging from computing to communications will positively or negatively impact society. He is hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “the leading academic on the politics of technology.” He is also one of more than 100 academics in Rensselaer’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences (H&SS) who are investigating and exploring how technology functions in relation to culture.
For over a half century, H&SS has been building bridges from the liberal arts to the disciplines of engineering and science through the study of technology’s role in society. This year it celebrates 50 years of granting degrees on the Rensselaer campus, as well as the adoption of a new name that better articulates its academic strengths. Now called the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the school continues to build upon its strengths in arts and design valuable dimensions of interdisciplinary work in the humanities and social sciences while always anticipating the expanding role of the humanities in the 21st century.
H&SS took shape in the mid-1950s under the guidance of Dr. Ronald A. H. Mueller, who later became the school’s dean. A standardized core of liberal arts was formed shortly thereafter to ensure students were being provided with a well-rounded science and technology education enhanced with a strong grounding in the humanities and social sciences. All students were required to take a minimum of eight “general studies” classes ranging from English and philosophy to history and social sciences.