The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

The Big Questions in the History of American Technology

GEORGE H. DANIELS

Following an approved model for "state of the field" reports, one might investigate the history of American technology by reciting the number of technologists whose biographies were unwritten, of industries that remained unstudied, of machines whose origins were still shrouded in mystery, of captains of industry whose rise was yet unchronicled. The writer would then close with a plea for historians of technology to assign their graduate students these topics, assuring his readers that a complete understanding of the subject would soon follow.

However useful this approach might be in certain fields, in the history of American technology I think it would be both depressing and superfluous -- depressing because we have barely scratched the surface of any of these important areas and the lists would be very long; and superfluous because our need is not for discrete research ideas -- there is an abundance of those -- but for a way to organize our thoughts and separate the more important from the less.

Can one therefore conclude anything from the discrete studies that have already been published? Now that these studies have been made, the articles and books written, what do we know with a relative degree of certainty about the history of American technology? What do we have reason to suspect? In light of our present knowledge, what seem to be the most fruitful lines for further study? These lists, I find, are a great deal shorter.

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