Batten Institute

Robert Friedel



Bio: Robert Friedel is a professor of history at the University of Maryland. His research and writing have centered largely on historical studies of invention and innovation. His books include Pioneer Plastic: the Making and Selling of Celluloid (Wisconsin, 1983), Edison’s Electric Light: Biography of an Invention (Rutgers, 1986; with Paul Israel), and Zipper: an Exploration in Novelty (Norton, 1994). His latest book, A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium, will be published by MIT Press in 2007. Professor Friedel has also published numerous articles and shorter works on material culture as well as the history of technology, ranging from the history of materials to changes in the engineering profession. Before coming to the University of Maryland, he was a historian at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Professor Friedel works extensively with museums, consulting and collaborating in a range of projects for museums and agencies in Calcutta, Delhi, Stockholm, Munich, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. His museum exhibits include “A Material World” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and “Breaking Through: The Creative Engineer” for the National Building Museum. He is active in the Society for the History of Technology, and has been a contributing editor for American Heritage of Invention and Technology since 1985 and an advisory editor for Technology & Culture since 1993. He has held fellowships at the Smithsonian, the Hagley Museum, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology.

He has degrees in the history of science and technology from Brown University and Imperial College (London), and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Expertise: Creativity through Collaborative Endeavors-history of technology, invention, and innovation


Fellowship Focus: Robert Friedel will work with his Darden colleagues to extend our understanding of how creative engineering and design have emerged from varieties of social interactions and different combinations of skills, experiences, and disciplines.

Through this Fellowship, Professor Friedel will partner with his Darden faculty hosts, Jeanne Liedtka and Alec Horniman, and Brian Balogh, from UVa’s Department of History, to study creativity, especially as it applies to the world of business—in particular, creativity within collaborative or cooperative endeavors. This research will go beyond looking at the environments in which creative individuals can flourish to seek a better understanding of the conditions in which shared work gives rise to new forms of creativity that are closely linked to the processes of collaboration and teamwork.

Professor Friedel will also explore how business managers use history. Starting from the premise that history is a primary source of knowledge about the present, he asks how business might better integrate historical knowledge into strategic thinking processes. How can history help business thinkers develop a firmer grasp on present conditions and identify the likely parameters and choices that will shape the future?

Contact Info


Appointment: 2006–2007 

Publications & News


A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium (MIT, 2007)

Zipper: an Exploration in Novelty (Norton, 1994)

Edison’s Electric Light: Biography of an Invention (co-author) (Rutgers, 1986)

Pioneer Plastic: the Making and Selling of Celluloid (Wisconsin, 1983)

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