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Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 799-801

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Book Review

Artisans, Entrepreneurs and Machines: Essays on the Early Anglo-American Textile Industries, 1770s-1840s

Artisans, Entrepreneurs and Machines: Essays on the Early Anglo-American Textile Industries, 1770s-1840s. By David J. Jeremy. Aldershot and Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Pp. x+352; illustrations, figures, tables, appendixes, notes/references, index. $99.95.

David J. Jeremy's many previous publications on technology transfer and business history have contributed immensely to our understanding. Now [End Page 799] we have Artisans, Entrepreneurs and Machines. Here, Jeremy presents a selected group of his articles on the early American and British textile industries and seeks to set forth a model of technology transfer applicable to the information age. He first suggests that the process of technology transfer in our own time is similar in many ways to this process in the early-nineteenth-century textile industry, about which he has written extensively. "Persistent and shared" characteristics (I, p. 1) include the understanding of technology as organized in systems, the realization that human input is paramount, and the acknowledgment of similarities inherent in the actual transfer processes.

By focusing on these similarities, Jeremy constructs a model based on early-nineteenth-century technology transfer that can be applied to the transfer of technology nearly two centuries later. He acknowledges the difficulty of such a task, noting Thomas P. Hughes's observation that technological systems "contain complex, problem-solving components," and Robert Adams's that the construction of a universal technology transfer model probably is not possible (I, pp. 1, 3). Nonetheless, Jeremy begins with a technology-transfer model that evolved from a communication-based model he first presented in his Transatlantic Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981). He then adapts this model to situations wherein the diffusion of technology takes place between more developed and less developed societies and from one multinational facility to another across national boundaries. To gain yet another view of this transfer process, he also suggests an examination of inhibiting or encouraging factors, carriers and their goals, the adoption process in receptor societies, reverse flows, and general socioeconomic and environmental conditions.

To assist in understanding his model in the light of early technology transfer, Artisans, Entrepreneurs and Machines includes ten of Jeremy's previously published essays, and if this book did nothing more than bring these splendid, pioneering articles together in one place it would be valuable to historians. They are grouped under the headings of "obstacles and inducements," "channels," and "modifications." "Damming the Flood" focuses on the British government's efforts to halt the loss of technology through emigration and machinery export, and "Yarns Count Systems" addresses the impact of technical traditions on technology transfer. These two articles were published prior to 1980, as were "The Philadelphia Experience" and "Innovation in American Textile Technology." Post-1980 articles include "Textile Machine Makers along the Brandywine," "Transatlantic Industrial Espionage," and "Invention in American Textile Technology." Readers just beginning to examine technology transfer in the early American and English textile industries and elsewhere will do well to start with these.

There are those who may have trouble with a few of Jeremy's assumptions. His conclusion that the nature of technological transmission during two discrete epochs includes similarities sufficient to develop a mutually [End Page 800] applicable model is open to challenge. While he seeks to build a model of technology transfer that can be applied to the information age, he offers details only from the early-nineteenth-century textile industry. Moreover, as informative as his individual essays appear to be, when they are combined the result is not so clear. Since there is still much to learn about some aspects of the early American textile industry, a basic segment of his model may yet remain incomplete. But these concerns are minor. Jeremy's essays generally have withstood the test of time, and the potential value of a model such as he offers cannot be overestimated. His latest effort to enhance our understanding of the diffusion process merits our...


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