Ranking Rankine: W. J. M. Rankine (1820-72) and the making of ‘engineering science’ revisited

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This paper re-examines the contemporary reputation and ‘engineering science’ of Glasgow University’s noted engineering professor W. J. Macquorn Rankine (1820-72). Rankine, alongside William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), was a dynamic, if controversial, presence in the early history of thermodynamics (the science of energy) and he has been memorialised as a writer of enduring engineering textbooks of high philosophical content. News of Rankine’s death brought Glasgow to a standstill. This paper attempts to understand why. Here I re-examine the complex relationship between Rankine’s work, and especially his reputation, as a man of science and as a professional engineer. The relationship turns out to have been a troubled one and leads me to reassess the manner in which ‘engineering science’ became established, and institutionalized, in and beyond Glasgow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-456
Number of pages23
JournalHistory of Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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