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The first article under this heading is devoted to a discussion of the impact of technology upon society and of conditions affecting technological change; the second article focuses upon the impact of technology upon international relations. The relationship of technology to the social sciences is also reviewed in other articles throughout the encyclopedia. Examples of the technology of non-Western societies are found in Crafts; Culture Change. The relation of technology to environment is discussed in Domestication; Ecology; Urban Revolution. Levels of technological-social integration are examined in Agriculture, article on comparative Technology; Hunting AND Gathering; Industrialization; Pastoralism; Peasantry. The economic aspects of technology are discussed in Agriculture, article on productivity And Technology; Economic Growth; Innovation; Patents; Production; Productivity; Research AND Development; Technical Assistance. Various aspects of the technological revolution brought about by the electronic computer are reviewed in Automation; Computation; Cybernetics; Information Storage AND Retrieval; and in the biographies of Babbageand Wiener. Also of relevance for an understanding of technology are Creativity; Diffusion; Economic Anthropology; Economy AND Society; Engineering; Science; and the biography of Ogburn.

I. THE Study OF TechnologyRobert S. Merrill


II. Technology AND International RelationsWarner R. Schilling



One of the most persistent themes in the social sciences, history, and the humanities is the impact of technology and technological change on all aspects of social life. Major changes in human life have been associated with major technological changes, such as the “food-producing revolution,” the “urban revolution,” and the “industrial revolution” and its modern continuations; even the evolution of biologically modern man has been influenced by innovations in tool using.

Given the long history of concern with the social consequences of technology, it is puzzling that technological systems, unlike such similar aspects of culture as political, legal, economic, social, and magico-religious systems, are not the focus of an established specialty in any of the social sciences. The academic institutionalization of the social study of technology does not even approach that recently attained by its sister subject, science. One reason for this discrepancy is that technologies are not thought to be very interesting. They appear to be readily understandable, to present few intellectually challenging or significant problems. On the other hand, controversies about the conditions and consequences of technological change continually recur and seldom seem to be resolved. It has been only in recent years that developments in the social sciences and in technology itself have pointed toward the real possibility of coherent, systematic, and focused study of some of the major socially significant aspects of technology.

Definition . Technology in its broad meaning connotes the practical arts. These arts range from hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, animal husbandry, and mining through manufacturing, construction, transportation, provision of food, power, heat, light, etc., to means of communication, medicine, and military technology. Technologies are bodies of skills, knowledge, and procedures for making, using, and doing useful things. They are techniques, means for accomplishing recognized purposes. But, as Weber recognized long ago ([1922] 1957, p. 161), there are techniques for every conceivable human activity and purpose. The concept of technology centers on processes that are primarily biological and physical rather than on psychological or social processes. Technologies are the cultural traditions developed in human communities for dealing with the physical and biological environment, including the human biological organism. This usage contrasts with others which are rather arbitrarily narrower, such as those which focus only on modern industrial technology, or only on crafts and manufacturing, or on “material culture” (see, e.g., British Association . . . 1954).

Another major distinction is that between the natural sciences and technology; the former emphasize the acquisition of knowledge, while the latter stresses practical purposes. This is a rough distinction with a number of complications, but it provides important guides in the investigation of sociocultural systems (see Polanyi 1958; Merrill 1962). Recently, the impression that modern technology is primarily applied science has led to the use of such phrases as “science,” “science policy,” and “science and society” to refer to both the sciences and the practical arts. When this undifferentiated usage enters into work on science, it tends to obscure important differences that need study (compare Barber 1952 and Kaplan 1964 with “Science and Engineering” 1961).

Problems of study . In broad perspective, the study of the conditions and consequences of technical change merges into the general study of sociocultural change. Available evidence certainly suggests that all the major features of a society influence what technological changes occur, the ways they are used, and the repercussions of their use. The kind of broad-ranging inquiry which results is evident in the one sociological tradition focused on technology—that stemming from William F. Ogburn (see Gilfillan 1935; Allen et al. 1957)—as well as in work on diffusion of innovations, economic growth, automation, economic and business history, and the technological aspects of international relations.

A different perspective may be obtained by viewing the problem the other way round. One can ask what needs to be known about technology if one is to have a basis for tracing interconnections between technology and the rest of society. What are the significant characteristics of technologies? How can they be empirically studied? These questions focus attention on the direct links between technology and society, on the features of technologies which mediate more remote influences in both directions. Adequate analysis and empirical study of technology from this point of view seem essential if technology is to be a well-understood subsystem that can be incorporated into larger systems of analysis.

The first of the two major themes in studies of technology-society relationships concerns the wide variety of social effects linked to technology by its influence on the kinds and amounts of goods and services which can be provided for the support of a wide variety of human activities and purposes. Here the focus is on the role of technology in production. The second theme concerns the ways in which social and other conditions directly influence technology. Here the focus is on technological change.

Technology and production

Relatively explicit arguments dealing with the effects of technology (and physical environment) on the “forms,” “types,” or “developmental stages” of society are especially prominent in recent discussions of cultural evolution and cultural ecology. Throughout this literature, the central link between technology and society is viewed as the effect of technology in limiting or making possible the supply of various amounts and kinds of important goods and services. For example, it is argued that, by limiting the amount of subsistence goods, particularly food, that can be produced, technologies limit population densities and thus affect the social system itself. Or it is argued that advances in technology which make possible greater outputs of subsistence goods per man-hour thereby “free” time from subsistence production and so make possible the support of craft, religious, military, governing, and other specialists. This in turn makes possible larger-scale, more sedentary societies with more complex economic institutions, social stratification, centralized authority, and so on. Concern with these kinds of relationships has led, in anthropology, sociology, and elsewhere, to the use of such concepts as “surplus” or “energy per capita” to characterize the aspect of technologies linked to such social consequences (see Orans 1966).

It is evident that issues concerning technology-output relations have had an essential quantitative as well as a qualitative aspect. This is an extremely significant fact for students of technology; however, most descriptions of technologies do not include quantitative information unless that happens to be an explicit part of the practitioner’s traditions —as, for example, in much modern food preparation and in engineering. As the significance of quantitative features of technologies, whether they are culturally explicit or not, has become clearer, there have been increasing efforts to obtain such data by field workers interested in economic anthropology, cultural ecology, nutrition, housing, consumption, and small-scale industry, and by students of the prehistory and history of technology. However, outside economics and economic history, most of these efforts have not been guided by clearly defined notions of just what data are relevant for what purposes. Careful analysis of direct technology-output-society linkages is a precondition for defining and obtaining data on relevant characteristics of technologies.

Although economists have developed systematic formulations of the quantitative aspects of technology-output relations, these ideas are little known among other social scientists. Almost all work in anthropology, as well as much work in sociology and history, shows little awareness, let alone systematic use, of the idea of production functions, of concepts concerned with productivity, and of technical economic theory relevant to the study of specialization. A variety of recent developments in economics, particularly in the areas of activity and process analysis, programming, and input-output analysis, are making this lack of awareness even more acute (see Cowles Commission . . . 1951; Koopmans 1957; Manne & Markowitz 1963; Dorfman et al. 1958; Chenery & Clark 1959). A set of powerful ideas, computational methods, and strategies of empirical research directly applicable to the study of technology-output relations are becoming available. They make possible kinds of systematic study of this aspect of technology which are of the greatest significance.

An empirical strategy. The general strategy suggested by the developments mentioned is simple but essential. This strategy is to study the role of technological and related factors by comparing actual situations with calculations of what would be possible with particular technologies under various alternative assumptions about other relevant variables. Such work has barely begun, but two examples can be given.

The first comes from one of the most active areas of application of modern economic tools to the study of technological, economic, and related changes: the “new economic history” (see Fogel 1964a; 1965). Fogel (1964b), using programming and other methods, examined the economic impact of railroads on the U.S. economy in the nineteenth century by comparing what actually happened with what the economy would have been if only older modes of transportation had been used. In contrast with prevalent interpretations imputing large economic effects to the development of railroads, Fogel’s results suggest that the effects were relatively slight. Whether or not this result stands up in the face of further work, it clearly shows that sorting out the effects of technological factors in complex sequences of change requires the use of highly sophisticated methods. The second example is Hopper’s study of the use of farming resources in an Indian village (1957; 1961; see Schultz 1964, pp. 44-48, 94-96). Using programming methods, he was able to show that resources were being used efficiently, given the technological and external demand conditions. His results also indicate that additional investments in the usual forms of capital would yield low rates of return. Such conclusions are contrary to inferences made by many students of Indian village institutions, who believe these institutions constitute barriers to efficiency. Moreover, by showing that output and income are actually being limited by resource and technology conditions, a wide variety of issues concerning the roles of these factors and the kinds of changes that would increase income are brought face to face with empirical findings.

Quantitative technology-output relationships . How should technologies be conceived and characterized if we are to study their relations to output possibilities? The classic concept in economics is the idea of a “production function.” From the standpoint of output possibilities, a particular technology is characterized by (1) the kinds of inputs used; (2) the kinds of output (or output mix) produced; and (3) the quantitative relations between amounts of inputs used and maximum quantities of output that can be physically produced. If a technology can produce several outputs in variable proportions, production functions can be used to derive an output-possibility, or efficiency, frontier. The frontier will consist, for any given set of inputs, of those combinations of outputs which cannot be exceeded in the following sense: no output within any efficient combination can be increased without decreasing some other output in that combination. All sets of outputs physically producible with the technology from a given set of inputs will then lie on or within the output-possibility frontier corresponding to that set of inputs. In addition to the qualitative kinds of inputs and outputs involved, it is the quantitative input-output relations made possible by a technology which must be known if their implications for production possibilities are to be studied.

Generally, in economics, production functions have been derived only for firms, industries, or other sizable production entities. Moreover, economists usually use price weights to aggregate physical inputs and outputs and use such economic data to estimate input-output relations. This has meant that, in actual use, the production function concept has been institution-bound because only in price-market systems are the requisite economic data available and meaningful. It has also meant that the work has usually been so remote from physical technology that its relevance for students of technology was not evident. Input-output analysis, though phrased in terms of physical technology, also is usually used with economic (aggregated price-weighted) data. However, there has been some interest in seeing whether input-output coefficients or more general production functions could be determined from engineering or other data closer to physical technology rather than from more general economic statistics. In this way, technology and economics are being brought closer together (see Research Project . . . 1953; Vajda 1958; Manne & Markowitz 1963).

The conceptual innovation central to the new programming methods is deceptively simple: instead of conceiving of production functions as characteristics of establishments, firms, or other large-scale institutional systems, these methods consider input-output relations at the level of the component steps, stages, or processes (”activities”) which make up each particular technology. In other words, the quantitative framework is brought into more direct relation to technologies known and used by practitioners. However, if one thinks of a factory, a peasant household, or a group of hunters and gatherers, let alone larger regions or societies, it becomes clear that the number of inputs, the number of activities or processes, and the number of outputs are usually very large. This is where mathematical advances and digital computers are useful. Methods are continually being extended and improved for making calculations of points on production-possibility frontiers for systems of hundreds of input-output equations. It is the availability of these computational methods that gives empirical importance to the conceptual framework.

By working closer to physical technology, programming methods make it possible to study more explicitly the relations between the details of technological processes and the economically significant characteristics of production-possibility frontiers based on them. Moreover, such frontiers may be estimated in situations where older economic techniques can be used only with great difficulty or not at all. Finally, by explicitly focusing on component processes, the programming framework brings out into the open two major links between physical technology and output possibilities that have generally been obscured by the older production function framework.

The first link may be discovered by asking whether, given data on input availabilities and on the input-output characteristics of the known technological processes, we can then directly determine output possibilities. Are there any other intervening links? Suppose a potter carries out all the steps of pottery making, from gathering clay and other materials to final firing and finishing. Is her rate of output determined or limited solely by her skills, the time she spends, her equipment, and the physical characteristics and locations of her sources of firewood, clay, temper, etc.? There is at least one other major factor that will influence what she can produce: how she arranges her work, in the sense of where she does various things and how she schedules her activities. This will affect, for example, the amount of moving and carrying she does, the extent to which she can economize time by carrying out activities such as forming pots while others are drying or being fired, how close she can come to carrying out processes on the most efficient “batch” scale, etc. Thus, even within a simple production unit, there are major problems of what Koopmans (1957, pp. 69-70) has called physical maximization or physical planning which will influence outputs obtainable from given inputs and a given technology. These problems were almost completely obscured by the older production function framework.

Where do such work routines fit into our picture of technology? One answer would be that they are additional, essential parts of technological traditions. This would imply that our potter, for example, thought her particular schedule to be just as necessary for the successful making of pots as mixing clay and temper in the right proportions. However, accounts taken from a variety of societies indicate that, though some rigid constraints on production routines may be found, such routines have an appreciable amount of flexibility, in the sense that they are altered or adjusted to varying circumstances. It is highly probable that separable sociocultural factors and processes influence production scheduling. Therefore, we have isolated a major link between technology and output possibilities that needs careful study. Instead of gathering data, say, on the most usual pottery-making routine, the researcher has to ask himself what data are needed to determine the routine that would be most efficient within the culturally defined technological constraints. How do the routines and their variations compare with calculated “efficient” routines for the varying circumstances? Only then will he be able to say to what extent technology and resources are actually limiting output. And then he will also be in a position to assess the production effects of the sociocultural factors which generate the production routines actually followed.

That these issues are not trivial may be seen by reference to an old and important line of argument: the importance of division of labor (specialization) as a way in which outputs can be increased with a given technology and resources. The idea is that if persons with given initial skills and capacities are able to specialize their performance to a greater degree, then their total production will be greater. Similar arguments are applied to the use of different kinds of soils and other resources. Here, again, there is a vast body of incidental evidence that patterns of specialization, even in highly traditional societies, are flexible rather than completely rigid. Therefore, one must explore the magnitude of the consequences of alternative patterns of specialization for production, taking into account such additional activities as transportation. Only then can one really determine how outputs are limited by technology-resource factors or by sociocultural factors related to specialization. Most assertions about technological limits on outputs under given conditions are not only rough guesses; they are guesses made on the basis of relatively little examination of what might be possible if only technological and resource constraints were operative. Thus, programming and related methods open up the possibility of making calculations of the magnitude of the production effects of what we might call alternative production arrangements. [For examples of special problems in dealing with locational interdependencies and with various economies or diseconomies of scale and locational agglomeration, see Central Place; Programming; Spatial Economics.]

A second major implication of the programming framework is that one can compute output possibilities for alternative arrangements of physical production (i.e., persons, facilities, activities, and movements of goods and persons) apart from the sociocultural institutions that “lead to,” “bring about,” or “generate” any particular pattern of conduct and events. We thus have a clear distinction between these two very different kinds of problems. It becomes apparent that many analyses have ignored this distinction, moving directly from technology to institutions. This results in confusion, especially of theoretical frameworks, controversy, and failure to study the variety of issues involved.

Technology—resource-output linkages . Output possibilities depend not only on technology but also on resources or inputs. The links here are more complex than is usually realized, and they involve technology in ways that are only beginning to be studied seriously. If we take the simplest case, natural resources, it is an old idea in anthropology that only culturally known natural features can be resources. Despite this recognition, careful attention to a society’s knowledge of resource locations and characteristics and ways of finding new sources of supply is relatively rare. Knowledge of this complex part of technology (which we might call resource technology) and quantitative information about the resources actually known are both critical to the study of resource-technology-output relationships. Similarly, outside economics there is a curious tendency to neglect the systematic study of the quantitative role of another major type of resource: physical capital, in the sense of durable, man-made improvements, equipment, structures, and inventories. This is especially odd because the stock of physical capital, like population, clearly depends on past social and other processes. The importance of capital formation processes as a link between technology and output possibilities can be assessed by determining how output possibilities vary with assumed changes in the amounts of various kinds of capital goods available. A similar strategy can be used to deal with the complex linkages between population density, labor resources, and output possibilities. One can examine not only the effects of alternative population densities but also the effects of alternative assumptions about culturally or biologically defined “subsistence levels” on production possibilities when they are so constrained.

Other recent work in economics, stimulated by a search for sources of economic growth in modern industrial societies and by the economic problems of nonindustrial societies, has uncovered two additional links between resources, technology, and output possibilities. The first is the fact that many of the production effects of a technology depend on the extent to which it has been physically “embodied” in capital goods (see Salter 1960; Green 1966). Similarly, the second development stresses the importance of human capital, in the sense of the technologically relevant knowledge and capacities actually “embodied” in a society’s population [see Capital, Human]. So far, studies of these linkages between technology and resources have been concerned only with their over-all economic significance and thus have used highly aggregated economic data. More detailed work is crucial for students of technology.

These linkages bring out the important fact that describing a society’s technology requires much more than listing the technologies “known,” in some unspecified sense, to some members of the society. They also call attention to critical socio-economic processes influencing technology-output relationships.

Production arrangements . There is another line of argument, intertwined with the one we have been considering, which we may now examine. Instead of being concerned with what outputs can be produced with a given technology, these arguments assume that certain levels of output of certain goods or services are needed or desired. They then argue that certain production activities and arrangements are “required” if these levels of output are to be obtained with a given technology under given conditions. In this way, various societal features have been interpreted as technologically “necessary”: the kind of division of labor; household size and composition; local group size, geographic distribution, and spatial movement; daily, seasonal, annual, and other cycles of productive activity and movement; various economic and political institutions, etc. Many plausible, but largely qualitative, arguments of this sort have been made (for older reviews, see Forde 1934; Mead 1937; for a comparative study of task groups, see Udy 1959; for an important comparative case study, see Hill 1963). The framework previously outlined for the study of alternative production arrangements provides a way of assessing the magnitude of their effects on production. Some of the issues that need examination may be indicated by reviewing a few raised by the vast literature concerning the effects of modern industrial technology on factory and firm organization and on work life.

First, we may note that industrial technology is not all of a piece but varies markedly from industry to industry; the implications of such differences for work organization and work life are just beginning to be studied (see Blauner 1964). Second, as the discussion of physical planning indicated, it is not to be assumed that the particular patterns of factory size, task composition and subdivison. grouping of tasks into jobs, and work group arrangements involved in production are a direct consequence of the requirements of physical technology. There is evidence that the patterns of task organization developed by production and industrial engineers are strongly affected by implicit sociopsychological theories, without much exploration of the efficiency of alternative arrangements (see March & Simon 1958, chapter 2; Walker 1962, part 2).

Third, assumptions that particular institutional arrangements are necessary for effective performance need questioning. For example, a widespread theory argues that functionally specific, universal-istic criteria of recruitment, advancement, and releasing of personnel must be used if industrial technology is to operate effectively. This reasoning assumes that knowledge and skills have a critical effect on performance (see Levy 1952). Largely on this basis, Abegglen (1958) interprets paternalistic arrangements in Japanese factories as dysfunctional. However, it is probable that performance is significantly affected by what has recently been called “commitment,” as well as by knowledge and skills. The net effect of Japanese social institutions, which promote a high degree of organizational commitment, may, in the Japanese setting, promote efficiency rather than inefficiency. [See Paternalism.]

Finally, and perhaps most important, consideration of the nature of modern industrial economies indicates that the organizational tasks confronting production units are as much a consequence of the changing technical and socioeconomic milieus in which they operate as of the units’ production technology. This can be seen if one imagines a particular industrial technology being used in a completely “stationary” economy with constant demand, supply, price, technology, and population conditions. (For a vivid picture of some of the implications of stationary “circular flow,” see Schum-peter 1912; 1939.) Production could then be an almost completely routinized, even traditionalized, process. This would obviously have very far-reaching implications for the roles of authority and for the kinds of coordination possible (e.g., informational signaling rather than use of commands). It very well may be that many of the organizational and other effects attributed to industrial technology are more consequences of rates of change than they are of particular technologies per se.

Conclusions . It seems clear that tools are now available for making a major empirical attack on many issues concerning technology-output-society relationships. This would require a large-scale effort. However, it is also likely that technology, by itself, will not turn out to be such a powerfully influential factor as some social scientists have thought. Nevertheless, social phenomena are so complex that being able empirically to “factor out” the influence of a major subset of variables is critically important in improving our ability to understand all the others. This strategy is now available in the study of technology.

Technological change

We now turn to the study of factors influencing technologies themselves. Technologies are important not only because they affect social life but also because they constitute a major body of cultural phenomena in their own right. These phenomena pose numerous problems whose study may shed light on a wide range of issues in the social sciences.

Viewed in broad perspective, the practical arts align themselves with many other sets of traditions and customs which are pre-eminently cultural, in the sense that they exhibit historically specific origins, development, and distribution. In this respect they differ from those aspects of social organization which frequently exhibit similar forms in historically unrelated societies. Therefore, prehistory, history, and ethnography are especially important in understanding the course of human technology over space and time. The history of technology has begun to establish itself as a discipline with the publication of two major collaborative histories (Singer et al. 1954-1958; Daumas 1962) and the establishment of a professional society and the journal Technology and Culture. However, in scholarly apparatus and in the use of interpretive analyses the history of technology is in its early stages (see [Review Issue] . . . 1960). The “discipline” has several rather independent subdivisions, such as prehistory, ethnography (see Bordaz 1959a; 1959b; Hodges 1964; British Association . . . 1954; Matson 1965), agricultural history, and the history of medicine (see Sigerist 1951-1961; Underwood 1953; Zimmerman & Veith 1961).

The task of understanding technological phenomena and formulating theories of technological change is clearly an enormous and difficult one. This is especially true because our general understanding of historically specific cultural change might best be described as meager and unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, one can find in the rapidly expanding body of recent work a number of clues which point toward major possibilities of systematic study. This brief review will be divided into three sections: recent technological change in modern Western societies; the development of Western technology; and past and present non-industrial technologies.

Technological change in the modern West. The complexity of modern technology makes it seem an odd place to start, but two other factors make it suitable. First, deliberate technological change has been institutionalized in Western societies for some time. Most modern technologies include not only traditions for making and doing things but also traditions for “advancing the state of the art,” for producing new knowledge, processes, and products. Modern technologies are culture-producing as well as culture-using sociocultural systems. Such cultural change seems easier to understand than less institutionalized change. Moreover, when seen in this light, these technologies are similar to such other culture-producing traditions as science, law, art, literature, music, philosophy, history, and journalism. These similarities suggest that what can be learned about each such culture-producing culture may shed light on the others.

Second, events during and immediately after World War n have jolted economists into taking a hard look at technological change in the West (see Universities-National Bureau . . . 1962; Ohio State University . .. 1965). Their work is modifying the common conception that technology grows in an autonomous, cumulative, accelerating fashion, little affected by outside influences. (Such a theory probably has never been held literally by those social scientists who are referred to as supporting it—see, e.g., Ogburn 1922; Leslie White 1949; 1959; Hart 1959—but the idea is nonetheless widespread.) Recent work indicates that in the various private sectors of modern economies, the amount of effort devoted to technological changes, and the magnitude of the changes themselves, are strongly influenced by economic demand and profitability.

This accentuates the importance of distinguishing major steps in the process of technological change which differ in their dependence on physical facilities and other resources and in their relationship to economic costs and rewards. The first step is invention or applied research, by which is meant the processes of getting new ideas and bringing them to the point of technical feasibility demonstrated through small-scale testing. This is different from the later steps: development of workable full-scale plans; innovation, which means putting plans into actual, full-scale practical use; and imitation or diffusion of innovations to additional producers and users. In addition, minor processes of improvement may occur in any of these phases. Finally, the spread of technology, even within one society, let alone between societies, is not just a matter of literal imitation but usually involves significant processes of technologicaladaptation to the local habitat and to local economic and other conditions (Merrill 1964). In anthropology and sociology, invention and innovation are terms often used for all of the first three steps, while acceptance distinguishes intrasociety spread from diffusion between societies.

There has also been a burgeoning of studies of institutional and social factors which influence the pressures and rewards leading technologists and users of technology to focus attention and resources on changes in certain directions rather than others. These include studies of the social characteristics of business firms, the organizational characteristics of research and development laboratories in industry and government, governmental support and policy, weapons development organization (e.g., Peck & Scherer 1962; Scherer 1964), institutional factors in medicine, and social factors in the diffusion of innovations. In some cases, economic and social analyses appear to conflict, although it is more likely that the interpretations are complementary.

Problem-solving capabilities are as crucial as incentives in determining the directions taken by inventive activity and technological change. The most direct determinants of problem-solving capacities are the technological traditions themselves— the states of the arts. Changes within technology, as well as outside it, obviously have something to do with the very recent large expansion of resources devoted to research and development (R&D); with the rapid increase in organized R&D efforts as compared with those of independent inventors; with the expanding role of professional scientists and postgraduate engineers in R& D; with the increasingly radical nature of the technical advances being achieved, particularly in military technology; and with the remarkably wide differences in R & D efforts and accomplishments between industries and technological fields [see Research AND Development].

So far, it has proved difficult to gain a more precise understanding of the role of technological and related scientific knowledge in technological change. There are indications that technological change is not a simple function of its “cultural base” in the sense of the number of elements available for combination (Ogburn 1922; Hart 1959). Similarly, the idea that recent trends are due to the rise and development of “science-based” industries and technologies (e.g., Maclaurin 1954; Brozen 1965) has been foundering on the difficulty of specifying just what a science base is. Advances in fundamental science do not directly trigger technological changes as frequently as is usually assumed (compare Meier 1951 with Nelson 1962 and Schmookler 1966). General economic-technological histories of particular industries provide helpful information but usually do not make clear the factors involved in technological change (e.g., Bright 1949; Haber 1958; Maclaurin 1949; Passer 1953).

The most revealing information is found in case studies which enable the reader to see situations from the “inside,” as technologists see them—to see the problems involved, the tools available and the ways they are used, and the results achieved. (In varying degrees and ways such views may be found in such works as Cohen 1948; Condit I960; 1961; Enos 1962; Klein 1962; 1965; Killeffer 1948; Marschak 1962; Marshall & Meckling 1962; Merrill 1965; Nelson 1962; Development of Aircraft.. . 1950; Straub 1949; Wright & Wright 1951.) Several extremely important points emerge from the examination of such cases. First, while it is essential to know the body of “results” which are part of a technology in order to understand the way it changes, one also must know the methods and techniques, the approaches and procedures, the tactics and strategies (Conant 1951) which are used to tackle new problems. To study a sequence of technological changes without knowledge of the technological traditions used in producing them is to be confronted with extremely enigmatic phenomena. Second, technologies and technological problems are incredibly diverse. Any attempt to generalize too quickly and too broadly is likely to obscure rather than clarify the ways technological change comes about. Third, each technology, and even each significant technological problem, is an intricate world of its own. Adequate understanding requires intensive study of a kind still relatively rare in work on technology.

Such intensive study, to be useful, requires a clear focus on determining how technologies work. In addition to historical studies, basic sociological research on technology is required. We know surprisingly little about the occupational and professional groups, organizations, institutions, and institutionalized roles which play a part in the use and development of the practical arts (see Merrill 1961). Furthermore, there is a widespread notion in the social sciences that the cognitive structure of technologies is equivalent to that of the empirical sciences, with the minor modification that if-then statements are converted to rules of practice (e.g., Parsons 1937; 1951; Barber 1952). There is good evidence that this conception is drastically askew, but the only major counterformulation (Polanyi 1958) has not been developed. Nor has much use yet been made of developments in engineering which have led to more explicit conceptualizations of what is involved in engineering design, development, and systems engineering (see Asimow 1962; Alger & Hays 1964; Starr 1963; Goode & Machol 1957; A. D. Hall 1962).

The development of Western technology . One of the most fascinating problems of technological change is the rise and continuing development of Western “industrial” technology, and it has attracted a corresponding amount of attention. Here only a very few themes closely linked to technology itself will be discussed, with emphasis on the question of relations between science and technology. Clearly, one major possibility is that the special development of technology in the West was linked to another unique Western development: the development of those cultural traditions we now group together under the label “science.” Accumulating historical work has pushed back the sources of both the “scientific revolution” and the “industrial revolution” well into the Middle Ages (see, e.g., Gille 1962; Lynn White 1962a; Crombie 1952; Hodgen 1952; Taton 1957-1964, vol. 1; Singer et al. 1954-1958, vol. 2). Moreover, a relatively continuous series of technological changes links the medieval developments with the conventional late eighteenth-century beginning of the “industrial revolution” (see, e.g., Singer et al. 1954—1958, vol. 3; Nef 1932; 1950; 1964). Despite such formal parallelism, the evidence suggests a high degree of independence of changes occurring in the two traditions well into the nineteenth century and beyond. On the other hand, there appear to be an increasing number of less specific influences from the sciences on technology (and vice versa) which are difficult to document and articulate (see “Science and Engineering” 1961). Finally, it is clear that there was great heterogeneity in the patterns of change within each group of traditions. Many of these phenomena are evident in discussions of relations between various craft and learned traditions (e.g., Crombie 1961; A. R. Hall 1952; 1959; Smith 1960).

The historical study of technologies whose traditions are largely unwritten presents extremely difficult problems. Even when evidence from artifacts and from pictorial and other representations is used to supplement documents, and all are interpreted with great sophistication by an author intimately acquainted with the practice and theory of the art he is studying, findings are often extremely uneven and much remains puzzling (e.g., Smith 1960). The source of difficulty appears to be one we have encountered before: the difficulty of interpreting a sequence of technical changes without intimate knowledge of the cultural traditions and contexts from which they emerged (see Lynn White 1962b; A. R. Hall 1962).

Past and present nonindustrial technologies . A second major result of recent work bearing on the history of Western technology is the increasing accumulation of evidence, much of it still hotly debated, that a significant fraction of medieval, early modern, and even some later Western technological changes were, or grew out of, diffusions from Asian societies, particularly China.

Studies of the technologies of Asian (especially Needham 1954-1965; Lynn White I960), early Near Eastern, classical (Forbes 1955-1964), and New World civilizations seem to have one increasingly important implication: Instead of making matters more intelligible, the more detailed evidence adds many more puzzles than it provides even tentative solutions. This may seem very discouraging, but it may have a positive effect. It may eliminate the tendency to think that technological phenomena provide no really significant intellectual problems worthy of concentrated scholarly attention.

Nonetheless, the presence of important problems, however fascinating, does not stimulate scholarly effort unless there are ways of making some headway toward their solution. If a major cause of the historical and prehistorical puzzles is the scarcity of data on unwritten or incompletely recorded technological traditions, what can be done about it? There is one important kind of evidence that could be brought to bear: data provided by really intimate studies of the great variety of non-industrial technologies still being practiced in various parts of the world. The connections between these present-day technologies and earlier ones are known with varying degrees of precision. In any case, studies of these nonindustrial technologies provide an opportunity to understand the nature and varieties of technological traditions outside the modern Western tradition and the ways such traditions change.

Existing nonindustrial technologies are not so much “unstudied” as they are studied from points of view which do not yield the kinds of data that seem crucial for the interpretation of technological change. Most detailed studies by cultural anthropologists, ethnologists, and students of folk life have been strongly historically oriented and museum-oriented, describing characteristics of technological practices and artifacts which are useful for tracing historical connections among technologies and among the peoples practicing them. As a consequence, there has been a tendency to think of technologies as fixed sequences of standardized acts yielding standardized results. Descriptions of technologies made from a craftsman’s or technologist’s point of view (e.g., Guthe 1925; O’Neale 1932; Conklin 1957; Shepard 1956) and incidental observations in other studies strongly indicate that this conception is very misleading. Desired technical results are not obtained automatically. Materials vary, circumstances differ, and manipulations are hard to control. Accidents, poor results, or failures occur and are always a possibility. Even “primitive” technologies have a variety of procedures for adapting actions to circumstances, detecting difficulties, and making corrections. A more adequate conception of a technology is that it is a flexible repertoire of skills, knowledge, and methods for attaining desired results and avoiding failures under varying circumstances (Merrill 1958; 1959).

Such a “functional” view of technologies themselves (as against their relations to other things) is surprisingly rare in the social sciences, despite the widespread use of functional ideas. Malinowski recognized the possibilities of this approach only after he returned from the field (1935, vol. 1, appendix 2). Ford’s systematic formulation (1937) approximated it but was not followed up. The one major context in which functional problems of technologies have received considerable attention is in studies of magic. Although Malinowski’s ideas about magic and technology were not completely developed (Leach 1957; Nadel 1957), little explicit research on this subject has been done, except for Firth’s evidence (1939) that magic can inhibit technological change. Even this idea has not been pursued, although the thesis that magic is a major traditionalizing force is central to much of Max Weber’s work and is important in Sombart’s analysis of the development of technical rationality. Instead, social anthropologists working in this area have focused largely on the social and symbolic interpretation of witchcraft, sorcery, and magic, though all of these impinge on technology through their role in the interpretation of illness, technical accidents, and abnormal successes.

Despite this neglect, ethnographic accounts contain numerous incidental observations which indicate that deeper study of nonindustrial technologies will shed a great deal of light on processes of technological change. Careful analysis of a few relatively well described pottery technologies has already shown that the flexible procedures used to deal with day-to-day problems may operate as sources of significant technological changes under particular circumstances (Merrill 1959). Almost every society has techniques for producing nonstandardized products, such as houses, storage facilities, trails and roads, vessels, settlement or field layouts, and water-supply and drainage arrangements. These have to be “designed” to fit particular local conditions, special uses, or availability of materials. Such designing requires a set of adaptive procedures which may be closely linked to technological change just as the little-studied bodies of knowledge used in routine engineering design play a significant role in modern technological change (Merrill 1961; 1965). Flexible procedures are especially evident in agriculture, where one also finds surprisingly frequent indications of the deliberate use of “trial and error” even in non-literate societies (see, e.g., Richards 1939; Schlippe 1956; Allan 1965; Conklin 1957).

This evidence suggests that technological traditions are far more complex than usually realized and that they contain numerous features of the greatest significance for understanding the possibilities and processes of technological change. Even “accident,” that unpredictable source of change, is well known to depend on a “prepared mind” (see Usher 1955), and preparation has major cultural components. It also appears that the study of the relatively minor, but more frequent and therefore more observable, technical changes involved in various kinds of routine technological adaptation is likely to clarify our understanding of the relations between cultural traditions and cultural change and to provide an essential basis for interpreting more radical “creative” innovations (see Merrill 1959; compare Barnett 1953).

A number of theoretical developments in ethnography have clarified the distinction between cultural traditions as the conceptions that guide action and the behavior, artifacts, or other results brought about by their use (Goodenough 1957). Using this idea and techniques from descriptive linguistics, a series of procedures is being developed for the precise identification of the conceptual categories, taxonomies, and distinctions that participants in a culture use in structuring their world and their actions. Usually called ethnoscience, this work might better be called ethnotechnology. There have been studies of disease diagnosis, color distinctions, plant classifications, curers, firewood, cultural ecology, etc., which have clear technological implications. So far, little has been done to extend this approach to the study of these numerous “inarticulate” or “tacit” (Polanyi 1958, pp. 100-102) aspects of actually making and using things which performers cannot describe or explain in words even when questioned systematically. Harris (1964) has sketched some ways an observer could detect and formulate interconnected regularities in actual sequences of behavior which could be applied to this problem. He believes that his observer-oriented approach is superior to and incompatible with the ethnosemantic approaches which focus on actors’ frames of reference. However, the basic ideas appear to complement rather than contradict one another. Another approach which appears widely applicable is to search for implicit feedback control systems guiding skilled performance (Merrill 1958; 1959).

Because of its focus on conceptual systems, work on ethnoscience (ethnosemantics) may be usefully related to work in psychology on perception and cognitive theory [see Cognitive Theory; Perception, article on social Perception; see also French 1963]. Cognitive theory, in turn, provides a link to work on creative thinking and creativity significant for the study of technological change. So far, the most relevant psychological work has been on scientific creativity (see, e.g., McKellar 1957; Taylor & Barren 1963), but work on technological creativity is beginning (e.g., MacKinnon 1962).

It thus appears that there are foundations for the more systematic study of technological change and some of the direct links between technology and social life. It remains to be seen whether these potentialities will be realized through the development of technology as a coherent discipline in the social sciences.

Robert S. Merrill


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Technology can be generally conceived of as encompassing man’s methods and tools for manipulating material things and physical forces. The relationship between technology and international relations has been continuous and intimate. From the time of man’s most primitive polities, the foreign-policy problems and opportunities of states have been influenced by the nature of their technology for transport, communication, warfare, and economic production. The glory of Athens rested on silver mines, and the might of Sparta on a process for making steel; the Romans ruled through roads, and the Assyrians overran Babylon and Egypt with the chariot. The contemporary effects of hydrogen bombs and intercontinental missiles dramatize a relationship between technology and power and between power and policy that goes back in time through the steam engine and gunpowder to the ox, hoe, and sword and into prehistoric time.

The relationship between technology and foreign policy is neither a new nor a neglected subject among students of world politics. Political geographers have long sought to explore the influence of geographic environment on the foreign policies of states, and in doing this they have had to take account of the manner in which technology has enabled man to adapt to and alter the conditions imposed by his environment. Scholars engaged in the effort to develop quantitative means for measuring and comparing national power have made extensive use of a variety of technological indices such as steel or energy production. Students of nationalism and international organization have been interested in the part played by developments in transportation and communication in the formation of modern states and in the contribution that technology may make toward the establishing of regional or international arrangements among those states. Most recently, stimulated by the events of the last two world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons, scholars have given considerable attention to the interrelationships among weapons technology, military strategy, and foreign policy.

Research in all these areas has had to contend both with the familiar problem of how to make general observations about the effects of a single variable and with the additional problem that the consequences of technological change have become increasingly difficult to analyze. Taken in their aggregate, the technological developments of the past three centuries have had an extensive and accumulative effect on international relations. But the more complex man’s technology has become, the more it has served to multiply his choice of actions, and in consequence, considered individually, technological innovations have become increasingly less determinative in their effect.

A survey of past influence

The dominant technological development of the past three centuries has been the large-scale and increasing substitution of inanimate for animate energy as the motive force for man’s machines. This substitution had its beginning in the use of gunpowder and wind and water power, but it was only when man discovered how to convert the heat from the burning of fossil fuels into mechanical energy, and how to convert mechanical into electrical energy and back again, that inanimate energy became both plentiful and transportable. It is this energy base that has made possible the whole complex of technological developments that constitutes modern industrial civilization.

None of the key elements in the international political process has been untouched by the industrial revolution. The structure of the state system and of states themselves, the purposes and expectations moving state policy, and the means available to states for achieving their purposes have all been significantly altered.

Consider the changes in the structure of the state system, that is, in the number, location, and relative power of its members. As the industrial revolution transformed the bases of military power and increased its mobility, international relations became global, rather than regional, in scope, and the relations among the members of this global system became continuous, rather than episodic. The hegemony of Europe over the other continents, which began with such rudimentary energy advantages as the sail and cannon, became virtually complete with the advent of the steamship and improved ordnance. The fate of the technically inferior polities was well summed up in the couplet of Hilaire Belloc, “Whatever happens we have got/The Maxim gun and they have not”; and until the industrialization of the United States and Japan, world politics was essentially European politics.

The structure of the European state system itself was no less affected by the new technology. The disparity in power between large and small states was greatly increased (contrast the vulnerability of the Lowlands in 1914 and 1940 with their military exploits against Spain in the sixteenth century and against England in the seventeenth century), and the enhanced opportunities for union, voluntary or involuntary, saw the number of states in Europe reduced from some four hundred at the time of the Treaty of Westphalia to less than one hundred by 1815 and to a mere thirty in 1878. Drastic changes also occurred in the distribution of power among the Great Powers, most notably as a result of the early industrialization of England and the later displacement of France by Germany as the dominant power on the Continent.

These changes in the number, relative power, and location of the states making up the international system have had great consequence both for the stability of the system and for the character of the strategies pursued by individual states within it. Two world wars testify to the instabilities introduced by the rise of German and Japanese power. Similarly, the whole character of American foreign policy changed when the United States moved from a power position where its continued survival depended upon the commitment of European power and interest elsewhere to a position where American military potential exceeded that of the major European powers combined.

The effect of technology on the internal political structure of states has been equally striking. Just as gunpowder brought an end to castles and made it more feasible to establish effective national governments, so the later technology of mass transportation and communication enormously increased the ability of governments to mobilize the time and energy of their citizens. The development of the urban-industrial state has created both new political elites and new political relationships between elites and masses, most notably in the development of mass democratic and mass totalitarian states. Although the foreign-policy consequences of these changes are difficult to disentangle from the effects of other variables, the greater command that central governments can now exercise over people has certainly contributed to the ability of such governments to wage more intensive and more sustained warfare. The state’s need for popular support has also brought public opinion (with its moods and emotions) into the conduct of foreign policy and has enlarged the foreign audience for state diplomacy to include government-to-people communications as well as government-to-government communications. Finally, the dispersion of political and bureaucratic power that has attended the development of the industrial state has greatly increased the complexity of the process through which foreign policy is made, with the result that the opportunities for confusion, contradiction, indecision, and instability in the conduct of policy have been significantly increased.

The impact of technology on the purposes of state policy has been most marked on the intermediate level of the ends-means chain. States have continually pursued such general goals as “plenty,” “glory,” and “power,” but there has been considerable change in the operational definition of these goals. Among the underdeveloped states today, the effort to secure industrial technology has itself become one of the major preoccupations of foreign policy, and among the industrial states scientific and technological achievements are now prized as symbols of power and prestige. Consider also the changing value that states have assigned to particular territories on the globe. The steamship contributed to the imperialism of the late nineteenth century by opening to commerce areas difficult to reach by sail; the political importance of the Middle East in the twentieth century has been largely the result of European dependence on its oil reserves; and the advent of the missile-firing nuclear submarine has endowed even the geography of the Arctic with strategic significance. As for the contribution of technology to the more “ultimate” purposes of state policy, the present conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States owes much to the fact that each has evolved a different conception of the proper arrangement of things and people in an industrial society and is persuaded that its conception of the good life must and should prevail elsewhere.

The relation of science to foreign policy has been for the most part indirect, since society usually experiences new additions to scientific knowledge in the form of the technical applications of that knowledge. This is not the case, however, with respect to man’s general expectations about the course of human events. Here, new knowledge about man and the universe has led directly to a reorientation of such expectations.

The belief of seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century European statesmen in the balance of power as the natural order of state relations reflected in part their appreciation of the picture of measured order and equilibrium that science then presented of the physical world. Similarly, European and American policies at the turn of the nineteenth century were conditioned by a set of expectations about the “natural” struggle of states and the “inevitability” of the victory of the stronger over the weaker that had been stimulated by Charles Darwin’s theories about the evolutionary process.

As in the case of state goals, the general means available to states for securing their purposes have remained the same (persuasion, bargaining, and coercion), but the techniques through which states may employ these means have been greatly altered by recent technology. The development of more rapid and more reliable means of transportation and communication has transformed the conduct of diplomacy. The increased speed of communication between states permits choices to be made on the basis of more recent information about the actions and interests of others. The Anglo-American War of 1812 would probably never have occurred if an Atlantic cable had been available to inform Washington that the British were planning to repeal their orders-in-council. The handicaps that the slow transportation of the period imposed on negotiations are exemplified in the odyssey of President Madison’s peace commissioners; they left Washington in April 1813, hoping to meet the British in St. Petersburg, but did not catch up with them until August 1814, at Ghent. Today, the words of governments can be spread almost instantaneously around the world, and their agents are only hours away from the most distant foreign capitals. Central governments can also now exercise far greater control over the actions of their ambassadors and military commanders abroad. The initiative and independence that formerly could sometimes be displayed by a distant ambassador (as in the case of the contribution of Britain’s Stratford Canning in Istanbul to the coming of the Crimean War) have now been displaced, potentially at least, by the kind of detailed and continuous command and control that President Kennedy exercised over his representatives in the field during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. [See Diplomacy.]

These changes have significantly increased the pace and coherence of international relations, but they have had no effect on the propensity of those relations to turn to violence. The more rapid communication of words and transport of negotiators provide in themselves no promise that conflicts between states will be either less frequent in occurrence or more easily resolved. There is no guarantee that a conversation over the “hot line” will prove any more effective in preventing war than was the 1914 “Willy-Nicky” correspondence over the telegraph, and as in the case of the 1960 summit conference, the jet plane can bring the major figures of the world quickly together for a dialogue that will only drive them further apart. Similarly, while governments can now exercise greater control over their men and machines in the field, they may not always choose to exercise that control, or the men in the field may not heed it (American policy in the Korean War provided some examples); and there are, in any event, no grounds for expecting, just because policy is more coordinated, that it will for that reason be either more belligerent or more pacific.

In assaying the impact of advanced communication and transportation technologies on the conduct of foreign policy, it is important to note that what technology has given with one hand, by increasing the speed of communication and transportation, it has taken with the other, by decreasing the time available for decision. Not even the telegraph was able to offset the pressures placed upon diplomats in 1914 by the mobilization tables of the general staffs, whose own time pressures were the result of the contribution that the railroad had made to the speed with which armies could be assembled and deployed on enemy frontiers. Indeed, it would be a fair hypothesis that successive increases in the volume and speed of action-forcing agents (messages, visits, events) have so accelerated the pace of international relations that, despite increases in the number of people engaged in the conduct of international relations, policy makers have been not only deciding more but thinking less.

The same double-edged effect can also be seen in the result of advances in technology for military command and control. Today’s technology permits strategic choices to be made on the basis of more complete and more rapidly processed information and to be executed with greater precision than in the past, but contemporary military technology has also increased the complexity of strategic problems and made strategic choices far more irreversible in their consequence. As a result, it is doubtful whether contemporary strategic nuclear forces—with their radar, teletypewriters, electronic locks, and computers—are any more “manageable” as instruments of policy, in a meaningful political sense, than were the armies and navies of World War i, with the telegraph and radio, or the armed forces of Napoleon, with the horse and semaphore.

Since the conduct of international relations is ever oriented toward the prospect of war, the relationship between technology and foreign policy is nowhere more evident than in the consequences of changes in the means available to states for coercion. Developments in the means of warfare have affected all the elements in the international political process previously discussed. Note has already been taken of the changes in the structure of the state system that resulted from the near synonymity of great military power and great industrial power. Similarly, the development of governmental structures capable of controlling every sphere of human activity, and the conduct of diplomacy for its impact on domestic as well as foreign audiences, have reflected the state’s need for mass armies and the military importance of the civilian labor force. And nowhere has the reciprocal relation between ends and means been better demonstrated than by the advent of twentieth-century total war. As improvements in technology increased the number and the destructive scope of weapons of war, thereby increasing the costs in treasure and blood entailed in their production and use, compensation was sought through enlarging the purposes of war, and this, in turn, served to stimulate the belligerents to still greater destructive efforts.

The destruction that attended the last two world wars has also left its mark on some of the general expectations about Western civilization, most notably that concerning its inevitable progress. The development of ever more destructive weapons has been accompanied by the disappearance of the few limitations (such as the discrimination between civilians and soldiers) that were formerly thought desirable or at least expedient during the exercise of violence in the name of state policy. The very value structure of science and technology, by emphasizing a pragmatic rather than an absolutist approach to problems, may have contributed to the dominance of military expediency over previously accepted humanitarian norms. At all events, the increasing destructiveness of weapons, coupled with the expectation that future warfare will be governed by the rule of “anything goes,” has served to call into question one of the fundamental premises of Western culture: the belief that advances in science and technology will result in man’s ultimate benefit.

One of the most striking demonstrations of the effect of changes in military technology on international relations has been that afforded by the development of nuclear weapons. Like the railroad and the steamship before them, nuclear weapons have revolutionized the character of war and the power relationships among states. The new weapons have widened the disparity between large and medium powers, increased the influence of scientific and military elites (and hence their policy perspectives) in state structures, and elevated new goals, such as deterrence and arms control, into the higher ranks of state purposes. The destructive character of nuclear weapons has also led to a dramatic change in expectations about the suitability of general war as an instrument of foreign policy. Thus, their unwillingness to contemplate the certainty of nuclear war compelled the Soviets to revise their theories about the inevitability of war with the United States. Similarly, the dominant expectation in Western capitals has been that, since there are no purposes states could achieve by a nuclear war that would be worth the lives that would be lost in its fighting, nuclear weapons will have the effect of making highly unlikely an all-out war between states which possess them.

Whether such a revolutionary consequence for the conduct of foreign policy can be ascribed to the development of nuclear weapons seems at best problematical. Certainly, nuclear weapons have made war against a well-prepared opponent seem irrational. Nevertheless, the expectation that war between nuclear powers will be prevented by their recognition of the costs involved is open to serious question. To begin with, as many students of military policy have pointed out, deterrence is neither technically simple nor politically automatic. All aside from the possibility of irrational acts, there will be many opportunities for statesmen to conclude—accurately or inaccurately—that the capabilities of their opponent make the costs of war bearable or that the intentions of their opponent make the costs of war unavoidable. Even more to the point, the argument that the loss of life which would attend a nuclear war makes such wars unlikely ignores the fact that the objects for which statesmen contend are rarely weighed in human lives. There are few instances in history of statesmen deciding to go to war after having made a deliberate calculation that their objects would be worth the loss of x lives (but not x + n lives). More frequently, the decisions that have led to war have taken the form of statesmen calculating only that their objects were worth the risk of war.

For these reasons, the consequences of nuclear weapons for the conduct of foreign policy may not prove as revolutionary as many believe. The level of destruction that would attend a nuclear war becomes less relevant if the critical choices should be made through reference to relative, rather than absolute, costs (better World War in now than later). The absolute level of destruction is also less relevant if the choice involved is only to risk the costs of war, not to incur them. The diplomacy of nuclear powers since World War n would indicate that, while they have been unwilling to incur the costs of nuclear war, they have been neither willing (nor seen themselves able) to forgo policies which entail the risk of such costs. Yet, as the diplomacy that preceded World War i and World War n amply illustrates, a political process in which states are willing to risk the costs of war can share many of the features, and conceivably the results, of a process where states are willing to incur the costs of war. [See Nuclear war.]

Characteristics and trends

The preceding survey has shown how technological developments of the past three centuries have effected significant changes in every element in the international political process (actors, ends, expectations, means, and system). Attention can now be directed to some of the general characteristics of and trends in the relationship between technology and international relations.

Characteristics .(1) The political changes effected by technology have normally been the result of multiple, rather than single, technological developments. The European colonization of the world was dependent upon the development of the clock, the compass, and gunpowder, as well as improvements in the design of sailing ships. Similarly, the British decision in 1912 that their navy could no longer conduct a close blockade of enemy ports cannot be traced to any single naval innovation. This decision (which led the British to develop procedures for the kind of distant blockade that subsequently strained their relations with neutrals such as the United States during World War i) was the end product of a number of technical developments, most notably steam propulsion, more powerful ordnance, mines, torpedoes, and submarines. The recognition that the effects of technology are best appreciated through reference to some grouping of interrelated individual developments is reflected in the contemporary use of the term “weapons system.” The dominant weapons system responsible for the current Soviet-American balance of terror is actually the product of the interaction of three different major technologies: those relating to missiles, electronics, and nuclear energy.

(2) The major political changes associated with technological developments have been the result of a multiplicity of nontechnical, as well as technical, factors. The disappearance of the limitations that characterized European warfare in the eighteenth century can be only partially explained by the technical changes that produced better roads, increased metal production, and improved the efficiency of firearms and artillery. Reference must also be made to critical changes in foreign policy (the displacement of territorial and commercial objectives by the ideological issues of the American and French revolutions); changes in military doctrine (organizational innovations making feasible the direction of larger armies and the development of more aggressive and more sustained campaign tactics); and even changes in the general cultural ethos (a lessened belief in the sinful nature of man, with the consequent loosening of inhibitions against weapons development, and a shift from an interest in production for artistic value to a concern for low-cost quantity production). The complex of technical and nontechnical variables can also be seen in the reasons for the breakup of the European colonial empires after World War n and the consequent doubling of the number of states on the planet. The explanation is to be found partly in technical developments (the global diffusion of European weapons technology, and the contribution of mass communications technology to the growth of a sense of identity among colonial peoples) and partly in political developments (the diffusion of European ideas about nationalism, and the contribution of new theories about racial equality to the weakening of the European determination to maintain colonial rule).

(3) The political problems and opportunities resulting from technological change have been unequally distributed among states, both temporarily and permanently. The American experience with nuclear weapons provides a recent example. The advantages of a short-lived monopoly have been followed by a revolutionary decline in the military security of the United States. Unlike Germany in the first half of this century, the Soviet Union does not have to conquer the Old World before it can command the resources necessary to strike a mortal blow at the American continent. The destructiveness, range, and cheapness of nuclear weapon systems have stripped the United States of her earlier cushion provided by allies, time, and space and have largely canceled out the industrial superiority that meant defeat for her enemies in the last two world wars. The asymmetrical effects of technological change are also evident in the results of the global diffusion, since the end of World War n, of public health techniques innovated in Europe and North America. The application of these techniques in Asia and Latin America reduced death rates in those areas, in a period of a decade, to levels which the Europeans had required centuries to reach. But as a result of their continued high birth rates, the Asians and Latin Americans, unlike the Europeans, must begin their efforts to industrialize under the handicap of an unparalleled expansion in population.

(4) The political consequences of technological change have been largely unanticipated. To begin with, most of the technological developments themselves have come as surprises. A study, sponsored by the United States government in 1937, which endeavored to forecast developments for the next decade failed to anticipate, among other items, atomic energy, jet propulsion, radar, and antibiotics. Even when the general effects of technological developments have been clear, an analysis of their political consequences has not always been forthcoming. As of this writing, the population explosion noted above, one of the major transformations in the world today, has been discussed for over a decade, but its foreign-policy consequences have yet to be delineated beyond the simple Malthusian prophecies of war, plague, and famine. And finally, when efforts have been made to predict the foreign-policy consequences of new technologies, the score has not been impressive. History is full of confident predictions that this or that development (the hot-air balloon, dynamite) would make war irrational. Similarly, many observers have expected that the advances in transportation and communication technology during the past century would increase international ties and identifications and result in larger states, regional groupings, or even one world. Actually, as a result of the political innovations with which governments met these technical developments (e.g., more effective trade and passport controls, censorship, and more intensive means of political socialization), the world has become, not more “international” since the nineteenth century, but less. History’s largest contiguous empire remains that conquered by the Mongols on horseback, and while steam did help to enlarge the European empires created by sail, the main effect of the last century’s advances in transportation and communication has been, not to produce larger polities, but to increase the cohesion of existing polities.

Trends .(1) Science now precedes technology. Both the neolithic revolution (the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture) and the industrial revolution took place independently of advances in man’s scientific knowledge. Steam engines were built long before their basic laws were formulated. This relationship began to change with the advent of the chemical and electrical industries, and since this century began scientific discovery has increasingly become a necessary preliminary to new technology. Thus, the development of the atomic bomb was dependent on basic research in nuclear physics; and by the end of this century the further development of technology may be almost completely based upon advances in scientific knowledge.

(2) Scientific knowledge and technological innovation are increasing at an exponential rate, at least in the scientifically literate and technically advanced states, for the more technologically complex a society becomes, the more easily it can generate and absorb new information and techniques. It is estimated that 90 per cent of all the scientists who ever lived are alive today, and, as crudely measured by the volume of scientific publication, scientific knowledge is doubling every ten to fifteen years. The change in the rate of technological innovation is equally impressive. In the first three hundred years after the invention of firearms, the improvement in the original product was so slow that Benjamin Franklin gave serious consideration to arming the Continental Army with bows and arrows. In contrast, only ninety years passed between the first successful steamship and the disappearance of sails from warships, and fifteen years after the first flight of Orville Wright there were 2,600 planes and 300,000 men in the Royal Air Force.

(3) Both the costs of acquiring new scientific knowledge and the costs of product innovation appear to be increasing. One reason American university research budgets have become so dependent on the government for funds is that no other source is rich enough to meet the rising costs of research. The situation in some fields of nuclear physics has been characterized by one scientist’s observation that it costs a million dollars just to ask a question. Similarly, the production of a fighter plane required 17,000 engineering hours in 1940, but 1.4 million hours were required by 1955. Finally, as a result of the disappearance of high-grade ores, even the production of basic materials, such as iron, copper, and bauxite, now requires increasing amounts of technical equipment and energy. As a result of these developments, the scientific and technological distance between powers has been steadily widening. At present the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, and the rest of the world each has one-fourth of the world’s supply of scientists and engineers. Even the most technically advanced of the European states are no longer able to compete, on an individual basis, with the United States and the Soviet Union in such technologically intensive fields as nuclear weapons, advanced aircraft, space, and missiles, and the nations which make up the rest of the world are hopelessly outclassed. In 1953, for example, the United States Atomic Energy Commission used six times as much electricity as India produced that year. The point to these developments would seem to be that in the future, not only will the Great Powers alone be able to have great technology but, unless the smaller states pool their efforts, only the Great Powers will have great science.

(4) Scientific research has become increasingly subject to government control and direction. Governments have long sought to foster and exploit technological developments for political, especially military, purposes. (Bessemer began work on his process in order to win a prize that Napoleon in had offered for a cheaper means of producing armor plate, and the governments of several European states took an active part in the construction and location of railroads in order to facilitate the deployment of troops at key frontiers.) But until the advent of the cold war the process of scientific discovery was largely unplanned and random, as far as government choices were concerned. By the end of the seventeenth century, science had developed into an international and essentially autonomous social institution; during the great ideological conflicts of the early nineteenth century, scientists and their ideas were allowed to pass as freely across political frontiers in time of war as they did in time of peace. Although governments made a primitive effort to put scientists to work on military problems during World War i (the key role of Fritz Haber and other German chemists in the development of poison gas was a harbinger of the part physicists were to play in the development of the atom bomb), it was not until World War n that governments brought the resources of their scientists and engineers fully to bear on the problems of war. The results of this effort (radar, the proximity fuse, the V-2, and the atom bomb) were such as to guarantee that its value would not be forgotten with the war’s end.

What has transformed the relationship between science and government has been the previously noted point that the development of technology has become increasingly dependent upon advances in scientific knowledge about the physical world. This trend is especially critical for the United States and the Soviet Union. As these powers throw one weapons systems after another into the effort to maintain at least a balance of terror, neither dares fall behind in either the discovery of new physical relationships or the application of scientific knowledge to military hardware and political-military strategy. It is indicative of the new relationship between science and war that figures and graphs comparing the major powers in number of scientists and engineers have become as familiar as those in the 1930s which compared their output of coal, oil, and steel. Nor is it only in the military field that science has become vital to the course of foreign policy. Science has been harnessed to the advancement of foreign-policy goals in such diverse fields as the exploration of space and oceans, birth and disease control, weather modification, and global communications. [See Science, article on science-Government Relations


It is a safe prediction that the foreign-policy problems and opportunities of states will continue to be influenced by technological change. Even after the current exponential rates of discovery and invention begin to level off, the pace of discovery and invention will still be far in excess of what man has experienced throughout most of the twentieth century. Moreover, mankind appears to be entering upon an era of technological development commensurate in cultural importance to that of the industrial revolution. Just as the industrial revolution was based on the substitution of inanimate energy for the deficiencies of the human muscular system, so now automation and computers have begun to substitute for the deficiencies of man’s brain and central nervous system. In fact, this second development may prove even more revolutionary for man’s culture than the first. Man also stands on the threshold of major discoveries in human biology and chemistry. Indeed, the foreign-policy problems posed by nuclear weapons could seem simple compared with those which might result from breakthroughs in the understanding and control of memory, learning, and heredity (the alarm that a state might experience on the discovery of a “gene gap” could easily match the alarm felt by the United States during the “missile gap” scare of the late 1950s). When to these prospects one adds such possibilities as the use of new energy sources and climate control, it would seem evident that the future changes in international relations associated with scientific and technological developments will prove at least as consequential as those of the past.

It is much less certain whether man will be able to improve on his past performance in anticipating and controlling the political consequences of technological change. To date, science and technology have been liberating forces in Western culture. They have served to dispel ignorance and superstition and have given man a sense of control over nature and his destiny. But with the multiplication of knowledge and the increased specialization of disciplines, individuals are becoming ever more ignorant of the workings of the world about them, outside their area of information. Unless this development is balanced by an increased sense of governmental or social control over the course of technology, it could lead to a mounting sense of impotence on the part of technical-urban man. He could begin to display the same kind of fatalism and apathy toward the mysteries of his technical environment that peasant-village man displays toward the mysteries of his natural environment. Should the development of science and technology lead to a perspective of this order, it would mark the final collapse of the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century ideal of a rational society where man’s material environment, no less than his social and political environment, is susceptible to human understanding and control.

In view of the difficulties that attend the problem of prediction, it might seem rash to expect that future discoveries and inventions and their foreign-policy consequences will be better anticipated than has been the case in the past. Nevertheless, the four trends discussed above do provide some grounds for such an expectation. Previous attempts to forecast the development and consequence of technology have been sporadic, informal, and mainly the work of interested but not always appropriately skilled individuals. In the future, as the governments of the major powers play an increasing role in the material support of research and development programs, the mounting costs, together with the multiplication of the possible avenues of inquiry, insure that these governments will become increasingly involved in determining the content and priorities of such programs. The existence of continuous and self-conscious planning efforts of this order, on the part of skilled and concerned government consultants and officials, should have the effect of significantly reducing the degree of “technical surprise” that will attend the results of national research and development programs.

The same trends also point toward a more determined effort by governments to predict the political consequences of their research and development programs. As the opportunities for further research and development in each of a thousand different fields mushroom with the acceleration of scientific knowledge, whatever the government decides to support, it will be deciding not to support many more. In consequence, both the government’s own interests and the interests of the proponents and opponents of particular programs will combine to place governments under increasing pressure to predict and justify in advance the policy consequences of their choices.

The mere fact that governments will be under pressure to make predictions provides, of course, no guarantee of their accuracy. Still, as with the effort to predict the future course of technology, there is some reason to believe that more determined efforts to predict the consequences of that technology will lead to some improvement over past performance. One reason for the succession of “political surprises” experienced over recent centuries is that predictions have too often taken as their point of departure the alleged identification of a single new “key” discovery or invention. What is clearly needed instead are predictive efforts which take as their point of departure the identification of potential new technological systems. This approach is already employed in the analysis of military research and development options, and there seems no reason why it cannot be extended to other technological fields. [See Economics OF DEFENSE.]

An equally important requirement for more accurate prediction is the necessity to take account of the manner in which political purposes and institutions may shape the consequences of technological change. Man has never been the passive tool of his technology, Important as the scientific discoveries and technical inventions of the past several centuries have been, the history of those years could hardly be written without reference to man’s political theories and innovations: nationalism, the Protestant ethic, the balance of power, democratic government, bureaucracy, collective security, or socialism. Consider the current relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Missiles, electronics, and nuclear weapons have produced a revolutionary change in the two countries’ military technology, but the policies which have guided the development and deployment of that technology have been the product of such factors as the “lessons of the 1930s,” on one side, and Lenin’s reading of nineteenth-century history, on the other.

There is, in short, an “endless frontier” to politics as well as to science, and man’s fate will be determined as much by his adventures along the one as along the other. Indeed, the more complex man’s technology becomes, the more permissive are its effects on man’s action and the more the consequences of technology turn on his political choices. In technologically primitive societies, man’s values and social structures are highly conditioned by the nature of his technology. But just as man first used technology to overcome the limitations of his natural environment, so now, in technologically complex societies, man can turn science and technology to the task of overcoming limitations in his technical environment. Increasingly, man’s values determine his technology; he can do what he wants.

The result of this development is that in the future, even more than in the past, the task of understanding, predicting, and controlling the impact of scientific and technological developments on international relations will turn not so much on an analysis of the technological possibilities as on an analysis of men’s theories about the international political process and their conceptions about the roles that their own and other states should and will play in that process.

Warner R. Schilling

[Directly related are the entries Communication, Political; Disarmament; Foreign Policy; Geography, article on political Geography; International Politics; Military Power Potential; Nuclear War; Strategy. See also International Relations; War; and the biographies of Douhet; Mahan; Richardson


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A statistical analysis of his extant writings suggests that technology was the most important of Leonardo’s varied intervals. Indeed, it is revealing to compare the volume of his technological writings with that of his purely artistic work. Of his paintings, fewer than ten are unanimously authenticated by art scholars. This evident disinclination to paint, which even his contemporaries remarked upon, contrasts strongly with the incredible toil and patience that Leonardo lavished upon scientific and technical studies, particularly in geometry, mechanics, and engineering.

Documentary evidence indicates that in his appointments Leonardo was always referred to not only as an artist but also as as engineer. At the court of Ludovico il Moro he was“Ingeniarius et pinctor,” while Cesare Borgia called him his most beloved “Architecto et Engegnero Generale”(1502). when Leonardo returned to Florence, he was immediately consulted as military engineer and sent officailly “a livellare Arno in quello di pisa e levello del letto suo”(1503)1. In 1504 he was in Piombino, in the service of Jacopo IV d’ Appiano, working on the improvement of that little city-state’s fortifications.2 For Louis XII he was“notre chier et bein aime Leonard de Vnci, notre paintre et ingenieur ordinaire” (1507).3 When in Rome, form 1513 to 1516, his duties clearly included technical work, as documented by drafts of letters to his patron Giuliano de’ Medici, found in the Codex Atlanticus. Even his official burial document refers to him as“Lionard de Vincy, noble millanois, premier peincutr et ingenieur et architecte du Roy, mescanichien d’Estat …”(1519).4 the surviving notebooks and drawings demonstrate Leonardo’s lifelong interest in the mechanical arts and engineering.

Leonardo’s scientific and technological activities were well known to his early biographers, even if they did not approve of them. Paolo Giovio’s short account on Leonardo’s life (ca.1527) contains a significant phrase:“But while he was thus spending his time in the close research of subordinate branches of his art he carried only very few works to completion.”

Another biographer, the so-called“Anonimo Gaddiano”or“Magliabechiano,”writing around 1540, said that Leonardo“was delightfully inventive, and was most skillful in lifting weights, in building waterworks and other imaginative constructions, nor did his mind ever come to rest, but dwelt always with ingenuity on the creation of new inventions.”

Vasari’s biography of Leonardo, in his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550; 2nd ed., 1568), reflects the widespread sentiments of his contemporaries who were puzzled by the behavior of a man who, unconcerned with the great artistic gifts endowed upon him by Providence, dedicated himself to interesting but less noble occupations.

Vasari’s testimony concerning Leonardo’s widespread technological projects (confirmed by Lomazzo) is important in assessing the influence of Leonardo on the development of Western technology :

He would have made great profit in learning had he not been so capricious and fickle, for he began to learn many things and then gave them up …he was the first, though so young, to propose to canalise the Arno from Pisa to Florence. He made designs for mills, fulling machines, and other engines to go by water … Every day he made models and designs for the removal of mountains with ease and to pierce them to pass from one place to another, and by means of levers, cranes and winches to raise and draw heavy weights; he devised a method for cleansing ports, and to raise water from great depths, schemes which his brain never ceased to evolve. Many designs for these motions are scattered about, and I have seen numbers of them.…His interests were so numerous that his inquiries into natural phenomena led him to study the properties of herbs and to observe the movements of the heavens, the moon’s orbit and the progress of the sun.

(It is characteristic of Leonardo’s contemporary critics that Vasari, giving an account of Leonardo’s last days, represents him as telling Francis I“the circumstances of his sickness, showing how greatly he had offended God and man in not having worked in his art as he ought.”)

Lomazzo, in his Trattato della pittura (Milan, 1584), tells of having seen many of Leonardo’s mechanical projects and praises especially thirty sheets representing a variety of mills, owned by Ambrogio Figino, and the automaton in the form of a lion made for Francis I. In his Idea del tempio della pittura(Milan, 1590), Lomazzo mentions :Leonardo’s books, where all mathematical motions and effects are considered”and of his“projects for lifting heavy weights with ease, which are spread over all Europe. They are held in great esteem by the experts, because they think that nobody could do more, in this field, than what has been done by Leonardo.”Lomazzo also notes“the art of turning oval shapes with a lathe invented by Leonardo,”which was shown by a pupil of Melzi to Dionigi, brother of the Maggiore, who adopted it with great satisfaction.

Leonardo’s actual technological investigations and work still await an exhaustive and objective study. many early writers accepted all the ingenious mechanical contrivances found in the manuscripts as original inventions; their claims suffer from lack of historical perspective, particularly as concerns the work of the engineers who preceded Leonardo. The “inventions”of Leonardo have been celebrated uncritically, while the main obstacle to a properly critical study lies in the very nature of the available evidence, scattered and fragmented over many thousands of pages. Only in very recent times has the need for a chronological perspective been felt and the methods for its adoption elaborated.5 It is precisely the earliest—and for this reason the least original—of Leonardo’s projects for which model makers and general authors have shown a predilection. On the other hand, the preference for these juvenile projects is fully justified: they are among the most beautiful and lovingly elaborated designs of the artist-engineer. The drawings and writings of MS B, the Codex Trividzianus, and the earliest folios of the Codex Atlauticus date from this period (ca. 1478-1490). Similar themes in the almost contemporary manuscripts of Francesco di Giorgio Martini offer ample opportunity to study Leonardo’s early reliance on traditional technological schemes (Francesco di Giorgio himself borrowed heavily from Brunelleschi and especially from Mariano di Jacopo, called Taccola, the“Archimedes of Siena”); the same comparison serves to demonstrate Leonardo’s originality and his search for rational ways of constructing better machines.

While he was still in Florence, Leonardo acquired a diversified range of skills in addition to the various crafts he learned in the workshop of Verrocchio, who was not only a painter but also a sculptor and a goldsmith. Leonardo must therefore have been familiar with bronze casting, and there is also early evidence of his interest in horology. His famous letter to Ludovico it Moro, offering his services, advertises Leonardo’s familiarity with technique of military importance, which, discounting a juvenile self-confidence, must have been based on some real experience.

Leonardo’s true vocation for the technical arts developed in Milan, Italy’s industrial center. The notes that he made during his first Milanese period (from 1481 or 1482 until 1499) indicate that he was in close contact with artisans and engineers engaged in extremely diversified technical activities—with, for example, military and civil architects, hydraulic engineers, millers, masons and other workers in stone, carpenters, textile workers, dyers, iron founders, bronze casters (of bells, statuary, and guns), locksmiths, clockmakers, and jewelers. At the same time that he was assimilating all available traditional experience, Leonardo was able to draw upon the fertile imagination and innate technological vision that, combined with his unparalleled artistic genius in the graphic rendering of the most complicated mechanical devices, allowed him to make improvements and innovations.

From about 1492 on (as shown in MS A; Codex Forster; Codex Madrid, I; MS H, and a great number of pages of the Codex Atlanticus), Leonardo became increasingly involved in the study of the theoretical background of engineering practice. At about that time he wrote a treatise on“elementi macchinali” that he returned to in later writings, citing it by book and paragraph. This treatise is lost, but many passages in the Atlanticus and Arundel codices may be drafts for it. Codex Madrid, I (1492-1497), takes up these matters in two main sections, one dealing with matters that today would be called statics and kinematics and another dedicated to applied mechanics, especially mechanisms.

Our knowledge of the technical arts of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries is scarce and fragmentary. Engineers were reluctant to write about their experience; if they did, they chose to treat fantastic possibilities rather than truce practices of their time. The books of Biringuccio, Agricola, and, in part, Zonca are among the very few exceptions, although they deal with specialized technological fields. The notes and drawings of Leonardo should therefore be studied not only to discover his inventions and priorities, as has largely been done in the past, but also—and especially—for the insight they give into the state of the technical arts of his time. Leonardo took note of all the interesting mechanical contrivances he saw or heard about from fellow artists, scholars, artisans, and travelers. Speaking of his own solutions and improvements, he often referred to the customary practices. Thus his manuscripts and books of machines by authors of the periods both preceding and following Leonardo, projects for complete machines are presented, without any discussion of their construction and efficiency.6 The only exception previous to the eighteenth-century authors Sturm, Leupold, and Belidor is represented by the work of Simon Stevin, around 1600.

As far as the evidence just mentioned shows, the mechanical engineering of times past was limited by factors of two sorts: various inadequacies in the actual construction of machines produced excessive friction and wear, and there was insufficient understanding of the possibilities inherent in any mechanical system. Leonardo’s work deserves our attention as that of the first engineer to try systematically to overcome these shortcomings; most important, he was the first to recognize that each machine was a composition of certain universal mechanisms.

In this, as in several other respects, Leonardo anticipated Leupold, to whom, according to Reuleaux, the foundations of the science of mechanisms is generally attributed.7 Indeed, of Reuleaux’s own list of the constructive elements of machines (screws, keys or wedges, rivets, bearings, plummer blocks, pins, shafts, couplings, belts, cord and chain drives, friction wheels, gears, flywheels, levers, cranks, connecting rods, ratchet wheels, brakes, pipes, cylinders, pistons, valves, and springs), only the rivets are missing from Leonardo’s inventories.

In Leonardo’s time and even much later, engineers were convinced that the work done by a given prime mover, be it a waterwheel or the muscles of men or animals, could be indefinitely increased by means of suitable mechanical apparatuses. Such a belief led fatally to the idea of perpetual motion machines, on whose development an immense amount of effort was wasted, from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. Since the possibility of constructing a perpetual motion machine could not, until very recent times, be dismissed by scientific arguments, men of science of the first order accepted or rejected the underlying idea by intuition rather than by knowledge.

Leonardo followed the contemporary trend, and his earliest writings contain a fair number of perpetual motion schemes. But he gave up the idea around 1492, when he stated“It is impossible that deal [still] water may be the cause of its own or of some other body’s motion”(MS A, fol. 43r), a statement that he later extended to all kinds of mechanical movements. By 1494 Leonardo could say that

… in whatever system where the weight attached to the wheel should be the cause of the motion of the wheel, without any doubt the center of the gravity of the weight will stop beneath the center of its axle. No instrument devised by human ingenuity, which turns with its wheel, can remedy this effect. Oh! speculators about perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you created in the like quest. Go and take your place with the seekers after gold! [Codex Forster, II2, fol. 92v].

Many similar statements can be found in the manuscripts, and it is worth noting that Leonardo’s argument against perpetual motion machines is the same that was later put forth by Huygens and Parent.

Another belief common among Renaissance engineers was that flywheels (called “rote aumentative”) and similar energy-storing and equalizing devices are endowed with the virtue of increasing the power of a mechanical system. Leonardo knew that such devices could be useful, but he also knew that their incorporation into a machine caused an increase in the demand of power instead of reducing it (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 207v-b; Codex Madrid, I, fol. 124r)..

A practical consequence of this line of thought was Leonardo’s recognition that machines do not perform work but only modify the manner of its application. The first clear formulation of this was given by Galileo,8 but the same principle permeates all of Leonardo’s pertinent investigations. He knew that mechanical advantage does not go beyond the given power available, from which the losses caused by friction must be deducted, and he formulated the basic concepts of what are known today as work and power. Leonardo’s variables for these include force, time, distance, and weight (Codex Forster, II2, fol. 78v; Codex Madrid, I, fol.152r). One of the best examples is folio 35r of Codex Madrid, I, where Leonardo compares the performance of two lifting systems; the first is a simple windlass moved by a crank, capable of lifting 5,000 pounds; the second is also moved by a crank, but a worm gear confers upon it a higher mechanical advantage, raising its lifting capacity to 50,000 pounds. Leonardo affirms that operators of both machines, applying twenty-five pounds of force and cranking with the same speed, will have the load of 50,000 pounds raised to the same height at the end of one hour. The first instrument will raise its load in ten journeys, while the second will lift it all at once. The end result, however, will be the same.

In the same codex Leonardo established rules of general validity:“Among the infinite varieties of instruments which can be made for lifting weights, all will have the same power if the motions [distances] and the acting and patient weights are equal”(Codex Madrid, I, fol. 175r). Accordingly,“It is impossible to increase the power of instruments used for weightlifting, if the quantity of force and motion is given” (ibid., fol. 175v).

That Leonardo had an intuitive grasp of the principle of the conservation of a energy is shown in many notes dispersed throughout the manuscripts. He tried to measure the different kinds of energy known to him (muscle power, springs, running and falling water, wind, and so forth) in terms of gravity—that is, using dynamometers counterbalanced by weights, anticipating Borelli and Smeaton. He even tried to investigate the energetic equivalent of gunpowder, weighing the propellant and the missile and measuring the range. The missile was then shot from a crossbow spanned with a given weight, which was then correlated with the quantity of gunpowder used in the first experiment (ibid., fol. 60r).

Leonardo was aware that the main impediment to all mechanical motions was friction. He clearly recognized the importance of frictional resistance not only between solid bodies but also in liquids and gases. In order to evaluate the role of friction in mechanical motions, he devised ingenious experimental equipment, which included friction banks identical to those used by Coulomb 300 years later. From his experiments Leonardo derived several still-valid general principles—that frictional resistance differs according to the nature of the surfaces in contact, that it depends on the degree of smoothness of those surfaces, that it is independent of the area of the surfaces in contact, that it increases in direct proportion to the load, and that it can be reduced by interposing rolling elements or lubricating fluids between the surfaces in contact. He introduced the concept of the coefficient of friction and estimated that for “polished and smooth”surfaces the ratio F/P was 0.25, or one-fourth of the weight. This value is reasonably accurate for hardwood on hardwood, bronze on steel, and for other materials with which Leonardo was acquainted9.”

Leonardo’s main concern, however, was rolling friction. Realizing that lubrication alone could not prevent rapid wear of an axle and its bearing, Leonardo suggested the use of bearing blocks with split, adjustable bushings of antifriction metal (“three parts

of copper and seven of tin melted together”). He was also the first to suggest true ball and roller bearings, developing ring-shaped races to eliminate the loss due to contact friction of the individual balls in a bearing. Leonardo’s thrust bearings with conical pivots turning on cones, rollers, or balls (ibid., fol. 101v) are particularly interesting. He also worked persistently to produce gearings designed to overcome frictional resistance. Even when they are not accompanied by geometrical elaborations, some of his gears are unmistakably cycloidal. Leonardo further introduced various new gear forms, among them trapezoidal, helical, and conical bevel gears; of particular note is his globoidal gear, of which several variants are found in the Codex Atlanticus and Codex Madrid, I, one of them being a worth gear shaped to match the curve of the toothed wheel it drives, thus overcoming the risk inherent in an endless screw that engages only a single gear tooth (ibid., fols. 17v-18v). This device was rediscovered by Henry Hindley around 1740.

Leonardo’s development of complicated gear systems was not motivated by any vain hope of obtaining limitless mechanical advantages. He warned the makers of machines:

The more wheels you will have in your instrument, the more toothing you will need, and the more teeth, the greater will be the friction of the wheels with the spindles of their pinions. And the greater the friction, the more power is lost by the motor and, consequently, force is lacking for the orderly motion of the entire system [Codex Atlanticus, fol. 207v-b].

Leonardo’s contribution to practical kinematics is documented by the devices sketched and described in his notebooks. Since the conversion of rotary to alternating motion (or vice versa) was best performed with the help of the crank and rod combinations, Leonardo sketched hundreds of them to illustrate the kinematics of such composite machines as sawmills, pumps, spinning wheels, grinding machines, and blowers. In addition he drew scores of ingenious combinations of gears, linkages, cams, and ratchets, designed to transmit and modify mechanical movements. He used the pendulum as an energy accumulator in working machines as well as an escapement in clockwork (Codex Madrid, I, fol. 61v).

Although simple cord drives had been known since the Middle Ages, Leonardo’s belt techniques, including tightening devices, must be considered as original. His manuscripts describe both hinged link chains and continuous chain drives with sprocket wheels (ibid., fol. 10r; Codex Atlanticus, fol. 357r-a).

Leonardo’s notes about the most efficient use of prime movers deserve special attention. His particular interest in attaining the maximum efficiency of muscle power is understandable, since muscle power represented the only motor that might be used in a flying machine, a project that aroused his ambition as early as 1487 and one in which he remained interested until the end of his life. Since muscles were also the most common source of power, it was further important to establish the most effective ways to use them in performing work.

Leonardo estimated the force exerted by a man turning a crank as twenty-five pounds. (Philippe de La Hire found it to be twenty-seven pounds, while Guillaume Amontons, in similar experiments, confirmed Leonardo’s figure; in 1782 Claude Francois Berthelot wrote that men cannot produce a continuous effort of more than twenty pounds, even if some authors admitted twenty-four.)10 Such a return seemed highly unsatisfactory. Leonardo tried to find more suitable mechanical arrangements, the most remarkable of which employ the weight of men or animals instead of muscle power. For activating pile drivers (Codex Leicester, fol. 28v [ca. 1505]) or excavation machines (Codex Atlanticus, fols. 1v-b, 331v-a), Leonardo used the weight of men, who by running up ladders and returning on a descending platform, would raise the rant or monkey. Leonardo used the same system for lifting heavier loads with cranes, the counterweight being “one ox and one man”; lifting capacity was further increased by applying a differential windlass to the arm of the crane (ibid., fol. 363v-b [ca. 1495])..

Until the advent of the steam engine the most popular portable prime mover was the treadmill, known since antiquity. Leonardo found the conventional type, in which men walk inside the drum, in the manner of a squirrel cage, to be inherently less efficient than one employing the weight of the men on the outside of the drum. While he did not invent the external treadmill, he was the first to use it rationally—the next scholar to analyze the efficiency of the treadmill mathematically was Simon Stevin (1586).

Leonardo also had very clear ideas about the advantages and the limitations of waterpower. He rejected popular hydraulic perpetual motion schemes, “schemes, “Falling water will raise as much more weight than its own as is the weight equivalent to its percussion... But you have to deduce from the power of the instrument what is lost by friction in its bearings” (ibid., fol. 151r-a). Since the weight of the percussion, according to Leonardo, is proportional to height, and therefore to gravitational acceleration (“among natural forces, percussion surpasses all others… because at every stage of the descent it acquires more momentum”), this represents the first, if imperfect, statement of the basic definition of the energy potential Ep = mgh.

Leonardo describes hydraulic wheels on many pages of his notebooks and drawings, either separately or as part of technological operations. He continually sought improvements for systems currently in use. He evaluated all varieties of prime movers, vertical as well as horizontal, and improved on the traditional Lombard mills by modifying the wheels and their races and introducing an adjustable wheel-raising devices (MS H; Codex Atlanticus, fols. 304r-b, v-d [ca. 1494]).

In 1718 L. C. Sturm described a“new kind”of mill constructed in the Mark of Brandenburg,“where a lot of fuss was made about them, although they were not as new as most people in those parts let themselves be persuaded ….“They were, in fact, identical to those designed by Leonardo for the country estate of Ludovico it Moro near Vigevano around 1494.

It is noteworthy that in his mature technological projects Leonardo returned to horizontal waterwheels for moving heavy machinery (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 2r-a and b [ca. 1510]), confirming once more the high power output of such prime movers. His papers provide forerunners of the reaction turbine (Codex Forster,I2 and the Pelton wheel (Codex Madrid, I, fol. 22v); drawings of completely encased waterwheels appear on several folios of the, Codex Atlanticus.

There is little about wind power in Leonardo’s writings, probably because meteorological conditions limited its practical use in Italy. Although it is erroneous to attribute the invention of the tower mill to Leonardo (as has been done), the pertinent sketches are significant because they show for the first time a brake wheel Mounted on the wind shaft (MS L, fol. 34v). (The arrangement reappears, as do many other ideas of Leonardo’s, in Ranelli’s book of 1588 [plate exxxiii].) Windmills with rotors turning on a vertical shaft provided with shield walls are elaborated on folios 43v, 44r, 74v, 75r, and 55v of Codex Madrid, II; and there can be no doubt that Leonardo became acquainted with them through friends who had seen them in the East.

In contrast with Leonardo’s scant interest in wind power, he paid constant attention to heat and fire as possible sources of energy. His experiments with steam are found on folios 10r and 15r of the Codex Leicester. His approximate estimation of the volume of steam evolved through the evaporation of a given quantity of water suggests a ratio 1:1,500, the correct figure being about 1:1,700. Besson in 1569 still believed that the proportion was 1:10, a ratio raised to 1:255 in the famous experiments of Jean Rey; it was not until 1683 that a better estimate—1:2,000— was made by Samuel Morland. Leonardo’s best-known contribution to the utilization of steam power was his “Architronito” (MS B, fol. 33r), a steam cannon. The idea is not as impractical as generally assumed, since steam cannons were used in the American Civil War and even in World War II (Holman projectors). It was Leonardo, and not Branca (1629), who described the first impulse turbine moved by a jet of steam (Codex Leicester, fol. 28v).

One of Leonardo’s most original technological attempts toward a more efficient prime mover is the thermal engine drawn and described on folio 16v of MS F (1508–1509), which anticipates Huygens’ and Papin’s experiments. In 1690 Papin arrived at the idea of the atmospheric steam engine after Huygens’ experiments with a gunpowder engine (1673) failed to give consistent results. Leonardo’s atmospheric thermal motor, conceived“to lift a great weight by means of fire,”like those of Huygens and Papin, consisted of cylinder, piston, and valve, and worked in exactly the same way.11

Leonardo’s studies on the behavior and resistance of materials were the first of their kind. The problem was also attacked by Galileo, but an adequate treatment of the subject had to wait until the eighteenth century. One of Leonardo’s most interesting observations was pointed out by Zammattio and refers to the bending of an elastic beam, or spring. Leonardo recognized clearly that the fibers of the beam are lengthened at the outside of the curvature and shortened at the inside. In the middle, there is an area which is not deformed, which Leonardo called the“linea centrica” (now called the neutral axis). Leonardo suggested that similar conditions obtained in the case of ropes bent around a pulley and in single as well as intertwisted wires (Codex Madrid, I, fols. 84v, 154v.). More than two centuries had to pass before this model of the internal stresses was proposed again by Jakob Bernoulli.

Leonardo’s notebooks also contain the first descriptions of machine tools of some siginificance, including plate rollers for nonferrous metals (MS I, fol. 48v), rollers for bars and strips (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 370v-b; MS G, fol. 70v), rollers for iron staves (Codex Atlanticus, fol.2r-a and b), semiautomatic wood planers (ibid., fol. 38v-b), and a planer for iron (Codex Madrid, I, fol. 84v).His thread-cutting machines (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 367v-a) reveal great ingenuity, and their principle has been adopted for modern use.

Not only did Leonardo describe the first lathe with continuous motion (ibid., fol. 381r-b) but, according to Lomazzo, he must also be credited with the invention of the elliptic lathe, generally attributed to Besson (1569). Leonardo described external and internal grinders (ibid., fols. 7r-b, 291r-a) as well as disk and belt grinding machines (ibid., fols. 320r-b, 380v-b, 318v-a). He devoted a great deal of attention to the development of grinding and polishing wheels for plane and concave mirrors (ibid., fols. 32r-a, 396v-f, 401r-a; Codex Madrid, I, fol. 163v, 164r; MS G, fol. 82v, for examples). Folio 159r-b of the Codex Atlanticus is concerned with shaping sheet metal by stamping (to make chandeliers of two or, better, four parts). The pressure necessary for this operation was obtained by means of a wedge press.

Leonardo’s interest in water mills has already been mentioned. Of his work in applied hydraulics, the improvement of canal locks and sluices (miter gates and wickets) is an outstanding example. He discussed the theory and the practice of an original type of centrifugal pump (MS F, fols. 13r, 16r) and the best ways of constructing and moving Archimedean screws. Some of these methods were based on coiled pipes (MS E, fol. 13v, 14r) like those seen by Cardano at the waterworks of Augsburg in 1541.

Leonardo left plans for a great number of machines which were generally without parallel until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of these are the improved pile drives (Codex Forster,II, fol.73v; MS H, fol. 80v; Codex Leicester, fol. 28v) later described by La Hire (1707) and Belidor (1737), a cylindrical bolter activated by the main drive of a grain mill (Codex Madrid, I, fols. 21v, 22r),and a mechanized wedge press (ibid., 46v, 47r),which in the eighteenth century became known as the Dutch press. Particularly original are Leonardo’s well-known canalbuilding machines, seattered through the Codex Atlanticus—in Parsons’ opinion,“had Leonardo contributed nothing more to engineering than his plans and studies for the Arno canal, they alone would place him in the first rank of engineers for all time.” The knowledge that most of those projects were executed in the Romagna during Leonardo’s service with Cesare Borgia makes little difference.

Leonardo also designed textile machinery. Plans for spinning machines, embodying mechanical principles which did not reappear until the eighteenth century, are found on folio 393v-a of the Codex Atlanticus, as well as in the Codex Madrid, I (fols. 65v, 66r). The group represented in the Codex Atlanticus includes ropemaking machines of advanced design (fol. 2v-a and b), silk doubling and winding machines (fol. 36v-b), gig mills whose principle reappears in the nineteenth century (fols. 38r-a, 161v-b, 297r-a), shearing machines (fols. 397r-a, 397v-a), and even a power loom (fols. 317v-b, 356-a, 356v-a).

Leonardo was also interested in the graphic arts and in 1494 presented details of the contemporary printing press, antedating by more than fifty years the first sensible reproduction of such an instruments. Even earlier (around 1480) he had tried to improve the efficiency of the printing press by making the motion of the carriage a function of the motion of the pressing screw. Leonardo’s most interesting innovation in this field, however, was his invention of a technique of relief etching, permitting the printing of text and illustration in a single operation (Codex Madrid, II, fol. 119r [1504]). The technique was reinvented by William Blake in 1789 and perfected by Gillot around 1850.12

Leonardo’s work on flight and flying machines is too well known to be discussed here in detail. The most positive part of it consists of his studies on the flight of birds, found in several notebooks, among them Codex on Flight… MSS K, E, G, and L; Codex Atlanticus; and Codex Madrid, II, etc. Leonardo’s flying machines embody many interesting mechanical features, although their basic conception as ornithopters makes them impractical. Only later did Leonardo decide to take up gliders, as did Lilienthal 400 years later. Although the idea of the parachute and of the so-called helicopter may antedate Leonardo, he was the first to experiment with true airscrews.

Leonardo’s interest in chemical phenomena (for example, combustion) embraced them as such, or in relation to the practical arts. He made some inspired projects for distillation apparatus, based on the “Moor’s head” condensation system that was universally adopted in the sixteenth century. Descriptions of water-cooled delivery pipes may also be found among his papers, as may a good dexcription of an operation for separating gold from silver (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 244v [ca. 1505]). Some of the most original of the many practical chemical operations that are described in Leonardo’s notebooks are concerned with making decorative objects of imitation agate, chalcedony, jasper, or amber. Leonardo began with proteins—a concentrated solution of gelatin or egg-white—and added pigments and vegetable colors. The material was then shaped by casting in ceramic molds or by extrusion; after drying, the objects were polished and then varnished for stability (MS I, fol. 27v; MS F, fols. 42r, 55v, 73v, 95v; MS K, fols. 114-118). By laminating unsized paper impregnated with the same materials and subsequently drying it, lie obtained plates “so dense as to resemble bronze”; after varnishing, “they will be like glass and resist humidity” (MS F, fol. 96r). Leonardo’s notes thus contain the basic operations of modern plastic technology.13

Of Leonardo’s projects in military engineering and weaponry, those of his early period are more spectacular than practical. Some of them are, however, useful in obtaining firsthand information on contemporary techniques of cannon foundin (Codex Atlanticus, fol. 19r-b) adn also provide an interesting footnote on the survival, several centuries after the introduction of gunpowder, of such ancient devices as crossbows, of gunpowder, of such ancient devices as crossbows, ballistae, and magonels. Leonardo did make some surprisingly modern suggestions; he was a stout advocate (although not the inventor0 of breechloading guns, he designed a water-cooled barrel for a repid-fire gun, and, on several occasions, he proposed ogive-headed projectiles, with or without directional fins. His designs for wheel locks (ibid., fols. 56v-b, 353r-c, 357r-a) antedate by about fifteen years the earliest known similar devices, which were constructed in Nuremberg. His suggestion of prefbricated catridges consisting of ball, charge, and primer, which occurs on folio 9r-b of the Codex Atlanticus, is a vert earkt (ca, 1480) proposal of a system introduced in Saxony around 1590.

Several of Leonardo’s military projects are of importance to the history of mechanical engineering because of such details of construction as the racks used for spanning giant crossbows (ibid., fol. 53r-a and b [ca. 1485]) or the perfectly developed universal joint on a light gun mount (ibid., fol. 399v-a [ca. 1494]).

Leonardo worked as military architect at the court of Ludovico il Moro, although his precise tasks are not documented. His activities during his short stay in the service of Cesare Borgia are, however, better known. His projects for the modernization of the fortresses in the Romagna are very modern in concept, while the maps and city plans executed during this period (especially that of Imola in Windsor Collection, fol. 12284) have been called monuments in the history of cartography.

One of the manuscripts recently brought to light, Codex Madrid, II, reveals an activity of Leonardo’s unknown until 1967-his work on the fortifications of Piombino for Jacopo IV d’Appiano (1504). Leonardo’s technological work is characterized not only by an understanding of the natural laws (lie is, incidentally, the first to have used this term) that govern the functioning of all mechanical devices but also by the requirement of technical and economical efficiency. He was not an armchair technologist, inventing ingenious but unusable machines; his main goal was practical efficiency and economy. He continually sought the best mechanical solution for a given task; a single page of his notes often contains a number of alternative means. Leonardo abhorred waste, be it of time, power, or money. This is why so many double-acting devices-ratchet mechanisms, blowers, and pumps-are found in his writings. This mentality led Leonardo toward more highly automated machines, including the file-cutting machine of Codex Atlanticus, folio 6r-b, the automatic hammer for gold-foil work of Codex Atlanticus, folios 8r-a, 21r-a, and 21v-a and the mechanized printing press, rope-making machine, and power loom, already mentioned.14

According to Beck, the concept of the transmission of power to various operating machines was one of the most important in the development of industrial machinery. Beck thought that the earliest industrial application of this type is found in Agricola’s famousDe re metallica (1550) in a complex designed for the mercury amalgamation treatment of gold ores.15 Leonardo, however, described several projects of the same kind, while on folios 46v and 47r of Codex Madrid, I, he considered the possibility of running a complete oil factory with a single power source. No fewer than five separate operations were to be performed in this combine—milling by rollers, scraping, pressing in a wedge press, releasing the pressed material, and mixing on the heating pan. This project is further remarkable because the power is transmitted by shafting; the complex thus represents a complete “Dutch oil mill,”of which no other record exists prior to the eighteenth century.

Leonardo’s interest in practical technology was at its strongest during his first Milanese period, from 1481 or 1482 to 1499. After that his concern shifted from practice to theory, although on occasion he resumed practical activities, as in 1502, when he built canals in the Romagna, and around 1509, when he executed works on the Adda River in Lombardy. He worked intensively on the construction of concave mirror systems in Rome, and he left highly original plans for the improvement of the minting techniques in that city (1513-1516). He was engaged in hydraulic works along the Loire during his last years.


1. Luca Beltrami, Documenti e memorie riguardanti la vita e le opera di Leonardo da Vinci (Milan, 1919), nos. 66, 117, 126, 127.

2.Codex Madrid, II,passim.

3. Beltrami, op. cit., no. 189.

4. Beltrami, op. cit., no. 246.

5. G. Calvi, I manoscritti di Leonardo da Vinci (Bologna, 1925); A. M. Brizio, Scritti scelti di Leonardo da Vinci (Turin, 1952); Kenneth Clark, A Catalogue of the Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci at Windsor Castle(Cambridge, 1935; 2nd rev. ed., London, 1968-1969); C. Pedretti, Studi Vinciani (Geneva, 1957).

6. Kyeser (1405), anonymous of the Hussite Wars (ca. 1430), Fontana (ca. 1420), Taccola (ca. 1450), Francesco di Giorgio (ca. 1480), Besson (1569), Ramelli (1588), Zonca (1607), Strada (1617-1618), Veranzio (ca. 1615), Branca (1629), Biringuccio (1540), Agricola (1556), Cardano (1550), Lorini (1591), Bockler (1661), Zeising (1607-1614).

7. F. Reuleaus, The Kinematic of Machinery (New York, 1876; repr. 1963); R.S. Hartenberg and J. Denavit, Kinematic Synthesis of Linkages (New York, 1964).

8. G. Galilei, Le Meccaniche (ca. 1600), trans. with intro. and notes by I.E. Drabkin and Stillman Drake as Galilei on Motion and on Mechanics (Madison, Wis., 1960).

9. G. Canestrini, Leonardo costruttore di macchine e veicoli (Milan, 1939); L.Reti,“Leonardo on Bearings and Gears, in Scientific American, 224 (1971),100.

10. E.S. Ferguson,“The Measurement of the ’Man-Day,’” in Scientific American,225 (1971), 96. The writings of La Hire and Amontons are in Mémoires de l’ Académie … ,1 (1699).

11. L. Reti,“Leonardo da Vinci nella storia della macchina a vapore,”in Rivista di ingegneria (1956-1957).

12. L. Reti,“Leonardo da Vinci and the Graphic Arts,” in Burlington Magazine,113 (1971), 189.

13. L.Reti,“Le arti chimiche di Leonardo da Vinci,” in Chimica el’industria,34 (1952),655,721.

14. B. Dibner,“Leonardo; Prophet of Automation,” in C. D. O’Malley, ed., Leonardo’s Legacy (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1969).

15. T. Beck, Beiträge Zur Geschichte des Maschinenbaues (Berlin, 1900), pp. 152-153.

Ladislao Reti

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TECHNOLOGY. Early modern Europeans paid new attention to the machines and technical processes that created most of their material goods. Appreciation of rapidly advancing arts and inventions was not particularly newthe Middle Ages also having been an era in which myriad new technologies appeared in Europe. What was becoming noticeably different by the middle of the fifteenth century was that new technologies were becoming a force in the shaping of Europeans' intellectual frameworkjust as they shaped social frameworks through the expanding manufactories in mining, ordnance, papermaking, printing, and textiles. Both the material and the mental landscapes of early modern Europe were dramatically reconfigured over these centuries, and in a very self-consciously interdependent way.


"Technology" did not really exist as a concept until at least the seventeenth century; what we see in the early modern period is the attempt to create a realm that constantly straddled growing scientific thought and developing industrial practices. Technology continues today to ambiguously refer both to the practices and tools of material construction, and to the knowledge (the -ology ) about how these practices and tools operate. In the centuries spanning the invention of the printing press and the first experiments with electricity, technology gave rise to a particular vision of human effort and learning, one whose central image was that of "progress."

Mechanical arts in the ancient and medieval period had often been disregarded by scholars and philosophers and by the makers of literate culture. To a large extent, the name "mechanic," because associated with manual labor, remained tainted throughout the early modern period (and remains so today). However, starting in the Renaissance, Europeans began to reframe their concept of learning around the study of human productivity. This reframing contributed significantly to the restructuring of the existing system of Aristotelian natural philosophy. The knowledge of machines and technical processes became clues to the natural forces that govern both natural and artificial processes. Galileo Galilei's (15641642) formulation of kinematic motion, for example, was completed at the end of long years studying projectiles in the context of military engineering. Early modern theorists of science and enlightenment articulated the faith that philosophical knowledge can be derived from technical arts, and then reapplied to organize the technical world in a more efficacious way. They did not so much dignify craftsmen as seek to appropriate from craftsmen universal principles by which the arts could be directed. The capture of those principles became a major goal of scientific enquiry and underwrote a new professional engineer with status and learning meant to distinguish him from the mere craftsman.


By 1548, the French physician and astronomer Jean Fernel (14971558) could proclaim the inventions that testified to "the triumph of our New Age": the compass, the cannon, and the printing press. Of these, the printing press, nearly one hundred years old, was the newest. The full impact of the compass, cannon, and printing press was not obvious until the end of the fifteenth century and depended on the development of other technologies.

Compass. The introduction of the magnetic compass gave mariners not only a new way of navigating in open sea, but, perhaps even more importantly, a means of recording their journeys in a readable and fairly precise way. The portolan map, fully developed by the fifteenth century, was produced by drawing coast lines and islands according to constant lines of compass bearing. The remarkable advance this offered can only be appreciated visually. In the middle of the fifteenth century, this advantage to navigation was joined by a new ship design that allowed greater maneuverability. The medieval carrack was replaced by the three-masted ship, which offered more sail area, the ability to sail windward, and larger sterns for cargo and crew. By 1488, Portuguese sailors, who were also learning the system of winds, were able to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope. Oceanic voyages quickly opened up new prospects for trade with the East, and, after 1492, a New World.

Cannon. The development of gunpowder artillery changed the balance of power both between Europeans and other peoples, and, intermittently and temporarily, between the emerging nation-states of Europe. Invented sometime in the early fourteenth century as a rather cumbersome, if effective, bombard, gunpowder artillery underwent a great deal of development throughout the fifteenth century. Europeans learned to cast and bore cannons (rather than barrel together hoops of forged metal) to specific calibers; they designed gun carriages for better mobility; they learned to make nitrates for the salt-peter necessary to gunpowder production, and to corn (or ball) the gunpowder for better storage. The main effect the advent of widespread cannon warfare had on noncombatants was to change the faces of their cities. Older town walls (and often a number of townsmen's houses) were demolished for newer, lower, and thicker geometrical circuits. Polygonal, bastioned fortifications, the trace Italienne, were built around numerous continental European cities. A secondary effect of military engineering concerns was to focus attention on the problems of projectile motion, impact, and the resistance of materialsall areas of concern in the establishment of a new physics.

In the field, the integration of small arms worked to further alter the conduct of open battle. The shoulder-carried harquebus or musket, already in use by the 1480s, developed into a common weapon of the infantry, even if pikemen continued to be of essential importance into the seventeenth century. A more sudden transformation took place in the cavalry as a result of the spread of the wheellock pistol in the mid 1500s. Employed by mounted German Reiters, and further developed as a cavalry weapon by the French under Henry IV (ruled 15891610), the adoption of the pistol led to the dethroning of the armored lance, and "the end of knighthood."

Printing press. The political theorist Jean Bodin (15301596) wrote, "The art of printing alone would easily be able to match all the inventions of the ancients." Printing had transformed intellectual life. Before its advent around 1450, a personal library of fifty volumes was considered sumptuous; by Bodin's writing, noblemen routinely collected hundreds; pamphlets and other cheap print were available to most literate people.

The printing press relied on a set of standard-sized raised letters, cast in a matrix that had been impressed with the letter's impression by a steel punch, and then set into a form. The system of punches, matrices, and forms was the most significant (and expensive) aspect of the invention, and established printing as the first industry to employ interchangeable parts. The success of the print trade relied on the earlier development of paper technology, which in the previous 150 years had largely replaced parchment (scraped animal skins) and greatly reduced the expense of books. It also depended on sophisticated metallurgy; steel was difficult to produce, and the metals used had to perform properly.

Other arts. Aside from these "revolutionary" technologies, a host of smaller-scale innovations enriched domestic interiors between 1450 and 1550. Venetian glassmakers pioneered a refined clear glass in the late fifteenth century, and Italian potters began to manufacture brightly painted majolica. The European silk industry expanded greatly. In the sixteenth century, the French potter Bernard Palissy (15101589) formulated a pure white glaze in imitation of porcelain. All these products offered domestic alternatives to goods that had previously been imported from the Middle or Far East. Meanwhile, techniques for quicksilvering mirrors and the development of oil paints that could capture dramatic lighting effects offered new adornments.

With printing, the techniques of numerous arts were recorded in printed books. By the end of the sixteenth century, books were available on the employments, tools, and "secrets" of trades as diverse as fishing, pyrotechnics, metallurgy, and architecture. Many were written by practicing artisans and mechanics. Some of these books amounted to little more than lists of recipes, while others eloquently discussed the relationship between art and nature, and insisted on the need for both theory and practice in the proper execution of crafts. These discussions offered an alternative discourse on these subjects to that available through elite education. Later promoters, apologists, and organizers of technological knowledge drew heavily on this vast literature.


Renaissance artists created some of the most impressive engineering feats of their day. Filippo Brunelleschi (13771446) awed his contemporaries with the construction of the enormous duomo atop the Florentine cathedral. The dome was constructed without centering or beams by connecting eight spears above the cathedral. Even Brunelleschi's scaffolding and lifting machine designs were copied by other artists. The most developed mechanical knowledge available was no doubt cultivated by architects. This was particularly obvious in Italian cities, where architects and other artists were highly trained in practical mathematics, and constantly experimented, at least in sketches, with various combinations of machine elements. Leonardo da Vinci's (14521519) well-known breadth of interestsstretching from his designs of ingenious devices to sculpture to paintingwas not uncommon. Francesco di Giorgio (14391502) also developed great expertise in the fields of engineering and hydraulics, along with his more decorative work. Architects directed sometimes dramatic refigurement of major cities. Rome was largely rebuilt in the sixteenth century and Paris in the seventeenth. Architects also designed dams and waterways, fortifications, and stage machinery.

As works of architecture and engineering gained greater cultural capital as markers of status and power, scholars and patrons themselves often came to seek the knowledge of the architects and to share their literate culture. Leon Battista Alberti (14041472) was a humanist who carved a new role for himself as the technical counselor to powerful men. His treatises detailing mathematical and conventional rules for painting, sculpture, and architecture became classics even in manuscript. Cooperation between elites and architects centered on military engineering and the study of ancient technical texts, works that promised the secrets of recreating the splendid world of the ancients. The duke of Urbino, Federigo Montefeltro (14221482), himself tried to aid Francesco di Giorgio in a translation of De architectura by the Roman architect Vitruvius. Alberti had given up making sense of this text, but the first editions came from practicing architects: Fra Giovanni Giocondo da Verona's (c. 14331515) Latin text of 1511, and Cesare Cesariano's vernacular edition in 1521. Other texts considered clues to ancient marvels of engineering were also routed to prominent architects and painters by their patrons. Texts of Archimedes, the hydraulics of Hero, and the mechanical collections of Pappus were books examined by scholars of both elite and artisanal status.

By the end of the sixteenth century, mathematicians such as Federico Commandino (15091575) and Guidobaldo del Monte (15451607) had developed their own elaboration of a classical rational mechanics. This work remained rooted to the world of the mechanic, but began to address a new sort of engineering professional that was just then beginning to emerge.


No easy category existed during the late Renaissance in which to place figures who performed technological feats. The Syracusan Archimedes (c. 287212 b.c.e.), for example, was famous as the maker of a wooden bird that flew all by itself, and as the engineer whose special mirrors burned Roman ships in the harborboth accomplishments that early modern engineers attempted to recreate well into the eighteenth century. In the language of Renaissance Neoplatonism, the term magus often served best to characterize such figures. The magus was figured as a wise man whose knowledge of occult (hidden) natural properties allowed him to unleash operative forces and create amazing effects. Scholars of magicamong the most learned of the agedeveloped a doxography that linked magical, philosophical, and religious figures in historical progressions: from the legendary Egyptian magus Hermes Trismegistus, to Moses, to Pythagoras, to Platonic and Aristotelian philosophers, to Ptolemy as a judicial astrologer, and thence to the Hellenistic mathematician and reputed engineer Archimedes.

Meanwhile engineers themselves, military engineering writers such as Conrad Keyser (13661405) and Giovanni da Fontana (1395?1455?), had cultivated a mixture of technology and magic. "Natural magic" pointed to the operative power inherent in technology, and offered a framework outside that of Aristotelian causality. By the turn of the seventeenth century, discussions of technology often adopted the name "magic" as "the practical part of natural philosophy." Influential writers such as Tommaso Campanella (15681639) and Giambattista della Porta (1535?1615) continued to configure technological work as natural magic. Della Porta in particular had himself demonstrated success experimenting with lenses and was a key member of the Accademia dei Lincei before Galileo, with his mathematical-philosophical approach to technology, gained center stage among the academicians. In England the connection remained intact through Robert Fludd (15741637), whose work explicitly drew together mechanical technologies and divinatory arts within a mystical Christian framework. The work of John Wilkins (16141672) is a late echo of the connection between mathematics, technology, and magic. His compendium of the most current work in rational and practical mechanics was entitled Mathematical Magic, but the "magic" was completely removed from occult overtones, and merely captured the transformative power of technology.

Another tradition of natural magic ran from Hermes to alchemical thinkers such as the medieval Islamic alchemist Geber and the learned friar Roger Bacon (c. 12201292). Alchemy was a repository of knowledge for a variety of distillation and metallurgical techniques. Before a more rationalized nomenclature could be instituted, alchemical lore was often veiled in occult language and bizarre images. Alchemy enjoyed something of a vogue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and occupied some of the finest minds of the age, including the twenty-year concentrated studies of Isaac Newton (16421727). Alchemy consisted of distillation and metallurgical techniques, and created seemingly new substances through the combination and heating of reagents. These practices were often conceived within a theory of metals and a religious-spiritual view of nature and human labor. Probably due to the shapes of mineral veins, metals were believed to grow inside the earth; over long periods of time all metal would mature into gold. Alchemy was the art and labor by which nature could be hastened and perfected. While alchemists did indeed believe it was possible to turn base metals into gold, the operations of alchemy also provided both consumable products and an observable, experimental analog to the processes of nature. Metallurgists utilized the literature and techniques of alchemy, and Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 14931541) developed a chemical medicine and alchemical view of nature that found numerous followers throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Francis Bacon (15611626) spent much of his forced retirement from politics writing on a reform of knowledge that would account for and extend the success of technological traditions but avoid the drawbacks of its current practices. His Novum Organum (1620; New organon) detailed both criticisms of the current state of knowledge and remedies. Bacon advocated the redirection of philosophy away from erudition and logical terminology, toward experience and the advancement of material wealth. Mechanics, mathematicians, physicians, alchemists, and magicians, Bacon noted, had handson knowledge of nature, "but all [have met with] faint success." Bacon had patience neither to wait for the happenstance of a lucky discovery or invention, nor to suffer the "fanciful philosophy" advanced by alchemists and others who presumed too much based on a narrow base of technical knowledge. "Knowledge and human power are synonymous," he proclaimed. While he advocated a program of experimentation, he was decidedly more articulate about a more descriptive collection of facts from the natural and technological worlds. For example, from a "history of trades" that would chart information from all manner of tradesmen, the philosopher would draw out axioms of principal import. The axioms could then be used to organize and further the trades.

Bacon's program, with the approach of the 1640 Puritan Revolution, appeared to some to offer the prospect of a "new Albion," an Edenic England created through technology in a great reform of religion, mind, and social organization. Samuel Hartlib (c. 16001662), for example, worked toward such a vision. Hartlib was in fact central to the circle of men who later founded the Royal Society.

The Royal Society, founded on explicitly Baconian inspiration, at first tried to fulfill the role of collectors of histories of trades. While this project was not successful, the society often centered around the experiments made by its curator. Information on mines, machines, and other technological news was assiduously collected along with accounts from physicians, mathematicians, and naturalists, and was printed in the Philosophical Transactions. Exhaustive histories of trades were finally realized at the end of the eighteenth century in France. The overt Baconians Denis Diderot (17131784) and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (17171783) and the more staid Académie des Sciences both produced encyclopedias of arts and trades in the decades before the French Revolution.


While Bacon had fully recognized the mutual relationship between the reform of natural philosophy and the progress of the arts, he had paid relatively little attention to the technologies that were themselves transforming the practices of science. While mechanics, architects, and craftsmen had always used mathematical measuring instruments in their work, and these themselves underwent great refinement in the sixteenth century, the new scientific instruments of the seventeenth centurythe telescope, microscope, air pump, and to a lesser degree thermometers and barometersdepended on technologies and offered possibilities on a whole new level. The telescope and the microscope extended human vision enormously and produced experiential evidence in debates such as that over the Copernican hypothesis. The air pump, as it was developed by Robert Boyle (16271691) and his mechanic-client, Robert Hooke (16351703), consisted of a ratchet and piston system that could evacuate a glass receiver one cylinder-volume at a time. This served as a stage of observation for an artificial environment of evacuated air and allowed Boyle to make claims concerning the nature of the tiniest units of matter. This was a sort of instrument that had never been used in natural philosophy before. Such instruments were difficult to get to work dependably, and often relied on the skills of a mechanic like Robert Hooke.

Meanwhile, both elite and practical mathematicians developed mathematical skills that were meant to aid the design of ever more complicated technical tasks. Vernacular editions of Euclid had been available since Niccolò Tartaglia's (14991557) 1543 Italian edition. Above all, these editions spread and popularized geometrical proportioning techniques. Simultaneously, in the early seventeenth century the Scottish nobleman John Napier (15501617) and the Swiss watchmaker Joost Bürgi (15521632) developed logarithms that would make trigonometrical computations much easier. Napier in particular drew explicit attention to the ways logarithms would ease tasks in military engineering and survey. Napier also employed the decimal notation developed by the Dutch engineer and counselor to Maurice of Nassau (15671625), Simon Stevin (15481620). Decimal notation eased work with fractions. Proportional compasses and calculating sectors also eased practical calculations. The foundations of algebraic analysis were meanwhile made by Pierre de Fermat (16011665), and a century later the use of analysis became essential to the cadets of France's technical institutes, and made possible a new style of engineering. Meanwhile, projective geometry, always to some extent a tool of architects and engineers, had been highly developed and integrated into perspective by Gérard Desargues (15911661). Descriptive geometry was institutionalized in technical drawing, again at the French écoles, by Gaspard Monge (17461818).


In his fable of the ideal technological and moral society, the New Atlantis (1627), Francis Bacon had presented a kind of intellectual mirror opposite of mercantilist programs. In his imaginary Benthalem, technological secrets were constantly imported by explorers and developed by technicians; no technologies, however, would be exported to other nations. This speaks both to concerns about industrial espionage and difficulties caused by undeveloped patent laws that infected all states in Europe. It also indicates some of the enthusiasm political and cultural leaders had in the wholesale collection of technical knowledge, and their reliance on mechanical workers to feed their interests.

European rulers had long tried to prohibit the export of technologies on which their economies depended. Venice, for example, forced glassmakers to swear they would not take their art outside of the city's dominion. The importance of technological transference through the migration of skilled persons is most forcefully demonstrated in the case of Lucca's silk-throwing machine, the filotoio. Anyone carrying knowledge of this machine outside the confines of the city was threatened with death. Meanwhile, a design of the machine had been publicly available for years in Vittorio Zonca's Novo Teatro di Machine et Edificii (1607). It was not until the eighteenth-century industrial spy John Lombe spent two years studying the machine in Italy that the machine could be reproduced and operated.

Semi-itinerant mechanics often haunted baroque courts. Mechanicians such as Dutch-born Cornelis Drebbel (15721633) attracted attention in England (and for a short time in Prague) with perpetual motion machines, inventive skills for such devices as diving bells, and technical know-how for such major works as the draining of fens. As a projector in various German courts, the alchemist and mechanic Johann Joachim Becher (16351682) rose to something of a patron himself. He solicited secrets from a range of artificers, and probably used his alchemical skills to advertise his ideas for a new political economy based on trade and technology rather than agriculture. Numerous enthusiasts and scientific gentlemen cultivated relationships with their own artificers to construct machines.


The first town clocks were constructed in the Middle Ages, usually as way of letting workmen know when shifts should change in new textile factories. While watchmakers themselves continually refined methods of gear-cutting throughout the period, scientists dramatically innovated clocks in the mid-seventeenth century. Clocks became more accurate and more convenient and promised a solution to the problem of determining longitude at seaone of the most long-standing obstacles to navigationas well as offering advantages to positional astronomy. If one could accurately keep track of the time of the home port and local time, longitude could easily be calculated. In 1656, the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (16291695) designed a clock using a pendulum oscillator with a tautochronic, one-second period. The pendulum clock, however, proved inappropriate for the pitching deck of a ship. In the mid 1660s, Huygens turned to oscillators formed of a spiral hair springjust as Robert Hooke was also investigating the use of a hair spring. This gave rise to a bitter, ultimately unresolved controversy over patents. However, neither watch proved accurate enough to serve the purposes of a marine chronometer. The government prize for the solution of the longitude problem, £20,000, was finally awarded in 1765 after the Yorkshire watchmaker John Harrison (16931776) improved accuracy through advances in workmanship rather than design.


In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, mechanical devices for delight had largely been cultivated in personal collections and gardens. Self-moving statues, ingenious fountains, and hydraulic devices designed by architects like Salomon de Caus (15761626) delighted visitors. Mechanical marvels were often placed next to exotic naturalia and antiquities. In the eighteenth century, automatons, such as those designed by Jacques de Vaucanson (17091782), were exhibited in shows and fairs.

More serious forms of enlightened infotainment were provided by popularizers of Isaac Newton's work. Jean Theophilus Desaguliers (16831744), for example, offered ten-week courses at a cost of two guineas a head. Demonstrators of "Newtonian" devices showed their wares from town to town. The abbé Jean-Antoine Nollet (17001770) made presentations of the new physics, and was a favorite in French salons. These popular mechanical demonstrations and lectures were probably one of the best venues in which to learn about applied mechanics. The automatons and demonstration devices, however, belonged to a larger cultural context in which machinery powered more tasks, and automation of labor was becoming more prevalent.


If the nineteenth century was predominantly an age of coal and iron, the preceding centuries were largely characterized by water and wood. The vertical water wheel and the windmill were both imported to the Latin West in the Middle Ages. By 1450, these sources of power were already applied to brewing, hemp production, fulling, ore stamping, tanning, sawmills, blast furnaces, paper production, and mine pumping. Their use and development continued throughout the early modern period. The principle of translating circular wheel motion into other forms of translational motion was also applied through human or animal labor. Concern for milling and water-lifting machines is testified by the printed machine books of Agostino Ramelli (1531c. 1600), Jacques Besson (15401576), and Vittorio Zonca (born c. 1580). These books present the intricate connection of wheels, gears, cams, and winches. Concurrent with the pressing need for machines to power manufactories was the need for machines that could pump or raise water. The latter were everywhere employed for drinking-water, for evacuating deep mines, for draining swamps, and for building canals.

The Netherlands, not surprisingly, led Europe in these technologies, both because of the superabundance of water and the need to drain the land and dredge ports. Because prevailing westerlies dependably blow over its lands, the Dutch also perfected windmills. Top sails could be rotated (either because mounted on a rotating cap or because the bottom of the tower could be rotated on wheels) to face wind. The Wimpolen drove bucket chains that drained water from the soil, then dumped it into the canals, and was part of land reclamation projects. Dutch experts in water reclamation and water wheel machinery were in high demand throughout the seventeenth century.

The main drawback of these early modern machines was that they were made of wood. By the late sixteenth century, Europe had been largely deforested, and wood became increasingly expensive. Wood also was a material in which precision tooling was limited, and which broke easily and required much maintenance.


Textiles were among the first products to be produced on a large scale through division of labor and mechanization. Important textile manufactories were well established in Italy and the Netherlands by the thirteenth century. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, modest mechanized advances in ribbon weaving were introduced. In the 1730s, John Kay's (17041764) "flying shuttle" made weaving much faster and allowed broader cloth. This invention was soon followed by methods that mechanized jacquard weaving and repetitive pattern weaving.

Increased speed in weaving put heavier demands on the spinning of the yarns. Richard Arkwright (17321792) became one of the richest men in late-eighteenth-century England by mechanizing the spinning process of newly exploitable cotton imports. Arkwright's "waterframe" managed to imitate the touch of spinning and drawing out yarns by hand. Cotton fibers were drawn along through three pairs of rollers, each pair spinning at an increasingly faster rate. Arkwright began a spinning mill powering his invention with one horse in 1769, but established a water-powered mill only two years later. He continued to mechanize the industry with carding machines and a drawing frame.


With a demand for more intensive mining, and often entrepreneurial investment, sixteenth-century mining employed a vast array of machines and techniques, including the first form of the railroad. These were detailed in the elaborately illustrated volume De Re Metallica by the humanist Georgius Agricola (14941555). Deep ore deposits required pumps to evacuate water; the ore had to be raised; it was then roasted to make crushing easier. By the sixteenth century, most crushing was done by power-driven stamping mills. Ores were then fired in a blast furnace to extract the metals, and finally refined through a variety of metallurgical techniques, depending on the metals present.

The blast furnace was introduced by the beginning of the sixteenth century, and adopted across Europe. It was larger than its predecessor and required mechanical power to work the large bellows that provided the "blast" of hot air across the smelting metals. The furnace also had to be kept going around the clock. These alterations meant that blast furnaces needed to be built where there were plentiful supplies of water to run the water wheel, timber to make charcoal and fuel the furnace, plentiful labor, and exploitable ores. The blast furnace also made possible a new product: cast iron. While cast iron, particularly English cast iron, had a use in the making of ordnance, most cast iron was formed into wrought iron in a secondary process.

The iron trade was freed from the expense of charcoal fuel and the necessity and drawbacks of water-driven wheels in the mid-eighteenth century by the innovations of Henry Cort (17401800) and James Watt (17361819). Henry Cort developed a new style of furnace that made possible the use of coal in smelting iron by designing a way in which the sulfurous coke was kept out of direct contact with the metal. Watt improved the Newcomen steam engine used in mine drainage so that it was far more powerful. Thomas Newcomen's (16631729) steam engine was itself a variation of a philosophical curiosity invented by the mechanic Denis Papin (16471712?). The principle of both was to raise a piston in a cylinder by forcing it up with steam, then allowing condensation to create a vacuum so that atmospheric pressure would push the piston down. Watt added a separate condenser and a steam jacket around the cylinder, thus creating a far more rapid and powerful engine. Watt's steam engine was later adapted for use in many other manufactories, notably in textile and brass production, and made possible many new technologies. By the end of the eighteenth century, an average furnace consumed at least 2,000 tons of coke, processed 3,000 to 4,000 tons of iron ore, and produced 1,000 tons of iron per year.


As a generalization, one might say that the Renaissance gave rise to the great Italian architect-engineers; the baroque hailed the itinerant skilled mechanic from German and Dutch lands; and the Enlightenment saw the development of the highly trained French engineer and fostered the activities of the English entrepreneurial engineer.

By the end of the seventeenth century, Edmond Halley (16561742), otherwise beholden to various patronage networks and government service, set up his own ship-salvaging firm based on his innovative diving bell and diving suit. James Watt was one of the most successful (in part due to his association with Matthew Boulton [17281809]) and prominent of a number of engineers and inventors whose businesses flourished in eighteenth-century England. His association with the Birmingham "Lunar Society" is also instructive: a group composed of Watt, Boulton, the ceramics manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood (17301795), the botanist Erasmus Darwin (17311802), chemists James Keir (17351820) and Joseph Priestley (17331804), among others. These men saw the power of the connection between science and industry, and its possibilities for the improvement of society. They themselves had become engineers, curators of craftsmen, and scientists in eighteenth-century England's free mix of popular science and artisanal mechanics; however, they advocated a more rigorous scientific education for following generations. Whatever the workers in the mills, mines, and manufactories might have thought, members of the Lunar Society saw the values and products of science and technology as those most likely to lead to the moral, intellectual, and material liberation of humanity. This ideology they shared with many French Revolutionaries. Indeed, their forces were scattered in 1791 when a mob sacked the house of Priestley and others for their support of the French Revolution.

See also Academies, Learned ; Alchemy ; Architecture ; Artisans ; Cartography and Geography ; Ceramics, Pottery, and Porcelain ; Chronometer ; Clocks and Watches ; Communication, Scientific ; Design ; Education ; Engineering ; Enlightenment ; Firearms ; Guilds ; Industrial Revolution ; Industry ; Libraries ; Magic ; Medicine ; Monopoly ; Nature ; Optics ; Physics ; Printing and Publishing ; Scientific Instruments ; Scientific Method ; Scientific Revolution ; Shipbuilding and Navigation ; Textile Industry .


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. The Rise of Public Science: Rhetoric, Technology, and Natural Philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 16601750. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Mary Henninger-Voss

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Technology refers to the underlying production methodology through which inputs or resources are converted into output (goods and services). At a point in time there is one best way to produce a good or service. In other words, there is a well-defined production technology at a point in time. Over time, the technology can change as better, more efficient, and cheaper means of production are invented. Such changes might be due to deliberate attempts by businesses and governments (called endogenous technical change) or they may be accidental (due to serendipity). In the long term, new technologies build upon previous technologies to yield better, more refined products and process. In that context, it is widely argued that perhaps mans greatest innovation was the wheel.

Sometimes technology is treated as another input in the production process, like labor or capital, and in other instances it is viewed as a catalyst that makes existing inputs more productive. Two unique features that set technology apart from other factors are that it has the potential to yield disproportionate returns for inventors, and there is uncertainty associated with the invention and use of new technology. Inventors are able to earn disproportionate returns when they have a unique product that confers a monopoly upon them. The uncertainty associated with technology might be related to the race to invent first, or it might be with respect to research resources necessary for innovation success, or with the potential audience (who will use the new technology and how fast?).

Some technologies improve the product processes (by making them more efficient and, consequently, cheaper), whereas others introduce entirely new products. The Internet has enabled process improvements in a number of instances (e.g., via online brokerages or online travel agencies), whereas a new pharmaceutical drug for an illness previously without a cure may be viewed as a product innovation. More fundamentally, process technologies affect production costs, whereas product innovations have the ability to create new markets.

The ingredients to new technology are the research and development (R&D) resources. These include scientists and engineers and related physical resources (research laboratories and so on). The output of R&D is generally measured in the number of patents granted. The number of patents, however, is an imperfect measure because it does not account for inventions that are not patented, and it treats patents of varying importance qualitatively the same.

The development of new technology can be seen as a process involving three distinct stagesinvention, development, and diffusion. Invention involves the conception of a new idea about a new product or a new process. Development refers to the building of a prototype and testing its usability, possible side effects, and longevity. Diffusion is the marketing stage, when the new technology is dispersed to the potential audience or users. Cooperation among private firms or between the public and private sectors can occur at one or all of these stages.

Some technologies are more flexible than others. Flexible technologies enable substitution among inputs; for example, grocery stores can employ a large number of checkout clerks and have relatively few (or no) automated checkout machines, or they can have few clerks and more automated machines. Inflexible technologies, on the other hand, do not permit substitution among inputs; for example, a cab company should have at least one driver for each cab to deliver viable servicetwo (or more) drivers and no cars are as useless as two (or more) cars and no drivers. Over time, however, improvements in technologies can alter the substitutability among inputsthink about what will happen to the car-driver substitutability as smart highways become a reality. Furthermore, there might be differences in the nature of technologies as production expands. In some cases there might be an equal bang for the buck as inputs are increasedthat is, doubling of all inputs doubles output (technically called constant returns to scale); in other cases there might be less than (or more than) proportionate returnsthat is, doubling of all inputs less than doubles outputdecreasing returns to scale.

As the importance of technologies has come to the forefront, so has the attention of researchers on the process of technological change. One interesting aspect in this regard is the premature technological obsolescence. Joseph Schumpeter foresaw this many decades ago when he referred to this as the gale of creative destruction (Schumpeter 1950). In industries susceptible to rapid technological progress (e.g., the electronics industry), successful technologies might become prematurely obsolete as they are overtaken (or leapfrogged) by newer technologies before full benefits have been realized. While this is somewhat of a concern, governments generally have tried to let the markets work by not blocking or delaying premature obsolescence.

Market competition can play a crucial role in the production and use of technologies. The Schumpeterian hypothesis posits that monopolies, due to their reserves from past profits, are perhaps better equipped than their competitive counterparts to deal with the uncertainties of research and innovation. However, competitive pressures might induce firms to seek out better production methods and new products, either through their own research or via licensing the technology of others. Some software companies choose to develop their own software, whereas others license some software from others. The empirical evidence regarding the role of competition and firm size is rather mixed. Many large competitive firms have been quite innovative (e.g., Canon, 3M), whereas small inventors have also contributed useful technologies. The classic example in this instance is the development of the Apple computer in a garage. Firms might cooperate in the development of technologies among themselves, or there might be cooperation between the public and private sectors. Some governments such as the U.S. government have relaxed laws to check anticompetitive practices to allow cooperation in research. These moves have led to the emergence of consortia to jointly engage in research in pursuit of new technologies.

A number of new technologies can have implications for workers as they tend to be capital-using and labor-saving. Examples of such technologies include online banking, which might affect the jobs of bank tellers, and online travel agencies, which threaten the jobs of travel agents.

Full benefits of technologies are realized when they are optimally diffused. The diffusion of technologies occurs over time, because in some instances users have to incur monetary and learning costs (consider a new type of software that requires the user to spend time to learn what the software can do). Governments sometimes subsidize these learning costs directly (e.g., with cash grants for adopting energy-saving building technologies) or indirectly (e.g., with free user-education clinics by agriculture extension services). The transfer of technologies might occur via legal or illegal means. Legal means include research joint ventures among firms pursuing new technologies or licensing agreements where firms authorize others to use their technologies for a fee. Sometimes, however, these licensing arrangements can have harmful effects when firms refuse to license complementary technologies. In such instances, the pace of technological change is somewhat slowed. Internationally, developing nations generally seek to adopt technologies from developed countries by inviting foreign investments. But developed nations often are reluctant to offer the latest technologies because the existence and enforcement of intellectual-property protection laws is typically lax in developing nations. In recent years international treaties have tried to bring various nations onto a somewhat equal footing in regards to the protection of intellectual property. Illegal transfer of technologies occurs when rival firms are able to copy or use technologies without approval. Such spillovers of technologies are partly driven by the nature of technology (some technologies are easier to copy than others). Common means of technology spillovers include industrial espionage, reverse engineering (unraveling a product or process to learn about its construction), and hiring scientists and engineers from the inventor firm. Governmental ability to checktechnology spillovers is limited by the nature of technologies and by jurisdictional constraints. Government-sponsored technologies sometimes overcome these issues by making certain new technologies freely available in the public domain.

Often, choosing between alternate technologies can have long-term implications that can render some choices inefficient and very costly to alter over time. In other words, technological choice can have inertia when production processes are locked into specific technological streams. Two glaring examples of this are the keyboard settings of typewriters (and now computers) and the width of railroad tracks. The QWERTY settings of the manual typewriters were historically chosen so that the keys would be least likely to lock up, hence the choice, given the state of the technology at the time, was efficient. However, over time, the manual typewriters evolved into electric, then electronic, typewriters, and finally into computers. These iterations did not face the problem of keys locking, but the QWERTY format for keys has almost universally persisted, in spite of some alternate formulations that have been shown to be more efficient. In the other example, the choice of the width of rail tracks has implications for how far the rail network can ply and is very costly to change over time. Even today, a number of countries continue to have tracks of more than one width, creating networking problems within the country (these issues are even more pronounced in an intercountry setting). It seems, however, that governments have learned from past mistakes, and in some cases international standardization bodies (such as the one to manage the spread of the Internet) are being formed in early stages of technologies to avoid bottlenecks in the future.

Government involvement in the production, marketing (or diffusion), monitoring, and protection of technologies varies a great deal. Governments might need to monitor certain technologies for their effects. For example, in the United States new drugs have to undergo extensive testing for possible side effects and have to be approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) before being made available publicly. Other technologies have to be tested for their effects on the environment. A key aspect of government technology policy deals with ensuring adequate returns to inventors (to preserve incentives for undertaking the risks of technology development) and creating conditions for long-term technological growth. Governments generally have policies to deal with intellectual-property protection and with subsidies to research. Patents that grant monopolies to inventors for a specific time period (currently twenty years for most patents in the United States) have proven quite popular despite their shortcomings. Patent applicants have to prove their own and the inventions credentials (i.e., uniqueness of their invention and their priority of discovery). The underlying rationale behind patents is that they balance the costs of monopoly grants against the longterm benefits that are realized when the secret patent formulae become public knowledge at the time of patent expiry, spurring future innovations. In practice, there is an interesting difference between U.S. patent policy and how patents are granted in (most of ) the rest of the world. The United States grants a patent to the first person (or institution) to invent a new product or process; this person might not be the first to file the patent application. Most other countries, however, award a patent to the first to file, who might not be the original inventor. Both systems have merits and shortcomings. The U.S. system follows the essence of how patents should be granted, but leads to costly and socially wasteful litigation, especially in instances where the social value of patents is rather small. The rest of the world system avoids costly litigation, but can result in grave injustices when original inventors are slow to file the paperwork.

In recent years, the Internet, or more generally, soft technologies, have generated an interesting set of issues both for market participants and for governments trying to regulate technologies. Unlike hard or physical technologies (e.g., a tractor or an airplane), soft technologies are difficult to monitor (protect) and easy to transfer. Which aspects of a new software are like a language (and thus cannot be protected), and which aspects are like commercial products (and thus can be protected)? Transmission of soft technologies also makes convenient the separation of production and marketing over large geographical areas and eliminates the use of middlemen or substantial transactions costs. For example, soft technologies such as computer software, music, and e-books can be produced in one corner of the world and marketed in another via the Internet without the need of a middleman. Governments in such instances are somewhat powerless to monitor (and tax) these transactions. In effect, innovations in instruments of regulation have failed to keep pace with the speed of technological change.

The United States has been the world leader in technology since the end of World War II (19391945). Many important inventions and discoveries originated in the United States, and a number of these were byproducts of the U.S. defense and space programs. In the early 1980s, however, there were some concerns about the United States declining technological leadership. It became evident that although many inventions were still originating in the United States, other countries were taking the lead in perfecting these technologies by making them more user-friendly. (For example, although the microwave oven was invented in the United States, there are hardly any domestic manufacturers of these ovens left.) These concerns prompted the U.S. government to strengthen intellectual-property protection in some cases and to stress better commercialization strategies for new technologies.

Two noteworthy developments in this regard were the provision of patents to semiconductor chips and the introduction of legislation that makes it easier for federally sponsored innovations to be commercialized. Universities in the United States are also now able to hold patents and benefit from commercialization of the technologies invented by their staff. It remains to be seen, however, how the worlds technological leadership will evolve, especially with the advent of soft technologies that are difficult to control and not geographically constrained. Another key issue concerns the extent and speed of technological trickle down from developed nations to developing nations.

SEE ALSO Technology, Adoption of; Technology, Transfer of


Goel, Rajeev K. 1999. Economic Models of Technological Change. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Kamien, Morton I., and Nancy L. Schwartz. 1982. Market Structure and Innovation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Reinganum, Jennifer F. 1989. The Timing of Innovation: Research, Development, and Diffusion. In Handbook of Industrial Organization, eds. Richard Schmalensee and Robert Willig, 849908. New York: Elsevier Science.

Schumpeter, Joseph. 1950. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row.

Von Hippel, Eric. 1987. The Sources of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rajeev K. Goel

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The definition of technology is a much controverted topic. At one extreme, the word is used for an intellectual discipline, analogous to biology or psychology. This is a refined use, emphasizing the Greek root logos (word or meaning) combined with techne (artifice), to focus on the study or science of arts and artifices. Thus, distinguished institutions that offer sustained investigation of practical arts are often called institutes of technology. But at the other extreme, the word technology is often used to refer to concrete objects, tools, and implements themselves, or their workings. When archaeologists speak of digging up samples of a culture's technology, they are not referring to learned studies but to pots, tools, or weapons. Historians and anthropologists refer to the technologies of a society as the practical arts and implements themselves, not studies about them. And ordinary usage tends also toward the concrete. When one is baffled by the technology in a new car, it is the knobs and switches that are at issue, recalcitrant things.

Another polarity is found regarding the involvement of science in technology. Is technology (whether a study or a set of artifacts) simply applied science? If so, then science must have come first, to be applied, and there could be no prescientific technologies. The distinguished institutes of engineering tend to lean toward this understanding, but historians of human craftsmanship tend to see important continuities between pre- and post-scientific arts, and emphasize vital technological achievements (such as the telescope and microscope) that made science possible, thus predating and empowering the rise of modern science, not shrinking to its mere application.

There are other significant disputes over the essential nature of technology: for example, whether it must be embodied, somehow, perhaps in metal or plastic, or whether it can be entirely conceptual, as in the important Arabic invention of the number zero, which greatly advanced the calculational power of mathematics. Another example is the question whether technology can be said to exist outside the human context, as in the sometimes elaborate constructions of animals like beavers and many birds, or must it by definition be the product of human making? This raises the broader issue whether technology is ever a natural phenomenon or is necessarily artificial. Unfortunately, the relatively new field of philosophy of technology has yet to come to consensus on these definitional issues.

Technology and language

In the absence of consensus, the process of constructing and evaluating a definition is actually clarified. One cannot pretend that a proposed definition is inevitable, or is the only one that stands to reason. It becomes more obvious that language is conventional, that a definition is a rule for linking concepts together in ways that are clarifying or helpful. Since what is clarifying or helpful is always relative to some context-giving purpose, there may be as many differently helpful resolutions for using words as there are purposes for doing so. Deans of distinguished institutions for the systematic study of industrial arts may find it helpful to use words in one way; aircraft maintenance personnel may find it more helpful to use them in another.

Since the purpose in this entry is philosophical, its aim will be for as much comprehensiveness as reasonably possible, combined with as much critical coherence as can be achieved in light of the variety of data in hand. The norm of adequate comprehensiveness will warn against premature exclusions of whole domains from the extension of the term under discussion, and the norm of critical coherence will warn against such excesses of inclusion as might make the term vacuous by referring uncritically to everything. For example, if we are to understand technology from the broad philosophical perspective, it will probably be more useful to include prescientific craft traditions within the concept of technology, to see the internal similarities and differences brought by modern science, than to exclude the earlier practical arts from notice by definition. But, contrariwise, since understanding a subject must allow for contrast with what is not that subject, it will probably not be useful to accede to such all-inclusive definitions as would identify the mind-activated body as the primary all-purpose tool. This would imply that a conscious human being is never without tools, is never in a nontechnological condition. With an over-broad definition it is harder to express the significant difference that the introduction of a tool makes to the naked hand; with an over-narrow definition it is harder to notice significant similarities between tools of different types.

Venturing our own definition, in this context, must be an exercise in balance. We must be conscious of what we will include and what exclude by our proposed linguistic rule, and must be ready to stand by these consequences as long as we support the rule. For example, the concept of the practical has been central in all the discussion thus far. If we make this concept essential, then we exclude from the concept of technology what is purely theoretical or aesthetic or otherwise done for its own sake, without practical motives. If this seems appropriate, we are entitled to make this decision. Again, the concept of the purposive runs throughout, implying intelligent goals as essential to the idea of technology. If this cluster of concepts is taken as essential, then we shall be excluding the purely instinctive from our definition. This need not eliminate a priori all animal constructive activities from the domain of the technological, but it draws the line at a new place: To what extent are the apparent artifacts of animals actually the result of art, or intelligence? If the human species is not alone intelligent, then the concept of technology will apply quite naturally to flexible, environmentally responsive implementations of animal aims, but will not apply to behaviors that are hard-wired, immune to modification in changing conditions. Is this an appropriate distinction? If so, we may legitimately adopt it. Finally, the concept of physical embodiment remains to be resolved, whether technology must necessarily be implemented in material things. If we so decide, then purely conceptual discoveries or inventions, like the Arabic zero, will be excluded from the technological, while the abacus, another great aid to calculation, implemented variously by pebbles in sand or beads on wires, will be included. Like all the other decisions, this is a judgment call. Will it be more helpful for understanding technology to require that it be implemented, especially if that requirement can be understood to include not just metal or plastic but also social and biological implementations, as in the invention of armies and corporations or in the selective breeding of new strains of grain or livestock? If the answer is positive, then this resolution may reasonably be made.

Thus, once we are alert to the conceptual consequences, and accept them, a possible definition of technology, one that could reconcile a number of clashing linguistic intuitions and lay a foundation for further clarifications in this important domain, could be: Technology is the practical implementation of intelligence.

Technology and science

Approaching technology as implemented intelligence aimed at practical goals helps to resolve the contentious question of its relationship to science. There is no doubt that the character of technologies changed radically after the emergence of modern science. There is also no doubt that prescientific technologies, such as the art of lens making and glass-blowing, were indispensable to that emergence, since without them there would have been no telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, or barometers to serve the new goals of precise theoretical intelligence represented by the scientific revolution.

But the differences between the type of intelligence embodied in ancient craft technologies and in modern high technologies are not in kind but in goals and norms. Practical intelligence, as old as our species, is interested in getting jobs done and clinging to techniques that have been found (usually by luck, or trial and error) to work. The norm for such intelligence is practical success, with deep reluctance to fix what is not broken. Simplicity is preferred over complication, the how is elevated over the why, and close enough is favored over abstract precision. In contrast, theoretical intelligence (rooted in the same ancient quest that sometimes leads to myth-making and sometimes, as in classical Greece, is disciplined by logic) thirsts for understanding why, is not satisfied by successful results alone but wants to know in addition what makes things happen so, and is willing to take great pains to achieve precision despite whatever complexity is required. These two contrasting expressions of intelligence, usually isolated by socioeconomic class, made an improbable marriage in seventeenth century Europe, through which the demand for theoretical precision could be served by instruments provided by ancient craft traditions, and the quest for why could be disciplined by attention to the how.

For the first time, practical wants could be suggested by theoretical understanding of the hidden workings of things. The radio could not even be desired without first conceiving abstractly of radio waves. Atomic energy could not be a goal without the modern theory of the atom. After the emergence of modern science, so-called high technologies could be led by theoretical intelligence powerfully outfitted by practical intelligence.

Technology and culture. Technology is the implementation not only of intelligence in various interacting modes but also equally of values, goals, wants, and fears. Without motivating values, intelligence would not be moved to make or do anything. But in culture, values often clash. Early biblical pessimism about technological hubris is shown in the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11: 19), foreshadowing modern negative theological and philosophical attitudes such as those expressed by Jacques Ellul and Martin Heidegger. Science-led high technologies stimulate even stronger condemnation from those suspicious of the practical implementations of human intelligence, but the involvement of modern science is not essential to setting off warnings. Agricultural technology, and urban living itself, is seen as corrupting by the nomadic and sheepherding author, called J, in early biblical thought.

More positive theological assessments, ranging from Harvey Cox's early enthusiastic embrace of the liberating technologies of the secular city to W. Norris Clarke's more measured approval of human co-creation through selective technology, also abound in the literature. Philosophers and social commentators like Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Bernard Gendron defend in different ways the technological impulse and its impacts on culture.

The technological impulse, to intervene intelligently in nature by implementing means for achieving valued ends, is extremely general, however, and open to indefinitely many expressions. The qualities of the intelligence being implemented, as well as the values being embodied, are worthy of analysis and assessment epistemologically no less than ethically and theologically. Though the activities of intelligence may bind all sorts of technologies into a single wide domain, its implemented expressions through modern science are strikingly different in standards and consequences from its prescientific embodiments. Artificiality comes in many degrees, depending on the extent to which the artificial object is dependent on the intervention of intelligence for its production. A neatly planted orchard, for example, is more artificial than a primal forest, but less artificial than the shopping mall that may replace it. On such a scale, modern high technology is artificial to the highest degree because it is completely dependent on the intervention of theoretical intelligence for its existence. Some of the felt discomfort directed toward such technologies may be rooted in the cognitive gap between ordinary experience of the world, familiar to our species from earliest times, and the theoretical structures inhabited by scientific intelligence and materialized in scientific engineering.

Importantly, too, the internal goals of scientific intelligence tend to favor quantification. Much science-led technology may not surprisingly, then, embody the tendency to favor quantity over more ineffable qualities, such as the aesthetic or traditional. Further, scientific values, though powerful in advancing knowledge, are conspicuously lacking in compassion for its subjects of investigation. The typical technological implementations of scientific thought, with some exceptions (e.g., anesthesia) have not been especially kind or gentle. We may speculate that if we are to hope for a kinder, gentler postmodern variety of high technology, sensitive to qualitative concerns in culture, there may need to rise a new, postmodern variety of scientific thinking as well.

See also Biotechnology; Information Technology; Reproductive Technology; Technology and Ethics; Technology and Religion; Value,


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frederick ferrÉ

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Introduced in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the word technology signified the pursuit of a science to encompass all the industrial arts. Mechanical arts, a term used in medieval and early modern Europe, indicated something different because it included, for example, painting and sculpture. The introduction of the term technology corresponded somewhat contemporaneously with the introduction of other key terms for modernity, including scientist, class, capitalism, and socialism. They all come from a time troubled by the "machinery question," a fundamental topic for both political economists and Romantic authors during the same period. This question was posed as a response to the installation of an endless series of novel machines in newly built textile factories, which seemed to have nurtured a class differentiation between those who were amassing fortunes by owning the machines and those who were barely paid at subsistence level to work in them. Having won a decisive battle against those who defended the old order by crediting land rather than labor as being the source of value, classical political economists were unprepared to challenge the popular assumption of machinery being the source of value. The dramatic change similarly confused the best of the future critics of these economists. A young Karl Marx (18181883) assumed that the new machinery, despite the hardships that it imposed on many, inevitably paved the way to a better future society.

The denaturalization of the landscape ensuing from the spread of steam engines overwhelmed the Romantics, who lamented the loss of a better (past) society. Despite their unheard objections, for decades England had used previous "atmospheric" engines for draining mines, with pistons that moved up by the pressure of the steam and down by the pressure of the atmosphere, in the pattern of the engine that Thomas Newcomen introduced early in the eighteenth century. By the last two decades of the same century, following James Watt's series of modifications, there were also engines with pistons moving in both directions only by the pressure of the steam. Like the electronic computer of the last decades of the twentieth century and the electric generator of the last decades of the nineteenth, Watt's steam engine was heralded as a universal (global, general purpose) machine, that is, a machine that could be automatically used in all places and at all times.

A technological progressive in comparison to Newcomen, Watt turned out to be conservative next to those who configured the successor models to his engine, namely, high-pressure steam engines versus his low-pressure model. A myriad of local reconfigurations were needed before the supposedly global steam engine could produce mechanical motion, first, strong enough to pull a train or propel a ship, and second, uniform enough to spin a fine textile or generate electricity. The need for reconfiguring a universal machine was repeated in the history of the supposedly universal electric generator and, more recently, regarding the supposedly universal electronic computer. The safety of low-pressure versus the efficiency of high-pressure engines has also been a perpetual issue, reproduced in the "battle of the currents" (direct versus alternating) between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the 1880s and 1890s and the analog versus digital battle between engineers and mathematicians during the 1950s and 1960s. A symbol of progress in the 1880s, Edison in more recent times is viewed as exhibiting a puzzling conservatism. Biographers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology electrical engineering professor Vannevar Bush are equally puzzled by how the preferences of this champion of mechanized analysis of the interwar period appear to be so incompatible with the prevalent postWorld War II computing orientation.


The work of a generation of historians sensitive to the symmetrical study of technological success and failure suggests that animated debates concerning choice between competing technologies have been the rule, not the exception. In the case of the automobileanother technology assumed to be globally preeminentearly-twentieth-century battery-run and internal-combustion-powered vehicles competed hard in various local contexts against each other (as well as against those moved by steam pressure). Now a technical hope of the future, the electric car did not lose in the past because of an internal technical inferiority; the gasoline-driven internal combustion engine prevailed because of an abstracted over a socially situated conception of technical efficiency. Unsurprisingly, the term technology became widely used only after the early-twentieth-century rise of "technocracy," a movement that promoted an abstracted conception of technical superiority by seeking to replace the acknowledged subjectivity of politics by the assumed objectivity of engineering.

The technocracy movement was propelled by the establishment of Fordism, a mode of mass production of automobiles with internal combustion engines. The technical efficiency of the automobile assembly line of the factories of Henry Ford was unquestionable in the 1910s. Things changed in the following decade when competitors chose production flexibility over efficiency by challenging the Fordist reliance on a combination of increasingly specialized machines and degraded skills; rather than producing a more affordable car but one offered only in a single modelthe infamous black Model TFord's competitors elected the option of producing a variety of car models.

Taylorism was the other side of Fordism because it started from changes in labor efficiency that were to match changes in machine efficiency. Interested in increasing the efficiency of low-skill work and then returning a portion of the extra value to be produced to the workers in the form of better wages, Frederick W. Taylor, through what became known as "scientific management," proposed a scheme for a decisive advance in industrialization regardless of the availability and the wills of skilled workers, by relying on the unskilled labor of destitute urbanite and/or peasant masses. Varying mixes of the Taylorist-Fordist combination appealed to societies as different as that of the Germany and the USSR of the interwar period. Organic components of Stalinism, Taylorism, and Fordism also puzzled the most critical spirits of interwar Europe, including Antonio Gramsci, the imprisoned leader of the Italian Communist Party. In the pursuit of a worker who ought to abandon all preindustrial attitudes that were incompatible with the uniformity expected by the Taylorist-Fordist mode of production, Gramsci saw the potential for moral and material improvement of the working class, which he considered prerequisite to its emancipation.

Ford was not the only one concerned with creating a massive demand for his product to match its mass supply by his factories. Samuel Insullwho had started as Edison's secretary before he controlled, through dubious financial schemes, an empire of electrical utilitieshad clearly realized the need for around-the-clock demand for electricity to take advantage of mass-production-capacity installations. Whatever technology might have been, it has been shaped both in production and in consumption, by invention and in use. The study of the history of the experience of technology vis-à-vis consumption, such as in a First World household or a Third World farmstead, has managed a decisive blow for the commonplace assumption of technology's universalism. It has shown that technology's easy mix with time-honored ideologies such as sexism or racism has increased the household work of a First World woman and decreased the resources of a Third World habitant.

Unregulated overproduction across the whole of industry accumulated the forces that were unleashed with the 1929 stock market crash. Herbert Hoover, the engineer-president was replaced by the iron politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The state-driven civilian rural electrification of the 1930s, which matched demand to supply, the Manhattan Project, and the rest of the state-driven military-technological projects of World War II shaped the emergence of "technology policy" as a key issue for the postWorld War II state. Success in what is now called technology policy has in fact been a prerequisite for the constitution of the modern state as such on both sides of the Atlantic. The end of the ancient régime in France and of the democracy of artisans, farmers, and merchants in the United States was marked by the state's pursuit of a technology for the mass manufacturing of guns with as uniform (or "interchangeable") parts as possible. The transfer of this technology to the rest of U.S. manufacturing over the course of the nineteenth century resulted in the so-called American system of manufactures, which took the millions visiting the world's fairs by surprise.

Technological Determinism

A visit to a world's fair after the mid-nineteenth century proved that the "machinery question" had been practically answered by the tremendous increase in the number and kinds of new machines. With the interconnection of machines into networks (of transportation, energy, communication, and so on), the term technology started to obtain a new meaning. In doubt by then about machinery inexorably dictating a better society, Marx liked the new term enough to correct his earlier editions of Das Kapital by carefully distinguishing between the "technical" and the "technological," according to whether the same process was experienced as an objective, product-making process or a subjective, value-forming one, respectively. Unlike the technical, the technological was subjective in that the revelation of the surplus value produced depended on political prerequisites. Technology, like surplus value, was a concept that pointed to an unspecified agency. Technology has since been recognized by its effects, whereas the issue of agency has remained conveniently abstract. In surveying the subsequent history of the use of the concept, Leo Marx, a distinguished historian of technology, finds that its abstractness has sustained the hegemony of the ideology of "technological determinism," the assumption that technology is autonomous from society.

Technological determinism matches well with the canonical presentation of the archetypal engine of Watt as being self-regulated because of the inclusion of a mechanism known as the "governor" (the foundational circuit of "cybernetics"). It was this ideological canon that was displayed at world's fairs, not, for instance, a diorama of the lethal steam boiler explosions that killed thousands. Historians have found that the dominance of technological determinism explains the many waves of technological utopianism and technological enthusiasm of the recent centuries. It explains why the late-nineteenth-century crash of the utopian hope that the telegraph would bring world peace was not taken into account in the enthusiasm that surrounded the initial emergence of the telephone, the radio, the television, and, more recently, the Internet. It also explains why the dramatic revelation of the destructive power of the atomic energy in Hiroshima was quickly followed by the hope that a nuclear reactor to run everybody's automobile was just around the corner. It finally explains why Leo Marx finds that technology has emerged as a "hazardous concept."

See also Computer Science ; Nuclear Age ; Science ; Science, History of .


Adler, Ken. Engineering the Revolution: Arms and Enlightenment in France, 17631815. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Berg, Maxine. The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy, 18151848. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Corn, Joseph J., ed. Imagining Tomorrow: History, Technology, and the American Future. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986.

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. New York: Basic, 1983.

Frison, Guido. "Some German and Austrian Ideas on Technologie and Technik between the End of the Eighteenth Century and the Beginning of the Twentieth." History of Economic Ideas 6, no. 1 (1998): 107133.

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Kline, Ronald. "Construing 'Technology' as 'Applied Science': Public Rhetoric of Scientists and Engineers in the United States, 18801945." Isis 86, no. 2 (1995): 194221.

Marx, Leo. "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept." Social Research 64, no. 3 (1997): 965988.

Sinclair, Bruce, ed. Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

Smith, Merritt Roe, and Leo Marx, eds. Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994.

Aristotle Tympas

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technology is the study of the techniques whereby human beings make and do things. It is thus as old as humanity itself, as our species is distinguished by its intelligent use of tools and other artefacts, so that the field of enquiry in the history of technology stretches back at least 2 million years. Over most of this time, however, incremental advances in technological sophistication were slow and slight in a hunting-gathering nomadic society, although gradually improvements were made in the shaping of stone, in the control of fire, and in weapons for hunting and fighting. About 10,000 years ago, in a few well-favoured environments, advances in the techniques of growing crops and domesticating animals made possible the emergence of a more settled form of life, which encouraged the development of new techniques in cooking, baking, distilling, pottery-making, and, eventually, metalworking. This was the ‘neolithic revolution’, which prepared the way for the first ‘civilized’ communities, with their new features of social organization in towns, and the skills of literacy and numeracy.

While technology is as old as humankind, science—the systematic understanding of the environment—is only as old as civilization, because it depends for its effectiveness on the sort of cumulative knowledge which only becomes possible with literacy and numeracy. The relationship between science and technology is frequently very close, but it is important to recognize that they are different exercises: technology derives from practical techniques, and is never far from the earthiness of tools and artefacts, whereas science has a strongly conceptual and speculative element, some of which operates at a high level of abstraction. In technology, the emphasis is rightly on good design—fitness for purpose—by which an artefact can best fulfil its function.

Amongst the techniques associated with the rise of civilizations, the inventions of metalworking were most formative because they brought quantum jumps in human weaponry and thus influenced the ability of one society to dominate another. Nevertheless, modern society is characterized by an extraordinary range of techniques whereby every aspect of life has been transformed: power sources have been mastered, materials exploited, productivity increased in both agriculture and industry, and an endless stream of artefacts has been manufactured. Power to make and do things—the mainspring of technological development—has been derived from the steam-engine, the internal combustion engine, electricity, and nuclear fission. New materials have come from the chemical industry and from the molecular engineering of new plastic substances. Old industries, like pottery, glass-making, and textiles, have employed new machinery and processes. New industries, like electronics, have sprung up to provide myriad everyday services. Transport has been transformed, so that rapid journeys are now feasible to all parts of the world, and previously slow methods of communication have become immediate. Information technology is currently doing much to change our perceptions, and space technology holds out a prospect of infinite exploration. Technology, always important in human societies, has become omnipresent, vastly complicated, and indispensable.

R. Angus Buchanan

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tech·nol·o·gy / tekˈnäləjē/ • n. (pl. -gies) the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry: advances in computer technology | recycling technologies. ∎  machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge. ∎  the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences. DERIVATIVES: tech·nol·o·gist / -jist/ n. tech·nol·o·gize / -ˌjīz/ v.

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technology A term used rather loosely in sociology, to mean either machines, equipment, and possibly the productive technique associated with them; or a type of social relationship dictated by the technical organization and mechanization of work. For an interesting comparative analysis of the historical and cultural importance of technology in human societies see Jack Goody 's Production and Reproduction (1975

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"technology." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 21 Oct. 2016 <>.

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technology Systematic study of the methods and techniques employed in industry, research, agriculture, and commerce. More often the term is used to describe the practical application of scientific discoveries to industry.

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TECHNOLOGY. SeeIndustrial Research andindividual industries.

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technology •haji • algae • Angie •argy-bargy, Panaji •edgy, sedgy, solfeggi, veggie, wedgie •cagey, stagy •mangy, rangy •Fiji, gee-gee, squeegee •Murrumbidgee, ridgy, squidgy •dingy, fringy, mingy, stingy, whingy •cabbagy • prodigy • effigy • villagey •porridgy • strategy • cottagey •dodgy, podgy, splodgy, stodgy •pedagogy •Georgie, orgy •ogee • Fuji •bhaji, budgie, pudgy, sludgy, smudgy •bulgy •bungee, grungy, gungy, scungy, spongy •allergy, analogy, genealogy, hypallage, metallurgy, mineralogy, tetralogy •elegy •antilogy, trilogy •aetiology (US etiology), amphibology, anthology, anthropology, apology, archaeology (US archeology), astrology, biology, campanology, cardiology, chronology, climatology, cosmology, craniology, criminology, dermatology, ecology, embryology, entomology, epidemiology, etymology, geology, gynaecology (US gynecology), haematology (US hematology), hagiology, horology, hydrology, iconology, ideology, immunology, iridology, kidology, meteorology, methodology, musicology, mythology, necrology, neurology, numerology, oncology, ontology, ophthalmology, ornithology, parasitology, pathology, pharmacology, phraseology, phrenology, physiology, psychology, radiology, reflexology, scatology, Scientology, seismology, semiology, sociology, symbology, tautology, technology, terminology, theology, topology, toxicology, urology, zoology • eulogy • energy • synergy • apogee • liturgy • lethargy •burgee, clergy •zymurgy • dramaturgy

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