About 3 years ago I began researching the security-related patents that were lost in the patent office fire of 1836. With the help of some incredible volunteers we made early progress in recovering information on the lost locks. You can see snippets of our research at its Zotero archive. Unfortunately, it was just too massive a project to tackle in my spare time.
Now, though, I'm better prepared, have better organizational tools, and more people ready to help. My target is to get physical copies of 10 of the locks built and ready for travel & display by early 2015. Could you imagine how incredible it would be to hold a physical manifestation of long-forgotten mechanical genius? I genuinely hope that producing working models of lock designs that were lost to history will inspire a bit of my personal passion in anyone who gets to interact with them.
The Role of Locks in Transitional Societies
I've been insisting that locks are symbols of social order for a long time, but as I was wrapping up my origins project and simultaneously trying to explain the significance of the Great Lock Controversy of 1851, I realized that locks aren't symbols of social order, they are social order. Locks come at the outset of major societal transitions, and give the subtler systems of law enforcement, taboo, and socialization time to grow and become strong. Eventually the locks will be defeated, but by the time they are, the systems they made room for will be so well established that the failure of locks doesn't destabilize society.
I only have two significant examples of this at the moment. The earliest known door seals, and the lock controversy. I want to take the lessons learned from those projects and start finding more examples, and hopefully I can tease out some examples of a rapid collapse in security technology going hand-in-hand with a collapse of society (I have a couple strong possibilities alread). Finally, examining the current issues around the restrictions on and interference with, encryption, might prove very interesting. This is the youngest of my ideas, but also the most exciting. I may be completely wrong, and finding that out would be exciting, too. Regardless, I'm jonesing to get started.