History of Technology – index of matrix tables.


Have you invested more in our symbols of technology than these tools can promise in satisfying our hunger for contentment?

technological periods | tools make a complex | power stages | power of tools | technical web | tools are blocks | conceptual tetrad

a model

population changes

The matrix of ideas:

Start: the origins, relations, & purposes of tools as shapers of technology.



The history of tool use, the relation among tools and of related tools to Ben Franklintechniques, and technological innovation is a global enterprise reflecting an expression of everything that is human.

Since the dawn of fire and art in the dusk of some previous ice age the human dream of control over the unpredictable events that torment our material lives has moved apace.

  Periods Approximate start dominant tool complexes
I Stone Age 10,000 BC hand ax, edible plants,domestic cattle, pigs, fire, bone.
II Bronze Age 5000 BC copper smelting, wood fuel, forges, horses.
III Iron Age 1000 BC charcoal fuels, olive oil, rice wine, hot metal forges, canals.
IV Mechanical Age 1543 clocks, textiles, steam engines, coal & coke fuels, railways.
V Information Age 1953 electricity, radio, telecommunications, satellites, airplanes.


professorOne goal of this course is to allow you to better understand how the web of tools, tool use and tool making influences your life and all of our lives.

Having transformed the dreams and the dreamer our inventions today surround us with a human crafted world of bewildering electrical dimensions peopled by subtle mechanical contrivances and hordes of electronic slaves.


We analyze how technology and techniques through our continuing use of implements and utensils, machines and media profoundly alters you and the world. Another goal of the class is to engage you in an ongoing conversation with me, your fellow students, and the people beyond the class as to the proper role of technology in our lives and our larger society.

Stages Mechanical Technocracy Automated
1 Prologue Descartes' Method Bacon's vision Oliver Evan's Mill
2 Preliminary antecedents Organ & Clock Guns, magnet, press Railroads
3 Immediate problem (anomaly) & discoveries Longitude & navigation Experimental evidence

lightning and machine sparks

4 Research and laboratory Development James Watt
Eli Whitney
Priestly, Cavendish Smithsonian

Telegraph, time & motion–the Gilbreths

5 prototype Newcomen engine Bell Labs Morse code
6 testing Watts explosion Taylorism Meat packing / canning
7 Deployment Dual cylinder engines Newspapers media Ford's
assembly - line
8 marketing & development Steam transport advertising aircraft
9 dispersal railways radio radar
Changing values, folkways and mores.
A final goal of the course is to introduce you to the means of information for determining, to your own satisfaction, the cost of, the meaning and the significance of technology in shaping our individual and collective identities as morally imaginative, spiritually diverse humans, and responsible citizens.
  Benjamin Franklin


The tool complex,
is a means to envision how


materials   builders
create a interdependent group
that, is also a way to understand the association of similar techniques and tools brought together to create technology based on at least, if not more, than four contributing factors:
  1. sources of material (stone age, bronze age, iron age, plastic age)
  2. means of construction (hand made, mechanized, automated)
  3. types of fuel (wind, wood, coal, coke, oil, gas, nuclear, electrical)
  4. purpose to which the materials and means are employed
  5. techniques used.

Aymaran (Amerindians from the Andes) boat builders from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

[photograph, 1992, JVS.]







Tools are the essential building blocks of any technology T-square

Any material or other creation that allows the user to overcome an immediate obstacle. Tools therefore make an opportunity out of a difficulty that arose from an existing state of affairs.

Joseph HenryFour ways technology influences your life:
      1. web of tools
      2. tool use and
      3. tool making
      4. Technology as art


concept map is conceived | tools are defined | web of technical relations emerges

web of tools

fire relates to axes, metal, cooking, warmth and light,

fuel relates to sources of wealth,

food relates to survival,

fiber - refers to the sources of our clothing, textiles, covering, rope basketry and any woven materials.

artifacts -- are implements we use to accomplish tasks.

tools are devices, instruments, utensils, or implements that can be used to solve problems.

All of the connections among artifacts, implements, materials & the means to handle problems weave us together into a related web.

Vocabulary of key terms:

Pursell | Pacey | Postman | Eberhart | Tenner | Snow | Kaku

Depending on the tools we use, each of us occupies one of more of these roles:

spheres of technical impacts



Course home

concept map is conceived | tools are defined | weekly development of concepts | web of technical relations emerges

Both of these are water lifting devices, the engine on the right had a greater capacity.


The web is the material fabric of society held in place by technology.

concept map is conceived | tools are defined |weekly development of concepts | web of technical relations emerges


Distinguishing inventions from use of tools
  Tool making Tool use
Defining technology
  moving parts machinery hand crafted tools
Critics of and challenges of technical changes.  
Conflicts created by technical creations.  
Population shifted upward at each surge:


Each surge fo population is associated with a tool complex of related technological advantages of one stage of teh surge over another.


technological periods | tools make a complex | power stages | power of tools | technical web | tools are blocks | conceptual tetrad


Class by weekly focus:

Technology as a story of origins.

Week 1Week One: the story of Thamus. –the focus of the course. The story of Daedalus.
Week 2
Week Two: Pursell question and the Greek mythological story of Prometheus.
Week 3
Week Three: Mechanization's Chinese origins & the Arab conveyance to the west.

Week 4
Week Four: Techniques change to machinery from handicraft.
The story of Faust.
Week 5
Week Five: If technology does not drive social history, then what does?
Week 6
Week Six: A base of mechanization from convergence of telegraph & railways.
Weeks 7-10 -- midterm debate over the meaning of Charles Percy Snow's The Two Cultures, 1956.
Week 11
Week Eleven: A new industrial order emerges from electricity and automation.
Week 12 Week Twelve: Automation of contemporary electronics and their origins.

Where we are going.


Tulips as tools?
Tools of Toil: what to read.
Tools are historical building blocks of technology.
Technology can be understood if tools have three facets.
Tools used in both Music and Architecture led to mechanization and automation.
Tools and the study of technology require us to reflect on the power of instruments,

Pursell | Pacey | Postman| Snow | Kaku | Eberhart | Tenner