Surveying Technology and History: Essential Tensions and Postmodern Possibilities
Abstract

Thomas J. Misa's Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present represents a new kind of survey history of technology. Traditional surveys take technology as their starting point (rather than politics and culture) and hence follow a periodization distinct from traditional political history. They also tend to sacrifice depth to achieve encyclopedic coverage. Misa's survey takes politics and culture as its starting point, which places technology back into mainstream history. Seeking to define and analyze paradigmatic techno-cultural eras, Misa examines eight key episodes in Western history and technology from the Renaissance to the present and identifies an underlying pattern of technological/economic through and action for each era, illustrated by key examples. Misa's work echoes the approaches of Lewis Mumford and Bertrand Gille in defining key technological eras, but he broadens this approach to link it more firmly with mainstream history. Misa also draws upon the traditions of political economy and economic history, but he moves beyond the myth of "economic man" by paying careful attention to the influence of political and cultural regimes on technological development. Misa's postmodern, episodic reading of the past encourages student debate and questioning, and invites development of a richer variety of survey histories.


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