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Notes On The Underground

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The underground has always played a prominent role in human imaginings, both as a place of refuge and as a source of fear. The late nineteenth century saw anew fascination with the underground as Western societies tried to cope with thepervasive changes of a new social and technological order. In Notes on theUnderground, Rosalind Williams takes us inside that critical historical moment, giving equal coverage to actual and imaginary undergrounds. She looks at thereal-life invasions of the underground that occurred as modern urban infrastructuresof sewers and subways were laid, and at the simultaneous archaeological excavationsthat were unearthing both human history and the planet's deep past. She alsoexamines the subterranean stories of Verne, Wells, Forster, Hugo, Bulwer-Lytton, andother writers who proposed alternative visions of the coming technologicalcivilization. Williams argues that these imagined and real underground environmentsprovide models of human life in a world dominated by human presence and offer aprophetic look at today's technology-dominated society. In a new essay written forthis edition, Williams points out that her book traces the emergence in thenineteenth century of what we would now call an environmental consciousness--anawareness that there will be consequences when humans live in a sealed, finiteenvironment. Today we are more aware than ever of our limited biosphere and howvulnerable it is. Notes on the Underground, now even more than when it firstappeared, offers a guide to the human, cultural, and technical consequences of whatWilliams calls "the human empire on earth."

RosalindWilliams is Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology in MIT'sProgram in Science, Technology, and Society. She is the author of Retooling: AHistorian Confronts Technological Change (MIT Press, 2002).

"'What are the consequences when human beings dwell inan environment that is predominantly built rather than given?' An uncommonly astuteand provocative array of answers