Geopolitics & Prussian technical education in the late-eighteenth century


  • Kathryn M. Olesko


Technical instruction in eighteenth-century Prussiaboth military and civilian faltered for most of the century. In the military, promising technical achievements, such Leonhard Eulers 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 Prussias 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 Plainwith 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, Prussias technical school for civil engineering and architecture, established in 1799. The Bauakademie was the earliest predecessor of the Technische Hochschule in Berlin (1879).