The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 2

The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 2

The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 2

The Early History of Mechanical Engineering - Vol. 2

Excerpt

“Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful, and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous, and loathed because they impose slavery.” So wrote Bertrand Russell in his Sceptical Essays (1928, 83). Because of this ambivalent attitude society’s disposition towards technology, and towards manufacture in particular, has changed profoundly, and more than once, since the dawn of recorded history. The word manufacture originally meant made by hand , although we now use it to mean made by machine and items made by hand are now usually described as crafted . Manufacture is closely linked to technology. The products of technology’ are usually admired and are in great demand but the methods used to produce them are often considered deplorable. The earliest myths record that the gods themselves might be technologists (smiths). Conversely, the first human technologists were admired hugely and came to be venerated as gods. However, during the first millennium B.C., the disadvantages of technology emerged more clearly and society, at least Greek and Roman society, turned against it. Technology was necessary, and therefore tolerated, but was given a lowly status. It became the work of slaves or the lowest class of society. Slavery stigmatised technology, which in turn stigmatised everything it touched. For this reason, technology was starved of intellectual content and suffered accordingly. It was not one of the liberal arts that were approved for study by the intellectual elite of the free and unfettered.

This state of affairs changed during the Dark Ages largely because Christianity, the new Roman religion, did not approve of slavery, with the result that industrial slavery declined and agricultural slavery was replaced by serfdom. Fewer artefacts, particularly metal artefacts, were made and they became more expensive, and greatly valued. By the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance the association of slaves with manufacturing was forgotten. Attitudes to technology changed and work, particularly manual work, was seen as a . . .

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