Technology and American Society

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2004-09-22
  • Publisher: Pearson

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With a new final chapter covering recent electronic and technological advances, the second edition of Technology and American Society extends coverage of innovations in industry, home, office, agriculture, transport, constructions, and services into the twenty-first century. Offering a global perspective on the development of American technology, the text is structured around a historical narrative detailing major technological transformations over the last three centuries. With coverage devoted to both dramatic breakthroughs and incremental innovations, Technology and American Society analyzes the cause-and-effect relationship of change and its role in the constant drive for improvement and modernization.

Author Biography

Gary Cross is Distinguished Professor of Modern History at Pennsylvania State University, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in 1977 (Ph.D.). He has published ten books and twenty-three scholarly articles concerning the modern history of social, economic, and technological change in America, Britain, and France. Among his books are A Quest for Time: The Reduction of Work in Britain and France; Time and Money: The Making of Consumer Culture; Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood; An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America; and The Cute and The Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children's Culture. These books feature the social and cultural impact of technological and economic change. Since 1981, he has taught an undergraduate course on the history of technology in America. His wife, Maru, and two children, Elena and Alex, have more or less cheerfully accompanied him on trips to numerous museums and heritage sites that feature technology.

Rick Szostak is Professor and Associate Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta, where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1985. He is the author of eight books and more than twenty scholarly articles in the fields of the history of technology, economics, and interdisciplinary theory and practice. His books include The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution, which showed how eighteenth-century transport improvements encouraged both the rise of the factory and a dramatic increase in the rate of technological innovation, and Technological Innovation and the Great Depression, which argued that much of that calamity could be attributed to the lack of new product innovation in the decade after 1925, combined with an abundance of labor-saving technology. He has authored articles on technological subjects for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Scribner's Dictionary of American History, and the Gale Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. As associate dean, he spearheaded the development of a new major in Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Alberta in 2004. In recent research he explores how the linkages among human science disciplines can be strengthened. His inspiration comes from his wife, Anne-Marie, and their children, Mireille, Julien, and Theodore.

Table of Contents

Working the Landin Preindustrial Europe and America
Craftsmen in the Shop: European Traditions and American Changes in the Eighteenth Century
Women and Work before the Factory
Origins of Industrialization
The Birth of the Factory
Iron, Steam, and Rails
Machines and their Mass-Production
Machines on the Farm and in the Forest, 1800-1940
Americans Confront a Mechanical World, 1780-1900
The Second Industrial Revolution
Technology and the Modern Corporation
Technology and the First Arms Race, 1770-1918
The Impact of Technology on Women's Work
The New Factory
Innovation, The Great Depression, and the Automobile, 1918-1940
Mechanizing Sight and Sound
Technology and the Origins of Mass Culture
Airplanes and Atoms in Peace and War
Our Computer Age
Recent Advances in Technology
Modern Americans in a Technological World
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


This book is about the interaction of technology and society in the United States, from colonial times to the present. Despite the constraints of space, we take a very broad view of technology. We look not just at innovation in industry, but in home, office, agriculture, transport, construction, and services. We consider innovations that are not embodied in machines or chemical formulae, but include changes in workplace organization. Our work is structured around a historical narrative that details the major technological transformations of the last three centuries. Interwoven with this narrative are analyses of both the causes and the effects of technological change. Though we organize chapters chronologically, we are not slaves to a year-by-year chronicle of events; rather, chapters are organized to provide a comprehensive and integrated treatment of a technological trend. Time spans from chapter to chapter, then, necessarily overlap and vary in length.We find that innovations may be divided into two categories: basic changes that make dramatic breakthroughs, and which then spawn a second category, incremental innovations. Obviously we focus on the basic innovations, around which our chapters are mostly organized. (The reader should remember, however, that a number of minor improvements have likely had a greater cumulative impact on our way of life than scores of major breakthroughs.)Although we necessarily isolate themes, we recognize the interdependence of technological advances. The modern automobile is not only a result of improvements in the internal combustion engine, but is dependent also on sophisticated electronics and plastic components. We also emphasize that, thourh the course of technological change appears inevitable (in hindsight), innovation is of necessity fraught with uncertainly. Researchers face many different paths that they could pursue. Often, competing technologies achieve some degree of commercial success (AC versus DC electricity, and steam versus electric and gasoline automobiles, for example). A host of cultural, economic, legal, and psychological factors may determine which innovative path prevails. Sometimes, as in the layout of the typewriter, decisions made early in the innovative process determine the course taken. Thus, even when the original need--in this case, a key layout designed to avoid the clash of mechanical parts--no longer applies, we retain the old keyboard layout. This is called "path dependence." It is precisely because the course of technological change is far from inevitable that we devote space to discussing why particular choices were made. We endeavor to show that technology and society continuously interact, rather than that one determines the other.We should not leave the impression that all technological decisions were made by private individuals for the market. Government did much more than set the rules. Its role in military technology was ubiquitous, and there were often civilian spillovers. Agriculture, transport, and health were other areas in which governments directly encouraged innovation. In the twentieth century, government support of science aided technological advance across a wide range of applications.We also believe that we cannot examine American technology in a vacuum. Though the United States has been a technological leader across many fields for much of the past century, this has not always been the case. Much of American technological advance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries involved borrowing European technology--even as Americans have adapted these innovations to their own conditions. Only by placing American technology in a global context can we hope to understand the waxing and waning of our technological leadership. Limitations of space alone prevent us from paying proper attention to the impact of American technology on the rest of the world.Perhaps the most central feature

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