Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Britain and France: Reading Response #2

Brig Bagley
Critical Response #2
One very interesting contrast between Great Britain and France is the different statuses of engineers in each country. Their individual histories have shaped the image and roles of engineers, either by giving engineers an important place in society, or by considering engineering a lesser, even non-professional way of life. The same profession, so to speak, was completely different in different societies due to the specific situations these societies had to offer for engineers.
In Great Britain, engineers spawned from the crafting society, inventing—out of necessity—better ways of life. However, at that time in Great Britain, craftsmanship was considered inferior to positions such as lawyers and doctors—those who took years of theoretical and literature-based schooling. Having emerged from the “blue collar” area of society, engineers did not receive recognition, sufficient support, or even social status for many years. The appreciation for the skill and talent of the belittled craftsmen was years in the making. In the article “Engineers in Britain: A Study of in Persistence,” (28) Smith and Whalley emphasize the fact that “engineers have found it difficult to separate themselves from their manual, craft origins, and therefore issues of status have bedeviled the ‘occupation’ for over a century.” It is clear that the history of Britain and its earlier view of craftsmanship ruined the success of the engineering profession for decades.
France, in contrast, had a completely different historical story. About the time of the French revolution, everything in France changed. The government (before being overthrown) began to research and fund different types of engineering in hopes to gain the confidence of its people for a growing and superior military. Although this government failed, their plans did not. The newly established government continued the funding and support of engineering schools to train hundreds of new engineers. Because of this inflated view of engineering, the engineers of France did not often do what we in the United States think of engineers doing today. The engineers in France were revered and were given high leadership positions in all areas. In essence, engineers were the doctors and lawyers of France. In Ermenc’s article, “The French Heritage of Engineering Schools,” he mentions the engineering schools of France “supplied the needs of the government for naval, military, and strictly scientific and engineering personnel,” and that the objective of a particular school, the Ecole Centrale, was “to be the preparation of a corps d’elite of engineers for industrial leadership” (143). It is clear that the needs of France inflated engineering well beyond that of Great Britain. France put a great amount of respect and confidence into its engineers, and it is this history of France and engineers that influenced the greater part of engineering in the United States.
Although both Great Britain and France produced similar fields of engineering, the take and success in each country was greatly dependent upon its support by both the government and society. The freedoms and innovation and opportunities that we see in the United States were not available in either of the French or English states when engineering began. The history of that time primarily determined the growth and success of engineers and their careers.

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