Tools of Toil

A Users Guide to things that we depend upon to work.

History of Technology

Joseph V. Siry, Ph.D.

"Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us. Individuals show the way, set the patterns. The rivalry of the patterns is the history of the world."

William James (1908)


Technology defined 3
Episodes discussed 4
Active Listening & Critical Reading 5
Three aspects of Technology 5
daily questions & citations 6
Free Writing 7
Terms ( Key ideas:) 7
Content of DAILY Questions 8
Papers 8
Interviews & Confidentiality 9

is the study of our capacity to systematically use devices or implements to rationally solve problems in complementary ways that rely on ingenuity and judgment.

The history of this capacity is as old as it is complicated and exciting because it has produced this world in which you and I expect things to always work, automatically and with a minimum of costly maintenance of down-time. We are technology's progeny as surely as prodigious tinkerers and experimenters have invented the world of machines we use every day. From the clock on the wall, or embedded in the computer screen, to the axles of your car, to the digital signals feeding the sounds and images of your electronic equipment implements of modern technology for m a seamless and systemic fabric of our existence worthy of our inquiry and attention.

This is a story of people, things, places and above all the opportunities they took that have transformed the way people communicate, live, nourish themselves, learn and even procreate. You and I live and die by technological contraptions that most people know little or nothing about. So we begin by having you define technology, interview people, job shadow if you choose to, and prepare your mind to judge between two authors who diametrically disagree over the future.

The course is based on the chronological sequence of when certain key inventions were made and what took these ideas so long to become widespread features in our social relations. Humans have always wanted to fly, but only in the last century did such a desire manifest in airplanes that now are common means of transport for millions of people. It is important to realize the sequence of how, inventors, techniques, tools themselves and social conditions worked in tandem to bring about the spread --or cultural diffusion-- of technological innovations.

Two historians are used to guide you through the countless objects that are either the product of technology or the tools we use to better equip ourselves to solve problems. The course assumes you understand that technology is part of culture and that culture is in a biological sense the means we have to acquire traits or behaviors that are not instinctually passed on from our ancestor's genetic makeup. Basic to these two historian's interpretations of tools and their impact iis that objects of material culture have symbolic and political meanings that go way beyond what people do with a device, utensil, or implement. The transcendent meaning is as important as what the technology actually does to cause people to think as they do.

For example, early hominids who used fire to protect themselevs, nourish their young and even rearrange their surroundings made a decision that has had a profound impact on us. From the morphology of our teeth, jaws and stomach, to altering the mental state of their descendants, the use of fire together with language are examples of two types of technological changes that have had both profound social, but even more lasting biological affects on our species.

We will study important episodes in tool use in order to understand our past and judge how tools will forever reshape us and our children for better or for worse, because technology is a double edged sword. Thus tools are not just catalytic instruments in changing us and the world, but are in turn changed by people and used in novel ways to solve the problems created by other tools.

Ice ManPaleolithic-


Ancient and Medieval inventionsClassical world-


Mechanization16th - 17th C-

Industrialization18th C-

Automation19th C

We have only time to look at six significant, lasting and ongoing changes in the history of tools or tool use and thus we will characterize each period as one of profound change from before to after an invention became widespread to the extent that it would change people's lives. Each episode or era is characterized by having been changed by a "great" invention, even though several collateral discoveries and inventions propelled decisive changes in civilization. Decisive to the extent that once an invention became commonplace, such as the gun, or contraceptives, there was no means to abandon or reject the new implement and regress to living conditions as they were before the changes occurred. There is no greater example of this than agriculture, before the present century. While each era is oversimplified, for the purpose of general understanding, you should be aware that great changes were accompanied by changes in how people related to tools and to one anothert in using such new devices as say, clocks, steam engines, automated looms, computers or x-ray equipment.

Episode focus implemental change in culture-

Ice Manfire, language & symbols-

Agriculturedomestication & mills-

Ancient and Medieval inventionssundial, wind mills & rudders-

Commercializationclock, numbers & compass-

Mechanizationsteam engine, coal & weaving-

Industrializationsteel, railways & electricity-

Automationautomobiles & airplanes
Active listeming and critical reading:

Active listeming to others and critical reading of the texts together to express your ideas is practiced in the class so that you can improve your written and verbal skills. You are encouraged to convey what you know based on what the text is saying to you in light of our field outings and class discussions.

While technology is more than meets the eye, it does begin with an identification of material objects and an interpretation of their role in people's lives.

Technology will be examined in three essentially complementary aspects so that you can present your research in a clear analysis of these three facets of technology identified by Arnold Pacey, physiscist and author of one of our texts.

Pacey asserts that technology has three complementary aspects to better understand how to define, interpret and explain its power to transform societies over time. These three aspects are:

Aspect synonym question answered
1. Technical "the tool itself"What does the device do, or how does it work and what is done with its aid?
2. Organizational "system of production"How do people make and use the devices of this technology?
3. Social facet "meaning & symbolic power"How do people describe the implement's impacts?

Think of the above as a triangle of relations, each side of the triangular relationship representing a dimension of technology such that a surface definition of technology as merely tools or implements used to do something, misses the other two dimensions of organizational and psycho-social and linguistic patterns that define the real power of technology to inspire, awe, shock, or even repulse people.

The course also expects that you will be familiar with the following ancient stories: Daedalus and Icarus, Pandorra, Thamus, and Don Quixote. If you are not familiar with the moral of these stories, you have two options, contact me, and attend one of our dinner meetings.

Daedalus & Icarus, A father who built the maze at Knossos and his errant son.
Pandorra, A woman with an itch for opening things she couldn't handle.
Thamus, An Egyptian King who quetioned the value of Hermes' gifts.
Don Quixote. Cervante's Spanish story that has a "knight errant" tilting windmills
The Golem A Jewish story from Prague about a protector gone awry.
daily questions

What is the meaning of a culture based on technology?

Cultural historian, and critic Jacques Barzun has recently written:

" In a culture based as it was on the machine, a welfare state was inescapapble. The array of safeguards against danger would be sufficient justification of the system. A second, also arising from the machine, was mass production. The population must have the means of buying without letup; and the phrase 'social security' must include security for the producers of the abundance as well. Only buying by everybody all the time kept the great machine running.....The society was demotic."
(Barzun, 2000, p. 778)

What did he say?
How does he use the word machine to meaan two or more things?-
Initial use:-
subsequent use(s):

Define key words:

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, (New York: Harper-Collins, 2000).

Two examples above:
1. Above is an example of the sort of daily questions you should expect to answer.
You answer these questions four times in a process of continually refining your answers. You will formally see the question in class. Before coming to class you should consider the question based on your readings. You will be asked to answer the question once in class by free writing, a second time by explaining what you have written and yet another time when you reread your notes to include these ideas in your essays.

2. Above is also another example of one of two acceptable styles when using quotations in your papers. While lengthy quotes should be avoided in your essays, they, a) must be indented when longer than three lines, and b) must be referenced appropriately.
The style above is the use of parantheses to refer to the author of the words or ideas you have expressed (called a citation). But the full citation must appear at the end of your essay, or you have committed a serious error. The preferred means of citing sources is to use footnotes or end notes, and list sepearetely a full bibliography of sources consulted.
Free writing

Usually once per week
the use of free writing (or informal composition) is designed to get participants to write down their thoughts about the readings is a short five minute burst of composing, where spelling, grammar and proper syntax is ignored in order to get as much information down on paper as possible. You can always rewrite and edit later!

Free writing is a technique used by rhetoritician and writer, Peter Elbow, who suggests its purpose is to generate in a short amount of time a maximum amount of reflective ideas. The purposes I use this technique for are:

1.To clear your mind to focus on the matter under discussion.
2.To have you write as much as you can quickly in order to get to the point.
3.Reveal how much can be done in five minutes of focused effort.
The work you produce when free writing is completed is not to be graded or turned in for comment, in the traditional sense. It can be rewritten with the help of the texts and by taking your draft to the writing center and then it can be submitted to me for comment. But writing in class, is merely a pass/fail part of your participation grade for that day. Products of free writing, however, can be used with the accumulated writing from previous classes as the basis of any or all of your essays. So take the exercise seriously and the pay-off to you will, over time, be a remarkable compendium of what you think about the key ideas in the course.

Key ideas:
mechanization versus automation

techniques and technical know how
technological metaphors
alienation and resentment
sentimentality (misplaced sentiment)
Three stages in technical change versus facets of technology
eotecnic technical
paleotecnic organizational
neotecnic social & cultural
Thamus' warnings
the idea of progress
technological autism
Content of daily questions:

The goal of this course
is for you to think refelctively, often and below the surface about the impact of technology on society and write persuasively about your discoveries. The purpose of the daily questions are to get you to think more analytically about what the authors and I are saying with respect to what technology is and what it does. Your response to the questions should be reformulated often as you acquire new or further information about a subject. But the Focus questions are to guide you through the challenging readings because you are expected to read sections aloud in class, discuss the readings in class and use the readings in your essays where they are appropriate.

Describe what items were found on the frozen body of ODI in the Alps, what do these items reveal about this humans, and his groups use and knowledge of tools?

What is the judgment of Thamus and why is he so skeptical of this particular invention?

Define technology with refrence to it etymology and with very different examples of tools:

What does Pursell say that the role of language and the meaning of technology are?

What does Pacey think formed the basic developments of foundations of later European technology, what were these precursor elements and where did the arise?

What is meant by convergence and exaptation? Use several examples tp show how these concepts differ with respect to technological development.

Describe alienation with examples and how does it become entangled with technology?

What three facets of contemporary technology are described by Kaku coming together?

Describing What you know. (Writing Center visits are rewarded.)
Papers are my principle means of assessing your performance in the class, in addition to oral responses and practiced verbal presentations. All essays are to have a thesis statement based on the materials assigned and must have a complete list of references.

Interviews with four to six people, 4 or 3 of which your formally write-up and present to the class in written form are conducted in the first three weeks of class so you have their ideas.

Job shadowing may be an option instead of a formal essay, but you will write up the experience with respect to the use of tools in the job you shadow as a formal paper. The job shadowing should be no less than 10 hours and be completed by November 7.

Introduce yourself, the subject of the interview and what you want to learn. Ask several questions of the interviewee and be sure that your questions have specific outcomes. The inquiries must not be so general as to confuse the answerer. For instance: "What is technology?" is too broad, but "How do you use technology in the workplace or home and what level of satisfaction does that give you?" Is better.

CONFIDENTIALITY: All interviews are of a confidential character, and the material acquired during the intervirew process is to be used strictly for educational purposes with an informative value, and not to embarrrass, harrass, or violate the privacy of the person or persons interviewed. Make this clear to the persons you interview at the outset.

This is the citation form for unpublished personal interviews with an information source. These may be letter or e-mail correspondences, telephone conversations, or personal conversations. Use the Periodical citation for published interviews.

Fill in as many fields as possible.
The Interviewee citation is placed in the End Notes section under: Unpublished sources

The person who conducted the interview.
The person who was interviewed; the information source.
Interview Type:
What type of interview was conducted? Enter:
Personal interview
Personal e-mail
Letter to the author
Telephone conversation
Radio / TV interview
Where the interview took place, if applicable.
Type the date of the interview, for example, "September 15, 2002."

The citation is automatically formatted. When you print or export a report, the citation takes this format.
Gargan, Edward A. Letter to the author. 3 December 2001.

Examples. The following examples show different cases of Interview citations.

* Ewing, Paul Q. Telephone conversation with author. 2 February 1999.

* Nelson, Cary. Personal interview. 15 September 2002.