Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

 Rick Gander


This course will take place in a BOLLI classroom (22 person capacity) with a maximum enrollment of 15 to allow for some social distancing. The classroom will be equipped with a HEPA air purifier.   

10-Week Course

Feb. 28 - May 8. No Class April 24.


We live in a factory-made world: modern life is built on three centuries of advances in factory production, efficiency, and technology. Since their beginnings, however, when William Blake called them "dark Satanic mills," giant factories have also fueled our fears about the future. Many factories that operated over the last two centuries―such as Homestead, River Rouge, and Foxconn―were known for the labor exploitation and class warfare they engendered as well as the environmental devastation caused by factory production from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up to today. 

In this course we will read and discuss a work of wonderfully accessible scholarship, in which celebrated historian Joshua B. Freeman tells the story of the factory and examines how it has reflected both our dreams and our nightmares of industrialization and social change. He whisks readers from the textile mills in England, which powered the Industrial Revolution and the factory towns of New England, to the colossal steel and car plants of twentieth-century America, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, and on to today’s behemoths making sneakers, toys, and cellphones in China and Vietnam. The course will mainly be conducted as discussions among the participants based on the weekly reading assignment. Some videos illustrating the week’s subjects will be shown as well.  

Group Leadership Style

More facilitated discussion than lecture.

Course Materials

Behemoth-A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua B. Freeman; W.W. Norton New York 2018.     

Preparation Time

Approximately 40 pages of the book per week.


Rick Gander studied economics, politics, and metallurgy at MIT and business at Wharton. He worked in technical and commercial positions in the steel industry, then as a consultant in steel, metals and mining at Arthur D. Little in Cambridge and Hatch Associates in Mississauga, Ontario. He has visited and worked at numerous large steel mills, metal fabricating and durable goods manufacturing factories in the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, and several developing nations.