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Title: A history of civil engineering
Author: Merdinger, Charles J.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1949
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Derived from the Latin "ingenium," which means natural capacity or invention, the word "engine" provides a clue as to the origin of the title "engineer." Ingenium, engine, military engine, and military engineer follow each other logically when the assault and defense of early mailed cities is considered. It is lively that the word "engineer" was derived from "engine" in much the same manner that "musketeer" was derived from "musket," for the early duties of the military engineer were largely concerned with making and operating engines of war such as catapults, battering rams, and the like. It naturally fell his lot to devise defenses against these weapons as well, so we find the engineer branching out into the building of fortifications and other works to resist or aid siege. In time the engineer's job came to include all types of construction, such as roads and bridges, needed to facilitate the movements of an army. In every case his primary task as an engineer was to contrive or to build something, and that function has continued to this day. The very root of the word, "ingenium," indicates the engineer's mission in society; it is to do, to act, or to make. The aim of the scientist is to know, but the aim of the engineer is to do by applying science to his work. This application of science has resulted in a more efficient utilisation of materials and has given rise to the oft-quoted definition of engineering as "the art of doing with one dollar which any bungler can do with two after a fashion." The first man on record to call himself a "civil" engineer was the eighteenth century Englishman John Smeaton, who sought to distinguish his civilian construction work from that of the military engineer. Just what constituted civil engineering remained a rather indefinite concept until the profession was defined in the charter granted in 1828 to the Institution of Civil Engineers at London as: "andmdash;the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man, as the means of production and of traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbours, moles, breakwaters and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce, and in t^e construction and application of machinery, and in the drainage of cities and towns." The term "civil" engineer gradually became restricted to those who concerned themselves chiefly with works of a static nature such as roads and tunnels, while those who concerned themselves primarily with the operation of moving machinery adopted the designation "mechanical" engineer. In time other specialties came to be recognized, and new branches such as "chemical" and "electrical" engineering were born. A century after the granting of the 1828 charter civil engineering had become only one of the many branches of the engineering profession and had changed somewhat in the fields it covered. Engineering had come to be defined as the "professional and systematic application of science to the efficient utilization of natural resources to produce wealth." The subfields of civil engineering officially adopted in 1929 by the California State board of Highway Engineering examiners included the following: "highways, bridges, water supply, inland waterways, harbors, drainage, irrigation, water power, flood control, municipal improvements, railroads, tunnels, airports, airways, purification of water, sewage, refuse disposal, foundations, framed and homogeneous, structures, building, city and regional planning, valuation and appraisals, and surveying (other than land surveying)." In other ages and in other civilisations the engineer was known by other names - as a sage, architect, philosopher, or wise man - but his function was essentially that of his modern counterpart. Regardless of what he called himself or what other duties he performed in the past, we shall try to trace the engineer and his works from earliest times to the present. In a sense, the of engineering is a story of mankind, for no less than law and government has technology been a mark of the civilised world. The archaeological and historical evidence thus far is too meager to permit us to deal at length on the progress of civil, engineering in moat of the civilizations which have previously flourished. The work of many of the civilizations, as for instance the Andean, has been here omitted - even though some evidence is available - for it seems to bear little or no relationship to the main thread of this history. Relatively little space, then, has been assigned to the history of civil engineering elsewhere than in the Hellenic and Western world, for our main task is to trace the traditions of the profession which have culminated in the civil engineering of the twentieth century. Perhaps the clearest way to present the history of this profession is to review briefly the development of engineering as a whole through every age and then go back and develop each section of the profession in the following order: materials and building construction, roads, bridges, canals, tunnels, surveying, water supply, sewerage, Hydraulic and coastal works, and railroads. According to present evidence, the first traces of what might be called civil engineering appeared in Egypt commencing somewhere around 3000 B.C. Surveying, hydraulic works, and building construction made up the bulk of Egyptian engineering, but it is doubtful whether these had any direct effect on the works of succeeding or contemporary civilizations. The most significant thing about Egyptian engineering is that here, for the first time, we have evidence of man building to a plan instead of haphazardly and using mathematics to ensure the results desired. This contribution is slight when compared with the works of modern civil engineering but gigantic when compared to the works of primitive man. The next people of importance to this study were the Greeks, whose main contributions to civil engineering were theoretical rather than practice, for they did much to develop the mathematics and geometry which later became so important in engineering. This emphasis of theoretical over practical was due in part to the attitude of the philosophers who led Greek thought; it was due in greater measure to the country's geography or to be more precise, its topography - which in turn shaped its political and economic life. The construction of vast public works, consistent with the technology of the time, could not be justified from an administrative or commercial standpoint, and so they were never brought into being. With the emergence of Rome as the dominant power in the world, civil engineering reached a peak it did not again achieve until the nineteenth century. Parts of the old Roman roads still survive to this day, and this permanence and solidity which manifested itself in their roads was a characteristic which extended throughout all of their engineering endeavors. Aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, canals, and all forms of hydraulic works fall within the scope of the Roman engineers during the time of the republic and later under the emperors. In the Roman structures we find definite evidence of the use of mathematics and geometry in their lay-out and construction. Closer inspection reveals that they were over-designed - by modern standards at least - a further indication that they were derived more from rule-of-thumb methods than from basic scientific principles. As Rome was on the ascendancy engineering was alternately an effect and cause of strong government, but when the government began to break down technology could not save it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available