Carnegie Mellon University

Joel A. Tarr

Joel A. Tarr

Richard S. Caliguiri University Professor of History and Policy, History; Engineering and Public Policy; Heinz College

Address Department of History
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


  • Carnegie Mellon, 1967-


  • Ph.D. (History) 1963, Northwestern University
  • M.A (History) 1957, Rutgers University
  • B.A. (History) 1956, Rutgers University


History provides an essential context for understanding the development of many contemporary problems. Without an understanding of such historical background, many attempts at contemporary problem solving are doomed to failure. Professor Tarr is a historian whose research focuses on the history of urban technologies and urban infrastructure systems, as well as the development of environmental problems and policy. More specifically, he has written about the effects of transportation innovations, the uses of the telegraph in the urban context, and the development and impacts of water supply and waste water systems.

Professor Tarr's environmental work has dealt also with air, water, and land pollution, and the cross-media problems created by technological choices and changing disposal practices. In addition, Professor Tarr has examined problems of industrial pollution. Professor Tarr has also written about environmental policy formation on the local, state, and federal levels, and the roles of various professional groups in setting priorities. This research has dealt primarily with changing conceptions of risk in the face of new knowledge and new technologies, as well as societal value change. Much of his environmental and technology-related research has been done in collaboration with engineers.

His most recent research deals with the environmental Impacts of Conventional Natural Gas Drilling in Pennsylvania.


  1. Joel A. Tarr and Francis C. McMichael, "Environmental Legacy: The Impact of the Manufactured  Gas Industry in the United States," Environmental Studies and Science (Nov., 2014), 5: 1-10.
  2. Joel A. Tarr, Karen Clay, "Pittsburgh as an Energy Capital: Coal and Natural Gas Transitions", in Martin Melosi and Joe Pratt (eds.), Energy Capitals (Pittsburgh:University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014).
  3. Joel A. Tarr, Patrick Gurian, "The Origin of Federal Drinking Water Quality Standards", Engineering History and Heritage, V. 164, Issue 1, February 2011, 17-26.
  4. Joel A. Tarr, "The City: Artifact of Technology and the Environment," in Martin Reuss and Steven H. Cutliffe (eds.), The Illusory Boundary: Environment and Technology in History (Charlotte: University of Virginia Press, 2010), 145-170.
  5. Clay McShane, Joel A. Tarr, "The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the 19th Century", (Johns Hopkins University Press), 2007.
  6. Joel A. Tarr (ed.), "Devastation and Renewal: An Environmental History of Pittsburgh and Its Region", (University of Pittsburgh Press), 2003.
  7. J. A. Tarr, "Transforming An Energy System: The Evolution of the Manufactured Gas Industry and the Transition to Natural Gas in the United States (1807-1954)," pp. 19-37 in O. Coutard (ed.), The Governance of Large Technical Systems, Routledge, London, 1999.
  8. J. A. Tarr, J. Stine, "At the Intersection of Histories: Technology and the Environment," Technology and Culture, vol. 39, Oct., 1998, pp. 601-640.
  9. J. A. Tarr, "Searching For A Sink for an Industrial Waste," pp. 163-180, C. Miller and H. Rothman (eds.),Out of the Woods: Essays in Environmental History, (University of Pittsburgh Press), 1997.
  10. Joel A. Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Air, Land and Water Pollution in Historical Perspective (Akron: University of Akron Press, 1996).

Selected Honors and Awards

  1. Leonardo da Vinci Medal,("presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the history of technology, through research, teaching, publications, and other activities"), Society for the History of Technology, 2008
  2. Envirotech Group of the Society for the History of Technology names their research prize the Joel A. Tarr Prize, 2010
  3. American Society for Environmental History 2015 Distinguished Service Award