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A Social History of American Technology

Ruth Schwartz Cowan

Publication Date - January 1997

ISBN: 9780195046052

352 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $76.95


For over 250 years American technology has been regarded as a unique hallmark of American culture and an important factor in American prosperity. Despite this American history has rarely been told from the perspective of the history of technology. A Social History of American Technology fills this gap by surveying the history of American technology from the tools used by the earliest native inhabitants to the technological systems -- cars and computers, aircraft and antibiotics -- we are familiar with today. Cowan makes use of the most recent scholarship to explain how the unique characteristics of American cultures and American geography have affected the technologies that have been invented, manufactured, and used throughout the years. She also focuses on the key individuals and ideas that have shaped important technological developments. The text explains how various technologies have affected the ways in which Americans work, govern, cook, transport, communicate, maintain their health, and reproduce. Cowan demonstrates that technological change has always been closely related to social development, and explores the multiple, complex relationships that have existed between such diverse social agents as households and businesses, the scientific community and the defense establishment, artists and inventors. Divided into three sections -- colonial America, industrialization, the 20th century -- A Social History of American Technology is ideal for courses in American social and economic history, as a correlated text for the American history survey, as well as for courses that focus on the history of American technology. It offers students the unique opportunity to learn not only how profoundly technological change has affected the American way of life, but how profoundly the American way of life has affected technology.

Table of Contents

    A Social History of American Technology
    1. The Land, the Natives, and the Settlers
    The Land and the Native Inhabitants
    The European Settlers
    The Colonial Economy
    Colonial Economic Policy and Technological Change
    Conclusion: Quickening the Pace for Technological Change
    2. Husbandry and Huswifery in the Colonies
    Types of Farms in the Colonial Period
    The Technological System of Colonial Agriculture
    Conclusion: The Myth of Self-Sufficiency
    3. Colonial Artisans
    The Apprenticeship System and Labor Scarcity
    Printshops and Printers
    Mills, Millwrights, and Millers
    Iron Foundries and Iron Workers
    Conclusion: Reasons for the Slow Pace of Technological Change
    4. Early Decades of Industrialization
    Oliver Evans, Steam Engines, and Machine Shops
    Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin
    The Armament Industry and the American System of Manufacture
    Samuel Slater and the Factory System
    Conclusion: The Unique Character of American Industrialization
    5. Transportation Revolutions
    Transportation Difficulties
    Toll Roads and Entrepreneurs
    Canal Building and State Financing
    Steamboats: Steam Power and State Power
    Railroads: Completing a National Transportation System
    6. Inventors, Entrepreneurs and Engineers
    The Patent System: The Public History of Invention
    Inventors: Changes between 1820 and 1920
    7. Industrial Society and Technological Systems
    Industrialization, Dependency, and Technological Systems
    The Telegraph System
    The Railroad System
    The Telephone System
    The Electric System
    The Character of Industrialized Society
    Conclusion: Industrialization and Technological Systems
    8. Daily Life and Mundane Work
    Farmers and Unexpected Outcomes
    Skilled and Deskilled Workers
    Unskilled Workers
    Housewives and House Servants
    Conclusion: Was Industrialization Good or Bad for Workers?
    9. American Ideas about Technology
    Technology and Associated Ideas
    Precursors to Industrialization
    Technology and Romanticism
    Acceptance of Romanticism by Advocates of Industrialization
    Technology and Art
    Conclusion: The Cultural Meanings of Technology
    Blessing or Curse?
    10. Automobiles and Automobility
    Who Invented the Automobile?
    Henry Ford and the Mass-Produced Automobile
    Alfred P. Sloan and the Mass-Marketed American Automobile
    Automobility and the Road System before 1945
    Automobility and the Road System after 1945
    The Unexpected Consequences of Automobility
    11. Taxpayers, Generals and Aviation
    The Early Days of Aircraft and the Aircraft Industry
    World War II: A Turning Point
    The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex
    Civilian Spin-offs and the Race into Space
    Conclusion: Costs and Benefits of Military Sponsorship
    12. Communications Technologies and Social Control
    Wireless Telegraphy
    Wireless Telephony
    Government Regulation of Wireless Communication
    Wireless Broadcasting: Radio
    Electronic Components: The Vacuum Tube and the Transistor
    COnclusion: The Ultimate Failure of Efforts to Control Electronic Communication
    13. Biotechnology
    Science, Technology, and Technoscience
    Hybrid Corn
    The Birth Control Pill