Pursell describes this book as a ‘social history’ (p. xi) of technology, by which he means a history of technology focused not on machines and processes, but on the people who create, use, and make sense of them. For Pursell, technologies are best understood as social products, as the reflection of very particular times, places, and relationships. Thus Pursell looks beyond inventors, engineers, and capitalists to consumers, policy-makers, and everyone affected, directly or indirectly, by the creations of our technological society. His goal is to integrate the study of technology into the mainstream of American history. Citing his mentor A. Hunter Depree, he argues that the history of American science and technology, properly understood, is the history of America. The first few chapters of the book describe the migration of tools and techniques—first medieval agriculture technologies, and later textile and other industrial manufacturing machines—from the Old World to the New. Throughout the colonial and early Republican period, Americans begged, borrowed, and stole technologies from Europe, often transforming them significantly in the process. Although Pursell makes no claim to comprehensive coverage, which would be impossible in a single-volume survey, he covers all the traditional topics, including agricultural, manufacturing, transportation, and domestic technologies. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the US developed into a technological and industrial powerhouse in its own right. It is in his treatment of this important and formative period that the value of Pursell's social history approach becomes apparent. He ties together neatly what are often treated as separate or even contradictory histories: the rise of industrial manufacturing in the north-east, the opening of the agricultural heartland of the Great Plains regions, and the ‘winning of the west’ through mining and irrigation projects. In each of these cases, for reasons economic, social, and political, Americans developed a propensity for a certain kind of technological solution: large-scale, high-capital, and labour-saving, but also resource intensive. These solutions often had unintended consequences. The same technologies that enabled increased productivity for farmers, for example, also distanced them from their customers, and made them vulnerable to the monopolistic practices of intermediaries such as grain silos and railroads. One of the important themes of the book is the growing relationships among industry, science, and government. Despite the initial reluctance of the federal government to fund technological development (as in turnpikes and canals), by the middle of the nineteenth century the US government was committed to devoting its resources to the service of industry. The US Geological Survey was established in 1879, for example, in large part to subsidize essential research required by the mining industry. The Department of Agriculture served a similar purpose for the agricultural industry. By the early twentieth century, organizations such as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the National Bureau of Standards, and the National Resources Committee were unabashedly committing federal resources to ‘supplying the people with important scientific findings which they need for their private purposes’ (p. 232). The Second World War and the Cold War only accelerated this ongoing trend towards government-directed industrial research.
22 February 2008
Despre aparitia statului industrial american
Nathan Ensmenger (2008) The machine in America: a social history of technology - By Carroll W. Pursell, The Economic History Review 61 (1), 263–265 doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2007.00419_27.x: