Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Should Engineering Departments Offer an Engineering History Course?

     Hello everyone. I hope your week went well. Today I want to pose an interesting question that has to do with engineering education.  It is common for most colleges to have an architectural history course and most architects would argue that there are some valid benefits in having a course like that.  I recently read an article in Structural Engineer Magazine – “Is Engineering History Missing in Our Education?”, pg 26, http://goo.gl/xWv7YK – that made me wonder if we need a course like that.

The article says “Ask an architecture student to list who they believe to be the most influential and iconic architects to have ever lived and the list will surely be lengthy.” I would also have to agree with that statement.  Architects definitely get a better education in the history of their profession and critical advancements in its practice.  And one can argue that the public knows more about the profession’s history as well, even if they might not know much about the technical advances.  The same cannot be said about structural engineering.  Look at this list from the article and see how many architects you recognize: Michelangelo, Antoni Gaudi, Frank Gehry, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Now look at this list from the article and see how many structural engineers you recognize: James Buchanan Eads, Theodore Cooper, the Roeblings, John Alexander Low Wadell, Gustav Lindenthal, Othmar Hermann Ammann, Joseph Strauss, Robert Mailart, David Bernard Steinman, and Santiago Calatrava.  I recognize more of the architects and I’m a structural engineering student.

The author of the article believes that it is important to know the history of the engineering profession and of our past failures/advancements.  I would also have to agree.  But more than just that, I think that it is important that the public in general know about our history and advancements.  One of the more annoying questions that I get asked by people when I explain what I do is “So you want to do architecture?”, and they honestly don’t realize that they are two completely different fields of building design.  I recently read an article by Fast Company Magazine online (http://goo.gl/7iBVBB) which had an article about high wind load design for buildings that only used architects as their references.  It is my honest opinion that if we did more as structural engineers to have a basic elective course in college covering this topic, and educate the public in general, there would be more understanding about what we do.

Do you think that there should be a structural engineering history course?  Would you take that course instead of something like architectural history?  Have you also experienced a misunderstanding of what you do as part of your profession by non-engineering types?  Please share this post if you find it interesting and follow me if you want to read more of my blog posts.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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