Betsy Frederick-Rothwell

Lecturer, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

2020 to 2021
Research Fellow

Internal Economies: Air Conditioning, Industrial Environments, and Working Bodies, 1890-1940

To fully apprehend the social, political, and economic valences of modern “air conditioning,” it must be understood as a body technology not just a building technology. This research proposal examines a key turning point in the emergence of air conditioning technology, and reframes this change within the context of industrial hygiene, occupational health, and discourses on national vitality. It investigates the work of four American research teams in the period between 1895 and 1940 that brought together public health experts, physiologists, and ventilation engineers as they reshaped ideas about the hazards inherent in confined indoor spaces. In doing so, it complicates existing narratives of air conditioning that simultaneously emphasize engineering entrepreneurship and the industrial production of things, and marginalize medical discourses and the physiological production of working bodies.