History Professor Edward Jones-Imhotep wins coveted Sidney Edelstein Prize

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The Society for the History of Technology has named York University Professor Edward Jones-Imhotep the winner of the 2018 Sidney Edelstein Prize – the most prestigious book prize on the history of technology. Jones-Imhotep is only the second faculty member of a Canadian university to ever receive the honour in its 50-year history.

Edward Jones-Imhotep
Edward Jones-Imhotep

Jones-Imhotep is a member of the Department of History, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LA&PS), where he teaches one of the department’s most popular courses – HIST 1777: Disasters and History. He won the prize for his book The Unreliable Nation: Hostile Nature and Technological Failure in the Cold War.

The book examines how technological failures have shaped our understandings of the natural world and the identities built around them. To illustrate that history, the book focuses on the role of communications failures in defining the Canadian north, and the nation itself, during the Cold War. 

“The book reveals something we’ve overlooked for a long time: that technological failures matter to history. Nations and their identities haven’t been shaped solely by working technologies. They’ve also been shaped by failing machines and by what those failures suggest about the natural world,” said Jones-Imhotep. “The previous winners of the Edelstein Prize include some of the most influential books in the field. It’s an enormous honour to think of my book alongside them. And it’s especially meaningful to have my work recognized this way on the 50th anniversary of the award.” 

In The Unreliable Nation, Jones-Imhotep argues that Cold-War Canada defined itself through the relationship between the perceived hostility of nature and the problematic behaviours of complex machines. In doing so, he suggests how two powerful ways of understanding nations in general – the natural and the technological – mapped onto and shaped each other in the second half of the 20th century.  

The Edelstein Prize, formerly known as the Dexter Prize, is awarded to the author of an outstanding scholarly book on the history of technology published during the three years prior. It was established in 1968. Jones-Imhotep accepted the prize at an award ceremony in October.