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World's first Civils textbook

Mike Chrimes Head of Knowledge Transfer, ICE

The earliest use of the term ‘civil engineer’ in English is from around 1760 by John Smeaton. Generally this is taken to indicate a desire to distinguish ‘civil’ engineering from the then dominant military branch of the profession.

The meaning of the term and its translation to and from other languages has always been a challenge. It is interesting, therefore to note the use of the term ‘Ingegnerio civil’ in the title of a book by the Italian engineer, Giuseppe Antonio Alberti, in 1748, a decade or so earlier.

Most previous books aimed at civil engineers are on ‘water engineering’ – such as Belidor’s well known Architecture Hydraulique (1737-) and Silberschlag Abhandlung der Hydrotechnik (1772). Such texts as exist in eighteenth century Britain are even less promising – Desagulier’s Experimental Philosophy, Moxon’s Mechanic Powers, Robison’s Mechanical Philosophy.

Alberti’s text Istruzione Pratiche per I’Ingegnero Civile is, however, clearly aimed at civil engineers. Its date of publication is more or less coeval with the establishment of the first French civil engineering school, the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, in 1747.

It was some time, however, before what might be described as a civil engineering textbook was produced for its students. The first director, Perronet, had an important work on bridges published. A successor Prony produced a two volume work on Nouvelle Architecture Hydraulique in 1790, but it was not until 1807 when Sganzin’s Cours de construction was published that a more general work was available.

This was seized upon by the US Military Academy, and translated by Crozet as An elementary course in Civil Engineering in 1827– the first English language textbook to have ‘civil engineering’ in the title, some sixty years after Alberti. Much of Alberti’s work is concerned with surveying, and levelling, essential aspects of any project.

Like many other early works much of the remainder discusses hydraulic engineering works. The book proved remarkably successfully, being reprinted in 1761, 1774, 1804 and 1840. I was fortunate to acquire a copy of the first edition recently for the ICE Library.

On a different tack, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback on my last article. Mention of William Lindley led to Michael Knill, FICE, contacting me regarding the Lindley Scholarship he was awarded while a student at Imperial College (then City and Guilds).

The Scholarship, awarded by ICE, was funded by a trust endowed by the Lindley family in 1914, and preference was given to candidates whose family had a connection with hydraulic engineering, and who intended to practice in that branch. Given the William Lindley bicentenary this year I would be interested in hearing from any other Lindley scholars.

The city of Hamburg is planning a programme of Lindley celebrations regarding him as the planner of the modern city of Hamburg.

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