Technology and American Society: A History / Edition 1

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This book contains a survey of the history of technology in America from 1700 to the present, and covers the history of inventions with discussions of the social, economic, and cultural impact of technology.
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Editorial Reviews

Consists of 20 chapters concerned with the interaction of American technology and society from colonial times to the present. Rather than focusing on conventional political themes, the book is organized around major technological transformations and their social, cultural, economic, and military effects. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780138986445
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
  • Publication date: 11/23/1994
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.99 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Working the land in preindustrial Europe and America 1
Ch. 2 Craftsmen in the shop : European traditions and American changes in the eighteenth century 18
Ch. 3 Women and work before the factory 38
Ch. 4 Origins of industrialization 53
Ch. 5 The birth of the factory 68
Ch. 6 Iron, steam, and rails 84
Ch. 7 Machines and their mass production 107
Ch. 8 Machines on the farm and in the forest, 1800-1950 124
Ch. 9 Americans confront a mechanical world, 1780-1900 139
Ch. 10 The second industrial revolution 153
Ch. 11 Technology and the modern corporation 173
Ch. 12 Technology and war, 1770-1918 189
Ch. 13 The impact of technology on women's work 207
Ch. 14 The new factory 222
Ch. 15 Innovation, the Great Depression, and the automobile, 1918-40 238
Ch. 16 Mechanizing sight and sound 255
Ch. 17 Technology and the origins of mass culture 270
Ch. 18 Airplanes and atoms in peace and war 288
Ch. 19 The postwar advance of technology 308
Ch. 20 Our computer age 326
Ch. 21 Modern Americans in a technological world 341
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This book is about the interaction of technology and society in the United States, from colonial times to the present. Despite the constraints of space, we take a very broad view of technology. We look not just at innovation in industry, but in home, office, agriculture, transport, construction, and services. We consider innovations that are not embodied in machines or chemical formulae, but include changes in workplace organization. Our work is structured around a historical narrative that details the major technological transformations of the last three centuries. Interwoven with this narrative are analyses of both the causes and the effects of technological change. Though we organize chapters chronologically, we are not slaves to a year-by-year chronicle of events; rather, chapters are organized to provide a comprehensive and integrated treatment of a technological trend. Time spans from chapter to chapter, then, necessarily overlap and vary in length.

We find that innovations may be divided into two categories: basic changes that make dramatic breakthroughs, and which then spawn a second category, incremental innovations. Obviously we focus on the basic innovations, around which our chapters are mostly organized. (The reader should remember, however, that a number of minor improvements have likely had a greater cumulative impact on our way of life than scores of major breakthroughs.)

Although we necessarily isolate themes, we recognize the interdependence of technological advances. The modern automobile is not only a result of improvements in the internal combustion engine, but is dependent also on sophisticated electronics and plastic components. We alsoemphasize that, thourh the course of technological change appears inevitable (in hindsight), innovation is of necessity fraught with uncertainly. Researchers face many different paths that they could pursue. Often, competing technologies achieve some degree of commercial success (AC versus DC electricity, and steam versus electric and gasoline automobiles, for example). A host of cultural, economic, legal, and psychological factors may determine which innovative path prevails. Sometimes, as in the layout of the typewriter, decisions made early in the innovative process determine the course taken. Thus, even when the original need--in this case, a key layout designed to avoid the clash of mechanical parts--no longer applies, we retain the old keyboard layout. This is called "path dependence." It is precisely because the course of technological change is far from inevitable that we devote space to discussing why particular choices were made. We endeavor to show that technology and society continuously interact, rather than that one determines the other.

We should not leave the impression that all technological decisions were made by private individuals for the market. Government did much more than set the rules. Its role in military technology was ubiquitous, and there were often civilian spillovers. Agriculture, transport, and health were other areas in which governments directly encouraged innovation. In the twentieth century, government support of science aided technological advance across a wide range of applications.

We also believe that we cannot examine American technology in a vacuum. Though the United States has been a technological leader across many fields for much of the past century, this has not always been the case. Much of American technological advance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries involved borrowing European technology--even as Americans have adapted these innovations to their own conditions. Only by placing American technology in a global context can we hope to understand the waxing and waning of our technological leadership. Limitations of space alone prevent us from paying proper attention to the impact of American technology on the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most central feature of our book is our effort to link innovation with social change. Historically, technology has always produced winners and losers, proponent and opponents of change. Skilled craftspeople have repeatedly been displaced by machines, and many critics have objected to the pollution, military uses, lifestyle changes, and aesthetic affects of new technology. The course and rate of technological change were and are conditioned by the distribution of power in society. Who finances innovation? With which sections of society do innovators identify? Does the legal environment favor the status quo or favor change?

We pay special attention to the links between technological innovations and changes in gender roles in American society. Technology has shaped the lives of women and men both in and outside the home. It has shaped decisions of men and women to abandon domestic production for work in factories and offices. Yet innovation alone did not shape social roles. Cultural expectations (e.g., the prevailing ideology that "a woman's place is in the home") affected how technologies would be developed (e.g., a heavy stress on developing domestic appliances).

Throughout American history, citizens have varied greatly in their attitudes toward technology. Whereas the majority, perhaps, have tended to view innovation as a generally benevolent force, substantial numbers of American have become conscious of the negative effects of innovation--especially in the past century. These conflicting attitudes and their origins are also a part of our story.

The authors of this book met at a conference at the University of New South Wales several years ago. We hope that we have brought out the best in each other. Although both authors take interdisciplinary approaches, one has focused on the sociocultural questions, and the other, the economic problems raised by our topic. Taken together, our previous research has spanned most of the time period under study. We have been often each other's harshest critics. Gary Cross is primarily responsible for Chapters 1-3, 7-9, 12, 17, and 20, and Rick Szostak for 6, 10, 11, 13-16, 18, and 19. We divided the work on Chapters 4, 5, and 21. Nevertheless,' through numerous electronic mail messages and rewritings of each others' work, we have tried to ensure that the text flows smoothly from chapter to chapter. Coauthorship is the greatest test of friendship, and we are pleased to confirm that ours has survived intact.

In fact, it has prevailed, despite distance and time, enough for us to write a second edition. We have attempted to update the book with a thorough review of new literature and a systematic effort to improve the accuracy and prose of the first edition. We have also recognized the need to add new material, and especially to include a new chapter to take into account the amazing changes in electronic and other technologies in recent years that call for the historian's interpretation.

Our thanks to the following reviewers for their innumerable helpful comments: Jonathan Coopersmith, Texas A&M; Joaune Goldman, University of Northern Iowa; and Mark Newman, National Louis University. This is a much better volume because of their efforts.

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