Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Geopolitics & Prussian technical education in the late-eighteenth century

Kathryn M. Olesko


Technical instruction in eighteenth-century Prussia?both military and civilian?
faltered for most of the century. In the military, promising technical achievements,
such Leonhard Euler?s application of the calculus to Benjamin Robins? ballistics,
were accompanied by weak institutional settings for training military engineers, with the result that much of the best military technical training continued to take place
by apprenticeship. Civilian technical instruction fared better thanks to the expansion of
Prussia. Obtaining control over Prussia?s territorial acquisitions in many respects demanded
greater technical expertise than the wars that yielded them. This essay argues
for the importance of Prussian territorial expansion from 1742, when Prussia acquired
Silesia, to the three Polish partitions in 1772, 1793, and 1795, in shaping Prussian
technical instruction in civil engineering. Specifically, the geography of the North European
Plain?with its marshes and bogs, lakes and lagoons, and numerous waterways?
presented formidable challenges, especially in hydraulic engineering. Field experiences
in that region were decisive in shaping Prussian civil engineering practices
that, at the end of the century, became the foundation of technical instruction at the
Bauakademie, Prussia?s technical school for civil engineering and architecture, established
in 1799. The Bauakademie was the earliest predecessor of the Technische
Hochschule in Berlin (1879).

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