Usselman Bids Farewell After 27 Years

Posted July 25, 2023

After 27 years as a teacher, researcher, colleague, and friend, Professor Steve Usselman is bidding farewell to the School of History and Sociology (HSOC) for a well-earned retirement. Usselman, now the H. Bruce McEver Professor Emeritus of Engineering and the Liberal Arts, came to Georgia Tech when the School still operated under the History, Technology, and Society banner. As HSOC chair from 2012 to 2017, Usselman facilitated the name change to the School of History and Sociology.  

"I viewed the name change as just one element in a larger commitment to creating a vibrant interdisciplinary community. Seeing that blossom, and being part of that community while also participating in others that bring together folks from other schools and colleges, has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my time at Georgia Tech," Usselman said. "Much of my satisfaction from teaching has derived from the same source. I have most enjoyed teaching classes that attract students from different majors, including engineering and the liberal arts. I see a lot of myself in them." 

As a historian of technology, innovation, and public policy, Usselman's work focuses on American economic development and the dynamics of global capitalism since 1815. He taught courses on technology in America; law, technology, and politics; business organizations and political economy; and engineering in history. Usselman also helped pilot the School's graduate program. 

"Almost as soon as he arrived, the graduate program was dropped in his lap, and he proceeded to build it basically from scratch," said Doug Flamming, Usselman's colleague and friend and a professor in the School. "Steve was the director of graduate studies for six years, and over the course of his career here, he successfully shepherded nine graduate students to their Ph.D.s." 

Usselman's publications include the award-winning Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), The Challenge of Remaining Innovative: Insights from Twentieth-Century American Business (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009), and The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920 (Harlan-Davidson/Wiley, 2018). He was the senior editor for The Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of American Science, Medicine, and Technology (Oxford University Press, 2014), wrote more than 70 articles, book chapters, and reviews, and gave over 100 invited talks and presentations on his work. 

Despite his full schedule, Flamming recounted how Usselman remained a supportive colleague, reading "virtually everything" Flamming wrote and giving advice and encouragement. 

"Steve worked very, very hard," Flamming said. "He believed that higher education was more than a worthwhile calling; it was a calling that demanded our very best effort all the time. For him, it was never enough just to show up and wave the flag. For him, this work mattered. He gave it his all, and we are all beneficiaries." 

In retirement, Usselman plans for "more writing, with less distraction, and in a voice that I hope is more accessible to a broader audience. And more time with my family: my wife Marion, who is also retiring from GT, and our three children and seven grandchildren." Still, he says he will miss popping his head into a colleague's office "or better yet, a colleague popping theirs into mine." 

"During my ten years at Georgia Tech, Steve has inspired me with his meticulous, complex, and important scholarship and commitment to the humanities, social sciences, and university life," said Daniel Amsterdam, associate professor and director of graduate studies in HSOC. "It is difficult to imagine the School without Steve's calm, deliberate, and wise presence." 

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Steve Usselman, H. Bruce McEver Professor Emeritus of Engineering and the Liberal Arts, retired after 27 years in the School of History and Sociology.

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Di Minardi
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts