Dr Ben Marsden

Dr Ben Marsden

Senior Lecturer


Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 272637
The University of Aberdeen School of Divinity, History and Philosophy,
Crombie Annexe,
Meston Walk,
King's College,
University of Aberdeen,
Old Aberdeen,
AB24 3FX
Room: Crombie Annexe 204


BA (MA) Hons in Mathematics, University of Cambridge (1987); Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics (Mathematical Tripos Part III), University of Cambridge (1988); PhD in History, Philosophy and Social Relations of Science, University of Kent at Canterbury (1992); British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds (1993-1995); Royal Society - British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in History of Science, University of Kent at Canterbury (1995-1999) and University of Aberdeen (1999-2000); Lecturer in Cultural History, University of Aberdeen (2000-2009); Senior Fellow, Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, MIT/Harvard (2005-2006); Senior Lecturer in History of Science and Technology (2009-present); Deputy Head of School of Divinity, History and Philosophy (2009-2011); Director, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (2009-2010); Director, Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine (2010-2011, 2012-present).


Research Interests

Science and technology in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century culture, especially the cultural history of engineering and technology in Britain; the historical relationship between science and music; engineers as authors and readers; cultural history of food. Selected publications have addressed: the history of engineering education (esp. of W. J. Macquorn Rankine), in the British Journal for the History of Science (1992) and in Crosbie Smith and Jon Agar (eds.), Making space for science (Macmillan, 1998); technological success and failure in History of Science (1998); the history of energy and the relationship between science and music in Hessenbruch (ed.), Readers' guide to the history of science (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000); and the reading practices of I. K. Brunel in Marsden, O'Connor and Hutchison (eds.), Uncommon contexts (Pickering & Chatto, 2013). His account of James Watt and the separate condenser appeared as Watt's perfect engine: steam and the age of invention (Icon, 2002; Columbia, 2004). He has also contributed extensively to the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004). With Crosbie Smith he has written Engineering empires: a cultural history of technology in nineteenth-century Britain (Macmillan, 2005 (hbk), 2006 (pbk)). The first part of an interdisciplinary study of the relationship between the mechanical analysis, architectural history and comparative anatomy of Cambridge professor Robert Willis was published in the British Journal for the History of Science (2004) and a discussion of Willis's models and apparatus appears in the proceedings (eds Alexandrina Buchanan et al.) of a conference on Willis held at Gonville and Caius College, Cambirdge in September 2016. He revisited the history of heat engines, especially those using air as a working substance, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society (2006). He contributed a new entry on meteorologist John Aitken to the new edition of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (2007); and his study of attitudes towards the engineering science of naval architecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science appeared in a thematic volume of the Journal for European Administrative History (2008). A further paper on John Aitken's 'outdoor physics' has appeared in a Norwegian journal of cultural history (2009); and a study of perceptions of French technological culture amongst British artisans in the early ninteenth century has appeared in a volume edited by Liliane Hilaire-Perez (2010). He is completing the first major biography of Macquorn Rankine for Ashgate: a preliminary study, 'Ranking Rankine', appeared in History of Science (2013). With Peter McCaffery he is edited the Reader in Cultural History (Routledge, 2014).

Current Research

He is currently: completing the first book-length study of W. J. M. Rankine and the origins of academic engineering in nineteenth-century Britain (for Ashgate); working on a discussion of the institutionalization of engineering in mid-nineteenth century Glasgow; and developing a history of natural philosophy in the city of Aberdeen. He continues to edit Notes and Records: the Royal Society journal for the history of science.


He has worked closely with Crosbie Smith on the AHRC-funded project on the cultural history of the ocean-going steamer in nineteenth-century Britain; he maintains close links with staff at the National Museum of Scotland (Science and Technology Division).

Research Grants

He received a major grant from the Dibner Institute of the History of Science and Technology, MIT/Harvard (2005-2006) as Senior Fellow there.


Teaching Responsibilities


Contributions to the Universty's interdiscipoinary Sixth Century Courses, including 'Fearsome Engines' 

Europe in the 20th Century (contribution)

The Scientific Revolution (level 1)

Renaissance and Reformation (level 1)

Birth of Modernity (level 2)

Eating History (level 3/4)

Cultures of Victorian Science and Technology (level 4)

Literature and Science: From Frankenstein to Einstein

MLitt in Museum Studies and MLitt in Literature, Science and Medicine

Further Info

External Responsibilities

Include, or have included: Council, British Society for the History of Science (2000-2003); Book Reviews Editor and Editorial Board Member, British Journal for the History of Science (2000-2005); Advisory Editor, Isis (2009-2011); Chair, BSHS Conferences Committee (2013-2016); Editor, Notes and Records (2015- )

Admin Responsibilities

Founding Director of the CASS Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine

Media Work

Contributor to: 'Engineering an Empire: Britain' (History Channel, 2006); 'James Watt' (Arte, c. 2008); 'The Genius of Invention: Power' (BBC 2, January 2013); 'In Our Time: I. K. Brunel' (2014)



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Contributions to Journals


  • Marsden, B. (2013). 'Ranking Rankine: W. J. M. Rankine (1820-72) and the making of ‘engineering science’ revisited'. History of Science, vol 51, no. 4, pp. 434-456.
  • Marsden, B. (2010). 'Counting dust and domesticating clouds: inside the "outdoor physics" of John Aitken (1839-1919)'. Tidsskrift for Kulturforskning, vol 9, no. 1, pp. 45-56.
  • Marsden, B. (2008). 'The administration of the "engineering science" of naval architecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1831-1872'. Jahrbuch für Europäische Verwaltungsgeschichte, vol 20, pp. 67-94.
  • Marsden, B. (2006). 'Superseding Steam: the Napier and Rankine Hot-air Engine'. Transactions of the Newcomen Society, vol 76, no. 1, pp. 1-22.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1179/175035206X105186
  • Marsden, B. (2004). ''The progeny of these two "Fellows''': Robert Willis, William Whewell and the sciences of mechanism, mechanics and machinery in early Victorian Britain'. British Journal for the History of Science, vol 37, no. 4, pp. 401-434.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1017/S0007087404006144
  • Marsden, B. (1998). 'Blowing hot and cold: Reports and retorts on the status of the air-engine as success of failure, 1830-1855'. History of Science, vol 36, pp. 373-420.
  • Marsden, B. (1992). 'Engineering science in Glasgow: Economy, efficiency and measurement as prime movers in the differentiation of an academic discipline'. British Journal for the History of Science, vol 25, pp. 319-46.

Reviews of Books, Films and Articles

  • Marsden, B. (2017). '[Review of] Don Leggett, Shaping the Royal Navy, Manchester University Press'. International Journal of Maritime History , vol 29, no. 1, pp. 208-210.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1177/0843871416678173i
  • Marsden, B. (2015). 'Good vibrations: [Review of] Peter Pesic, Music and the Making of Modern Science, MIT Press'. TLS: The Times Literary Supplement, no. 5871, pp. 24.
  • Marsden, B. (2012). 'David Philip Miller, James Watt, Chemist: Understanding the Origins of the Steam Age (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009)'. British Journal for the History of Science, vol 45, no. 2, pp. 298-300.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1017/S0007087412000568
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