Power Up: A Social History of American Electricity

Power Up: A Social History of American Electricity

History Hangout: Conversation with Trish Kahle


The history of American electricity is often told through the experiences of engineers and managers, but these were only a handful of the many thousands of workers who built, maintained, and ran electrical utility systems in the United States. The linemen, clerks, pipe fitters, marketers, secretaries, and many, many others who do the work to keep the power on have little space in the literature. In fact, we have collectively learned not to see these workers and the work that they do even when they are right in front of our eyes.  

That’s where the research of energy historian Trish Kahle enters the picture. Dr. Kahle, former NEH-Hagley postdoctoral fellow and current assistant professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University – Qatar,  researches the social relations that develop within and around energy systems. Her current project examines the development of the American electrical grid through major episodes in its history: early forays into the construction process in the late-nineteenth century; rural electrification and segregation; deindustrialization and civil rights agitation.  

In support of her work, Kahle received funding from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.