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The Invention of Invention DAVID LANDES In his book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes, Coolidge Professor of History and Professor of...

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1.1.1: The Invention of Invention DAVID LANDES In his book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes, Coolidge Professor of History and Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University, explores the role of technology in determining the economic status of three major world regions, Europe, the Middle East, and the Orient, during the second millennium. From his perspective as both a historian and an economist, he identifies five major technologies that were highly developed and refined during the Middle Ages although their beginnings predate this era. Landes proposes that various social and cultural conditions in those three societies encouraged the refinement of these and other technologies. In turn, these technologies had major impacts on the lives of citizens and also prompted subsequent technological advances. As the title of this selection suggests, Landes believes that how a society encourages and supports the development of technology determines the power and influence it achieves as well as its sustainability. Although technological innovation is not the only driver of social and economic change, its importance cannot be discounted. FOCUS QUESTIONS 1. Discuss ways in which this article suggests that technology challenges authority and aids in the redistribution of the power held by a few to a greater number of individuals. What long-range impacts did these technologies have, and what might have happened if such changes did not occur? 2. What factors not related to technology were at work in the societies examined in this article? Discuss how they either facilitated further technological development or were an impediment to it. 3. How does the focus of this article on five unique technological innovations compare with Cowan’s view of technological systems in Section 1.1.2 ? Explain the differences and similarities in their perspectives by examining selected technologies from each historical period. 4. In what ways do the points made by Landes in this article compare with issues presented in the Globalization and Economic Development section? Do the cultural factors discussed by Landes still operate in our present globalized world? Explain. KEYWORDS
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division of labor, ecclesiastical authority, free market, institutionalized property rights, inventive society, key-machine, productivity, religious zealot, replication, secular authority, theocracy Source: From The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some Are So Poor by David S. Landes, pp. 45–49. Copyright © 1998 by David S. Landes. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. When Adam Smith came to write about these things in the eighteenth century, he pointed out that division of labor and widening of the market encourage technological innovation. This in fact is exactly what happened in the Europe of the Middle Ages—one of the most inventive societies that history had known. Some may be surprised: for a long time one saw these centuries as a dark interlude between the grandeur of Rome and the brilliance of the Renaissance. That cliché no longer holds in matters technological. 1 A few examples: 1. The water wheel. It had been known to the Romans, who began to do interesting things with it during the last century of the empire, when the conquests were over and the supply of slaves had shrunk almost to nothing. By then it was too late; order and trade were breaking down. The device may well have survived on Church estates, where it freed clerics for prayer. In any event, it was revived in the tenth and eleventh centuries, multiplying easily in a region of wide rainfall and ubiquitous watercourses. In England, that peripheral, backward island, the Domesday census of 1086 showed some 5,600 of these mills; the Continent had many more. Even more impressive is the way waterpower technique advanced. Millwrights increased pressure and efficiency by building dams and ponds and by lining the wheels up to utilize the diminishing energy for a variety of tasks, beginning with those that needed the most power, and descending. At the same time, the invention or improvement of accessory devices— cranks, toothed gears—made it possible to use the power at a distance, change its direction, convert it from rotary to reciprocating motion, and apply it to an increasing variety of tasks, hence not only grinding grain, but fulling (pounding) cloth, thereby transforming the woolen manufacture; hammering metal; rolling and drawing sheet metal and wire; mashing hops for beer; pulping rags for paper. “Paper, which was manufactured by hand and foot for a thousand years or so following its invention by the Chinese and adoption by the Arabs, was manufactured mechanically as soon as it reached medieval Europe in the thirteenth century…. Paper had traveled nearly halfway around the world, but no culture or civilization on its route had tried to mechanize its manufacture.” 2 Europe, as nowhere else, was a power- based civilization. 2. Eyeglasses. A seemingly banal affair, the kind of thing that appears so commonplace as to be trivial. And yet the invention of spectacles more than doubled the working life of skilled craftsmen, especially those who did fine jobs: scribes (crucial before the invention of printing) and readers, instrument and toolmakers, close weavers, metal workers. The problem is biological: because the crystalline lens of the human eye hardens around the age of forty, it produces a condition similar to farsightedness (actually presbyopia). The eye can no longer focus on close objects. But around the age of forty, a medieval craftsman could
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The Invention of Invention
This article is related to the inventions of new technologies in the world especially in
three regions – Europe, the middle east and Orient and its economic and social...

This question was asked on Jan 11, 2013 and answered on Jan 13, 2013.

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