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Technik Comes to America: Changing Meanings of Technology before 1930

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 47, Number 3, July 2006
pp. 486-512 | 10.1353/tech.2006.0201


Recent scholarship has shown that the present-day meanings of the term technology are relatively recent. In nineteenth-century English, technology referred principally to a field of study concerned with the practical arts; it did not refer to industrial processes or artifacts, except in anomalous usage. In German-speaking regions, a new discourse emerged around die Technik in the second half of the nineteenth century. This German term referred to the practical arts as a whole, especially those associated with engineers and modern industry. When Thorstein Veblen encountered this term after 1900 in German social theory, he incorporated its meanings into technology, thereby transforming the English word into a sophisticated concept for analyzing industrial societies. Most scholars who drew on Veblen's concept missed its subtleties, however, among them the historian Charles A. Beard. In the late 1920s, Beard embraced a deterministic understanding of technology that linked it firmly to the idea of progress.