Science of Destruction - Oxford Handbooks
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date: 01 December 2015

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys the evolution of chemical and mechanical weapons used by terrorists between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, ranging from the diabolical contraptions of “infernal machines” to dynamite, the terrorist’s favorite explosive, invented by Alfred Nobel in the 1860s. The chapter also explores the ingenuity of terror. While anarchists and revolutionaries who used explosive chemicals are often represented as merely consumers of the latest scientific creations, the chapter argues that in fact these communities showed considerable ingenuity in devising new weapons. A brief case study of the career of Irish nationalist Robert Emmet’s rockets in the pre-dynamite era demonstrates this. The chapter concludes by considering the relationship of terror and science, and contrasts the radical political views of terrorists with their typically unchallenging acceptance of scientific authority and opinions in the nineteenth century.

Keywords: explosives, dynamite, science, technology, ingenuity, weapons, infernal machines, rockets, Robert Emmet

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