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Richard F. Hirsh

Richard Hirsh, Professor

Richard Hirsh, Professor
Richard Hirsh, Professor

Department of History
423 Major Williams Hall, 220 Stanger St.
Blacksburg, VA 24061
540-231-5601 |

Richard Hirsh is a professor of history at Virginia Tech. His current research is policy oriented and involves historical issues related to the current restructuring of the American electric utility system.

  • History of Science
  • History of Technology
  • Ph.D., University of Wisconsin
  • M.S., University of Wisconsin
  • M.A., University of Wisconsin
  • B.A., Middlebury College
  • Invited member of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Renewable Energy Stakeholder Group on Local Outreach 2011-2012
  • Appointed member of the Energy Advisory Committee of the Virginia General Assembly's Joint Commission on Technology and Science, 2010-20122
  • Faculty Fellow, Office of the Vice President for Research 2006-10
  • Acting Associate Chair, Department of History, 2002
  • Academy of Faculty Service appointment, recognizing “exceptional service to the university, beyond a faculty member’s usual responsibilities” at Virginia Tech.
  • Land-Grant Scholar Award, given by VT College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for scholarship that “enhances the lives of individuals, families, communities or society beyond the walls of the university.”
  • Outstanding Dissertation Advisor Award (co-winner: Dr. Daniel Breslau), Social Sciences and Humanities category, Virginia Tech, for advising Benjamin Sovacool (STS student) on his dissertation.


Powering Up American Farms: The Overlooked Origins of Rural Electrification (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022), ix + 358 pp. 

Power Loss:  The Origins of Deregulation and Restructuring in the American Electric Utility System (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), xi + 406 pp.  (Paperback ed., 2001.)  The epilogue to Power Loss is published online in the inaugural issue of SHOT’s open-access initiative, “Technology's Stories: Past and Present” at

Technology and Transformation in the American Electric Utility Industry (Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), xiv + 274 pp.  (Paperback ed., 2002.) 

Glimpsing an Invisible Universe: The Emergence of X-Ray Astronomy (Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), viii + 186 pp.  (Paperback ed., 1985; reissued 2009.)

Journal Articles

“Sociotechnical Agendas: Reviewing Future Directions for Energy and Climate Research,” (with Benjamin K. Sovacool, David J. Hess, et. al.), Energy Research & Social Science 70 (Dec. 2020): 1-35.

“Shedding New Light on Rural Electrification: The Neglected Story of Successful Efforts to Energize Farms in the 1920s and early 1930s,” Agricultural History 92, no. 3 (Summer 2018): 296-327.

"Welcoming the PIMBY ("Please in my backyard") Phenomenon:  The Acceptance of Wind Turbines and the Culture of the Machine in the Rural Midwest,” (with Joshua T. Brinkman), Technology and Culture 58, no. 2 (2017): 335-67,

"Electricity Consumption and Economic Growth: A New Relationship with Significant Consequences?" (with Jonathan G. Koomey), The Electricity Journal 28, no. 9 (Nov. 2015): 72-84.  doi:10.1016/j.tej.2015.10.002

“History’s Contributions to Energy Research and Policy,” (with Christopher F. Jones), Energy Research & Social Science 1 (No. 1, Mar. 2014): 106-11.

“Wind Turbines and Invisible Technology: Unarticulated Reasons for Local Opposition to Wind Energy,” (with B.K. Sovacool), Technology and Culture 54 (Oct. 2013): 705-34.

“Historians of Technology in the Real World: Reflections on the Pursuit of Policy-Oriented History,” Technology and Culture 52 (Jan. 2011): 6-20.

“Beyond Batteries: An Examination of the Benefits and Barriers to Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Transition,” (with Benjamin K. Sovacool), Energy Policy 37 (Mar. 2009): 1095-1103. 

  • “American Jobs Project.” I am the academic partner for Virginia on this 10-state effort to create policy for job creation in the wind energy and composite materials fields. I will supervise four graduate students from the University of California-Berkeley and will help write and publicize policy statements. Overall project supported by the JPB Foundation in New York for $500,000 and managed by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Spring and summer 2015.
  • 2014 "Rural Electrification Efforts at Land-Grant Universities before the REA," Visible Scholarship Initiative, sponsored by Virginia Tech CLAHS, $1,000.00 (with Marc Brodsky, VT Libraries).
  • 2013-14 “Vortex-Induced Vibration (VIV) Energy Harvester for Distributed Power Supply in Coastal Regions,” $40,000, funded by Economic Development Administration, US Department of Commerce. I am a co-principal investigator (PI) with Shashank Priya (Mechanical Engineering), George Hagerman (Advanced Research Institute), Khai Ngo (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Mark Stremler (Engineering Science & Mechanics).

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