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Start new 4TU centre for History of Technology

Tuesday, 16 January 2024

Historical awareness expands insights of today's engineer

From January 2024, the four technical universities are pooling their knowledge and expertise in the field of the history of technology in 4TU History of Technology. The new centre aims to provide students, engineers and the wider audience with a historical awareness of the role that technology and engineers played in societal transitions in the past two centuries, as well as to develop working methods that makes such knowledge actionable today.

“Engineers contributed to the material shaping of society by constructing buildings and roads, railways and canals, waterworks and communications, agriculture and food supply and so on.”
Erik van der Vleuten
TU Eindhoven

4TU.History of Technology will stimulate and facilitate research, education and public debate on the role of technology in societal transitions then and now. 'A better understanding of the history of technology helps us to broaden our view and enables us to gain more nuanced insights on the connections between technological, social and environmental change. How can we use such insights to make ongoing transitions more inclusive and more sustainable?' says scientific director Erik van der Vleuten.

Rich tradition

The centre's activities will also highlight the rich tradition of the engineering profession.  'The opportunity to work on societal problems has been an important driver of the civil engineering profession since its emergence some two centuries ago. Engineers contributed to the material shaping of society by constructing buildings and roads, railways and canals, waterworks and communications, agriculture and food supply and so on. Understanding past engineering visions, concerns, dilemmas and choices helps to  create awareness about the societal roles of the engineering profession and community. We think that is important' explains Van der Vleuten. 4TU.History of Technology plans to organise an annual symposium involving the alumni networks of the four TUs and external parties such as the Royal Institute of Engineers (KIVI) and the Netherlands Academy of Engineering (NAE).


The centre wants to take a coordinating role in attracting research funding through programmes at NWO and the Nationale Wetenschapsagenda, for example. Such funding programmes are important as they allow the research capacity at the various technical universities to be expanded.

4TU.History of Technology also considers it important to keep in touch with the discipline internationally. For example, it cooperates with the Society for the History of Technology and the Tensions of Europe Network, and there are specific plans to collaborate with universities in Africa, Asia and South America.


In education, the centre intends  to develop joint courses and curricula and work towards a joint master's programme, so that students at all four TUs have access to interesting and relevant courses on the history of their field and relevant lessons for present-day and future challenges.


The third pillar is the transfer of knowledge to society. Plans include developing teaching packages for secondary school students, collaborating with science museums such as NEMO, Discovery, and the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and building a network of social partners around the centre's research themes.

Together with a variety of social partners, 4TU.History of Technology seeks to develop working methods to co-create historical knowledges and make such knowledge actionable; how can we narrate stories of 'where we came from' and 'where we want to go from here' in the context of current and future societal and environmental challenges?