​B.A. College of Holy Cross, 1977​M.A. University of Pennsylvania, 1981​Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1984Post-Doc ​Harvard Business School, 1988-89

"I study what it takes to make a technology "work"--not only the natural forces, but the cultural and economic aspects required for innovation."

W. Bernard Carlson, Engineering and Society Department

Bernie Carlson is a historian of technology who studies the careers of inventors and entrepreneurs in order to educate future engineering leaders. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and physics as an undergraduate, earned a Ph.D. in the history and sociology of science, and pursued a postdoc in business history at the Harvard Business School. Bernie has published three books, including a biography of Nikola Tesla, which has been published in nine languages. He is co-editor of a book series with MIT Press, "Inside Technology," which has published over 60 books on the history and sociology of technology. In addition, he is committed to helping broad audiences understand the role of technology in society, and this has led to projects such as the 36 lectures on "Great Inventions" that he released on DVD with The Teaching Company. For his scholarship, he has received the Sally Hacker Prize from the Society for the History of Technology [SHOT] and the IEEE’s Middleton Award in Electrical History. Bernie has served as the Executive Secretary for SHOT as well as a consultant for Corning Incorporated and other organizations. At UVA, he helped create the Committee for the History of Environment and Technology and created both the Engineering Business minor and the Technology Entrepreneurship programs.


  • IEEE William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award, 2015 [for Tesla].
  • Sally Hacker Prize for Best Popular Book, Society for the History of Technology, 2015 [for Tesla].
  • Elected to the Raven Society, University of Virginia, 2015.
  • Long-listed for the Winton Prize for Popular Science Writing, Royal Society, 2014.
  • Sally Hacker Prize for Best Popular Book, Society for the History of Technology, 2008 [for Technology in World History].
  • Briefed First Lady Hillary Clinton on Thomas Edison and innovation prior to her speech at the Edison National Historic Site, June 1998.
  • IEEE Life Members Prize in Electrical History, Society for the History of Technology, 1989.

Research Interests

  • Science, Technology and Society

Selected Publications

  • Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1991) W. Bernard Carlson
  • Technology in World History, 7 volumes (Oxford University Press, 2005) W. Bernard Carlson
  • Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. (Princeton University Press, 2013) W. Bernard Carlson
  • “Diversity and Progress: How Might We Picture Technology across Global Cultures?” Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 5:128-55 (August 2007). W. Bernard Carlson
  • "Understanding Invention as a Cognitive Process: The Case of Thomas Edison and Early Motion Pictures, 1888-1891." Social Studies of Science 20:387-430 (August 1990). W. Bernard Carlson, Michael E. Gorman.

Courses Taught

  • STS 1500, Science, Technology, and Contemporary Issues every semester
  • STS 2810, Introduction to Technology Entrepreneurship
  • STS 5610, Knowledge Entrepreneurship Fall 2017

Featured Grants & Projects

  • Scholar in Residence

    Deutsches Museum, Munich, Summer 2010.

  • Research Fellowship

    Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Institution, for “Nikola Tesla and the Tools of Persuasion,” Fall 2005.

  • Sloan Foundation for a biography of Nikola Tesla


  • Resident Fellow

    Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fall 1994.