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Some Thoughts on the History of Technology
from Leading Scholars

The following interviews with and texts by eminent historians of technology may give some insight into the direction of the field.

Thomas P. HughesThomas P. Hughes, America's Golden Age: "There are other historians who are interested in politics and economics. I do not wish to see our field become--or continue to be--a field of specialization. It should be recognized as a part of general history, and a very important one. I think technology and science are at the core of historical developments in the twentieth century." This interview appeared in the pages of American Heritage of Invention and Technology.

John Kouwenhoven, Made in America: "...the vernacular designer is working not just with new materials but for a new purpose. The steam engine, for example, had to be adaptable to the manufacture of a great many products, in order to reduce the price. No sense in designing a steam engine to make Fabergé eggs for the csar of Russia. You've got to have a mass market in mind, otherwise the expense of that kind of machine isn't worth bothering with."

Edward Tenner, Unintended Consequences: "Every new invention changes the world — in ways both intentional and unexpected. Historian Edward Tenner tells stories that illustrate the under-appreciated gap between our ability to innovate and our ability to foresee the consequences." Watch the video at TED Talks.

Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Less Work for Mother: RuthSchwartz Cowan"Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream. And labor-saving household appliances often do not save labor. This is the surprising conclusion reached by a small army of historians, sociologists, and home economists who have undertaken, in recent years, to study the one form of work that has turned out to be most resistant to inquiry and analysis--namely, housework."

Walter A. MacDougall, Shooting the Moon: "Gazing up at the Texas night sky from his ranch, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson did not know what to make of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite launched into orbit by a Soviet missile on October 4, 1957. But an aide’s memorandum stoked his political juices. 'The issue is one which, if properly handled, would blast the Republicans out of the water, unify the Democratic party, and elect you President.' Back in Washington Johnson chaired blue-ribbon hearings to determine how the United States had fallen behind in 'the race to control the universe.' Whether or not Sputniks were a threat, they were a 'technological Pearl Harbor' and a terrible blow to U.S. prestige because 'in the eyes of the world first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.'

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