What is the history of technology?
History of technology
The evolution of methodical methods for creating and doing things throughout time. The word “technology” refers to a discussion of the fine and applied arts in ancient Greece. It is a compound of the Greek words technic, “art, craft,” and logos, “word, speech.” It was originally used to refer to a discussion solely of the applied arts when it first arose in English in the 17th century. Eventually, the term came to refer to the “art” itself. In addition to tools and machinery, the phrase had come to refer to an expanding variety of methods, procedures, and concepts by the early 20th century. Technology was described as “the means or activity by which man seeks to change or manipulate his environment” by the middle of the 20th century. Observers have disputed even such broad definitions, pointing out that it is becoming harder to discern between technology and science.
If a condensed history of technology like this one is to be accurate without drastically misrepresenting the subject, it must follow a strict methodological framework. The present essay follows a basically chronological framework, following the evolution of technology via several periods that occur one after the other in time. It goes without saying that the separation of stages is somewhat arbitrary. The vast acceleration of Western technical progress in recent centuries has had a role in the weighting; Eastern technology is primarily taken into account in this article in relation to the evolution of modern technology.
A common approach has been used to examine technological advancements and experiences throughout each historical era. The general social conditions of the era under discussion are briefly reviewed before moving on to discuss the dominant materials and power sources of the time and how they were used in the manufacturing, food production, building, transportation, and communications industries, as well as in military and medical technology. The societal effects of technology advancement throughout time are discussed in the concluding section. This framework is adjusted to fit the specific needs of each era; for example, talks about new materials play a significant role in the narratives of earlier phases when new metals were being introduced, but they are relatively insignificant in the descriptions of some of the later phases. Nevertheless, the overall pattern is maintained. The creation of tools is one important component that does not simply fit into this pattern. Although it has not been feasible to approach them in a perfectly consistent manner, it has appeared most useful to tie them to the study of materials rather than to any specific application. Additional discourse on certain domains of technical advancement may be found in several other articles, such as those on information processing, electronics, and exploration.
Techniques are essentially ways of making new tools and tools’ products, and the ability to make such artifacts is a defining trait of organisms that are humanlike. Beavers construct dams; birds create nests; and bees construct intricate hives in which to store their honey. However, because these characteristics stem from innate behavioral patterns, they cannot be altered to adapt to quickly changing conditions. Unlike other animals, humans are not born with highly developed innate responses, but they can think methodically and imaginatively about methods. Consequently, no other species has been able to invent or intentionally alter the environment like humans have. An ape might sometimes use a stick to pound bananas off a tree, but someone might make a tool out of the stick to chop off a large number of bananas. The first creature that resembles humans, the hominid, appears sometime in the transition between the two. Humans have always been technologists since they are by nature toolmakers; hence, the history of technology spans the whole evolution of human kind.
Through the use of reason to create methods and alter surroundings, humanity has tackled issues beyond survival and wealth generation that are commonly linked with the name technology. Language, for instance, is a tool that manipulates sounds and symbols in a meaningful way; other components of the technical motivation are represented by artistic and ritual creativity techniques. Although these cultural and religious practices are not covered in this article, it is important to establish their relationship right away because the history of technology shows how the incentives and opportunities for technological innovation interact profoundly with the sociocultural conditions of the human group in which it occurs.
Social participation in technical advancements
Understanding this relationship is crucial for examining how technology has evolved across different cultures. There are three moments at which social engagement in technical innovation is necessary to simplify the link as much as possible: social need, social resources, and a receptive social ethos. It is improbable that a technical invention will be successfully implemented or generally embraced in the absence of any of these conditions.
If there isn’t a strong sense of societal need, individuals won’t be willing to invest in technical innovations. A more effective cutting tool, a stronger lifting apparatus, a labor-saving machine, or a way to use new fuels or energy sources might be what’s required. Alternatively, it can take the form of a mandate for more advanced weaponry, as military requirements have historically stimulated technical advancement. Advertising has created requirements in contemporary communities. Regardless of the origin of a social need, a sufficient number of people must be aware of it in order to create a market for an item or service that may satisfy the need.
Likewise, social capital is an essential precondition for an idea to succeed. Because society lacks the necessary resources—money, materials, and trained labor—many ideas have failed. Many drawings of aircraft, helicopters, and submarines can be found in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, but, due to financial constraints, only a few of these inventions were actually developed beyond the model stage. Surplus production and an organization that can allocate available funds in a way that best benefits the inventor make up a capital resource. The availability of suitable metallurgical, ceramic, plastic, or textile substances that may fulfill the demands of a novel innovation is referred to as the resource of materials. The availability of trained workers suggests that there are technicians on hand who can create new objects and create innovative procedures. In other words, for technological innovation to persist, a civilization must be well-resourced.
A social ethos that is sympathetic suggests that the dominant social groupings are willing to take innovation seriously and that the environment is open to new ideas. Such receptivity can be restricted to particular domains of innovation, such as advancements in weaponry or navigational methods, or it can take the shape of a more all-encompassing attitude of inquiry, as was the case in the 18th century in Britain among the industrial middle classes, who were eager to foster new concepts and the inventors who bred them. Regardless of the psychological foundation of creative brilliance, the history of technology has undoubtedly been significantly influenced by the presence of significant social organizations that are eager to support and capitalize on innovators’ ideas.
Thus, social factors have a crucial role in the creation of new approaches, some of which will be discussed in more depth below. Nonetheless, it is useful to record one more note of explanation. This has to do with technology’s logic. As has previously been noted, technology is the application of reason to procedures, and during the 20th century, it became nearly assumed that technology is a rational endeavor originating from contemporary science’s traditions. However, it should be noted that technology—as the term is used here—is far older than science and that methods have a tendency to become antiquated after decades of use or to be misapplied to non-rational pursuits like alchemy. Some methods became so intricate, frequently relying on chemical processes that were unknown even when they were widely used, that technology occasionally turned into a “mystery” or cult that an apprentice had to be initiated into, like a priest into holy orders, and where it was more crucial to replicate an old formula than to create new ones. Technology’s past cannot be reconciled with the modern notion of progress, as the majority of its lengthy history has been marked by technological stagnation, mystique, and even irrationality. It is not at all absurd to observe remnants of this potent technological heritage in the modern world, and there is more than a hint of irrationality in the current predicament facing a highly technological society that muses over the possibility that it will employ its advanced methods to bring about its own demise. Therefore, one must exercise caution when associating technology too easily with the “progressive” forces of modern civilization.
However, it is also impossible to deny that technology has a progressive element. Even the most basic survey reveals that learning new skills is a cumulative process, with each generation inheriting a stock of skills on which it can build if social conditions allow. The history of technology over a long period of time often brings to light the innovative moments that demonstrate this cumulative quality as certain cultures go from relatively simple to more complex techniques step by step. However, even if this evolution has happened and continues to happen, that kind of accumulation process should not occur naturally in technology, and it has not developed in an inevitable way either. Even at highly developed stages of technological evolution, many societies have experienced protracted periods of stagnation, and some have even regressed and lost the accumulated skills that were passed down to them. This highlights the ambiguous nature of technology and the crucial role that its relationship with other social factors plays.
Transmission methods for technology
Werner von Braun, upon his capitulation to American troops
After submitting to American troops on May 2, 1945, German rocket engineer Werner von Braun (with his arm in a cast) and his brother Magnus (second from right) are shown. Further research is necessary to fully understand the way that technical advances are transmitted, which is another feature of technology’s cumulative nature. This is a difficult issue, and in situations where there is inadequate evidence to demonstrate the transmission of ideas in one direction or another, it is vital to recognize the occurrence of simultaneous or parallel creation. The printing press and other forms of communication, as well as the ease with which people may visit the places of invention and bring ideas back to their own homes, have greatly enhanced the mechanics of their transfer in recent centuries. However, historically, the migration of artisans and artifacts has been the primary means of transmission. The exchange of artifacts has guaranteed their extensive dissemination and stimulated emulation. More importantly, the movement of artisans has aided in the diffusion of new technologies. Examples of this include the nomadic metalworkers of ancient societies and the German rocket engineers, whose specialized expertise was obtained by both the US and the USSR during World War II.
The evidence for these kinds of technical transmission mechanisms serves as a reminder that there are many different sources of information for the study of technological history. Like any historical analysis, a large portion of it is based on documentary evidence, although there is little of it for the early civilizations due to scribes’ and chroniclers’ overall disinterest in technology. Therefore, archaeological evidence must be largely relied upon for these cultures as well as for the many millennia of previously unrecorded history in which considerable but sluggish technical developments were accomplished. The study of “industrial archaeology” can contribute to a richer and more vivid historical knowledge of the processes of fast industrialization, even with respect to the recent past. This kind of important material has amassed a great deal in museums, and even more still sits at the location where it is used to observe field workers. The technology historian has to be ready to consult all of these resources and, when necessary, enlist the assistance of engineers, architects, archaeologists, and other experts.
The origins of technology—the Stone Age, up to around 3000 BCE
Paleolithic axes for hands
Stone tools with two sharpened edges meeting at a point, like teardrops, were used by Paleolithic people as hand axes. One approach to making them was to use a hammer to roughly chip away flakes from the edges, and then to chip away smaller flakes to sharpen the edges. Lastly, little stone flakes were preyed on with a sharp tool. Since prehistories and anthropologists have such differing opinions on when the human species first appeared, connecting the history of technology to the history of humanlike creatures is not helpful in pinpointing the exact moment of its genesis. Naturally occurring tools like sticks and stones are occasionally used by animals, and it’s likely that early humans used similar tools for hundreds of thousands of years before taking the first significant step toward creating their own. Even so, it took them an eternity to start producing such tools on a regular basis. And even longer, it took them even longer to standardize and manufacture their basic stone pounders and choppers, which required setting up locations and designating experts for the task.
The Revolution of Neolithic
A few of the communities that were most favored by climate and geography started to shift from the lengthy Pa
Neolithic, or Old Stone Age, lifestyles toward a more settled way of life centered on agriculture and animal husbandry towards the end of the last ice age, some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. The Neolithic Period, also known as the New Stone Age, was a time of transition that finally resulted in a noticeable increase in population, a development in the number of groups, and the establishment of town life. Because of the enormous rise in the speed of technical invention and the concomitant complexity of human social and political structure, it is frequently referred to as the Neolithic Revolution.
Stone is the substance that lends these prehistoric eras their name and a sense of technical unification. Aside from bone antlers, which were probably used as picks in flint mines and other locations, and other pieces of bone tools, none of the materials that prehistoric people are thought to have employed before learning to utilize stone have remained. On the other hand, early human stone tools have survived in surprisingly large quantities, and over the many millennia of prehistory, significant technical advancements were accomplished in the use of stone. Only when stones are purposefully fashioned for particular uses do they become tools, and in order to accomplish this effectively, appropriate hard and fine-grained stones must be located, and methods for shaping them—especially for adding a cutting edge—must be developed. On the other hand, early human stone tools have survived in surprisingly large quantities, and over the many millennia of prehistory, significant technical advancements were accomplished in the use of stone. Only when stones are purposefully fashioned for particular uses do they become tools, and in order to accomplish this effectively, appropriate hard and fine-grained stones must be located, and methods for shaping them—especially for adding a cutting edge—must be developed.
During the Neolithic Period, as human knowledge of the material world expanded, new materials were employed, such as clay for brick and pottery, and the first woven garments replaced animal pelts as a result of growing proficiency with raw materials for textiles. At around the same time, the transition from the Stone Age to the Metal Age was heralded by scientific curiosity in how metallic oxides behaved in the presence of fire, which led to one of the greatest technical breakthroughs in history.
Another fundamental skill acquired at some unspecified point during the Old Stone Age was the use of fire. It was significant to learn that fire could be contained and managed, as well as that continuous contact between two dry hardwood surfaces might start a fire. The most significant contribution of prehistory to power technology was fire, even if it was mostly used for defense against untamed animals and did not directly produce much power.
Weapons and tools
The materials available to prehistoric peoples dictated the design of their fundamental tools. However, as they learned how to handle stones, they became inventive and created tools and weapons with barbs and points. As a result, the arrow, harpoon, and stone-headed spear were all widely used. The spear-thrower, a pole with a slot that produced a sling effect, provided the spear with extra momentum. The employment of the bow and arrow, which was an even more potent combination, is seen in the oldest “documentary” evidence in the history of technology—the cave paintings found in northern and southern Spain and southern France that show the bow being used for hunting.
These hunters’ inventiveness is also seen in their use of blowguns, slings, throwing sticks (the Australian Aboriginal boomerang is a notable example still in use), bird snares, fish and animal traps, and nets. All of these tools were in use by the end of the Stone Age, but their evolution was uneven as each tribe created just the tools best suited for its own unique needs. Furthermore, the Neolithic Revolution produced a number of significant new tools that had nothing to do with hunting.
Methods of construction for Stonehenge
The ancient stones of Stonehenge are arranged as seen from above the ruins.
During the Neolithic Revolution, substantial advancements were also made in prehistoric construction techniques. Beyond what can be deduced from a few fragments of stone shelters, nothing is known about the building abilities of the Paleolithic peoples. However, during the New Stone Age, some impressive structures were built, mainly tombs, burial mounds, and other religious buildings. Toward the end of the period, there was also domestic housing constructed, which was the first to use sun-dried brick. Huge stone monuments, like Stonehenge in England, continue to speak powerfully about the technical prowess, as well as the inventiveness and mathematical prowess, of the later Stone Age societies in northern Europe, where the Neolithic transformation started later and lasted longer than in the eastern Mediterranean.
Around 3000–500 BCE, the urban revolution ziggurat at Ur
At Ur, the Ziggurat (present-day Tall al-Mulayam, Iraq).
With few social resources available for activities other than meeting the most basic necessities of survival, such as food and shelter, the technological progress as far as documented happened extremely slowly over an extended period of time. However, in a few fortunate geographic locations, a significant cultural shift started to occur some 5,000 years ago. It brought forth a new need for resources and a marked upsurge in technical innovation. It marked the start of the city’s innovation.