• Who Owns America's Past?
  • Urban Mass Transit

Robert C. Post is a historian whose primary concerns lie at the intersection of technology and culture, in particular the politics of popular display and technology’s animating passions. While pursuing his UCLA Ph.D. in American and modern European history and the history of technology and science, beginning in 1967, he was employed as editorial assistant for the Pacific Historical Review and principal investigator for the Metropolitan Los Angeles History Project. He spent the academic year 1971–72 as a pre-doctoral resident fellow in the Division of Electricity at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT) and 1972–73 as a historian for the Park Service’s National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. After receiving his degree in 1973, he was hired as a technician in NMHT’s Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, then, for the next 23 years, moved through a succession of jobs at the Smithsonian: special assistant to the NMHT Director, supervising historian for the Exhibits Task Force, senior editor for Smithsonian Books, senior management council and curator in the Division of Transportation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), curator at large, and, finally, associate director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

From 1977 until 2000, Post was a content provider for Post Scripts, a firm specializing in the design, production, and packaging of popular and scholarly books and periodicals, and from 1981 until 1996 he was editor-in-chief of Technology and Culture, the quarterly journal of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT). He also served as chief advisory editor for IA: Journal of the Society of Industrial Archeology and as a contributing editor for American Heritage of Invention and Technology. Between 1980 and 1988 he edited Railroad History, a biannual periodical sponsored by the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS), and was the publisher from 1989 until 2000. Since 2000, he has been a free lance, working under contract to exhibition design firms, book packagers, and trade publishers.

Post is the author of approximately 150 articles, essays, and reviews, and has written or edited 15 books, the most recent being Who Owns America’s Past: The Smithsonian and the Problem of History, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2013 and reissued in paperback in 2017. A revised paperback edition of Post’s Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of A Technology, first published in 2007, is also available from Hopkins. His High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, which sold nearly 15,000 copies in hardbound and paperback for Hopkins, is out of print but circulates freely via Amazon. For fifteen years Post was coeditor of Historical Perspectives on Technology, Society, and Culture, a booklet series published jointly by SHOT and the American Historical Association, and between 2000 and 2010 he collaborated with Managing Editor Joe Schultz on Technology and Culture’s book reviews and special features.

In addition to his publications, Post has been involved in approximately 40 museum exhibitions, several of them in a lead curatorial role, including “A Material World” for NMAH, “American Maritime Enterprise” and “1876: A Centennial Exhibition” for NMHT, “American Enterprise: Nineteenth-Century Patent Models” for the Cooper-Hewitt in New York, and the Ft. Wadsworth, New York, Visitor Center for the National Park Service. He has been an advisor to the Franklin Institute, the American Merchant Marine Museum, the Maine Maritime Museum, Independence Seaport Museum, the NSF, the NEH, NPR, PBS, the Woodrow Wilson International Center, World Book Encyclopedia, and ten university and trade presses. His photographs have appeared in nearly two dozen books, periodicals, and museum exhibits.

Post served for 25 years on the executive council of SHOT, including four years as vice president and president. His honors include a research fellowship from the John and LaRee Caughey Foundation, Awards in Recognition of Exceptional Services from the Smithsonian nine times, two terms as Senior Resident Fellow at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT, the Distinguished Retiring Editor Award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, the David P. Morgan Distinguished Article Award from the R&LHS, and SHOT’s highest honor, the Leonardo Da Vinci Medal. A profile was published in the January 1988 issue of Smithsonian and a full biography in vol. 148 of Contemporary Authors.

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