Thomas Hughes

Dr. Thomas P. Hughes, Mellon Professor Emeritus in the department of the history and sociology of science in the School of Arts & Sciences, passed away February 3 in Virginia, at age 90.

Dr. Hughes taught at the University of Pennsylvania from 1973 until 1994 and served as chair of the department of the history and sociology of science from 1977 until 1980. Before then, he chaired the department’s graduate group.

Prior to coming to Penn, Dr. Hughes served on the faculties of Sweet Briar College, Washington and Lee University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and the Southern Methodist University, Institute of Technology.

He completed his PhD in 1953 from the University of Virginia where he did his graduate work in European history. He also earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in history from the University of Virginia in 1947 and 1953, respectively.

Dr. Hughes published books on American and European history with special attention to the history of modern technology, science and culture.  The books he authored and edited include Networks of Power: Electrification of Western Society, 1880-1930; Human Built World; Rescuing Prometheus; and American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Dr. Hughes was a member of the American Philosophical Society, US National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Society for the History of Technology awarded him the Leonardo da Vinci Medal and the Society for the Social Studies of Science gave him the John Desmond Bernal Award. He was named a member of the Society of Fellows by the Johns Hopkins University. The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm awarded him an honorary doctorate in engineering in 2000 and Northwestern University conferred upon him a doctorate of humane letters in 2001.

Dr. Hughes was a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study, Berlin and a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; Collegium Helveticum, ETH Zurich; Stanford University; Technische Hochschule, Darmstadt; New School for Social Research; and the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin.

Among his fellowships are the Guggenheim and Fulbright. He has chaired the NASA History Advisory Committee, the US National Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science; and served as president of the Society for the History of Technology.

Dr. Hughes is survived by his children, Lucian and Agatha, both Penn alums; four grandchildren; and long-time companion Mary Hill Caperton.