JTE v3n2 - Book Review- The History and Influence of Technology

Volume 3, Number 2
Spring 1992

Book Reviews
          The History and Influence of Technology
          Hughes, Thomas P. (1989). American genesis:
          A century of invention and technological enthusiasm,
          1870 - 1970. New York: Penguin Books, $10.95 (paperback),
          529 pp. (ISBN 0-14-00-9741-4).
          Marcus, Alan I., Howard P. Segal (1989). Technology in
          America: A brief history. New York: Harcourt, Brace
          Jovanovich, Publishers, $14.95 (paperback), 380 pp.
          (ISBN 0-15- 589762-4).
          McGinn, Robert E. (1991). Science, technology, and society.
          Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, $19.40 (paperback),
          302 pp., (ISBN 0-13-794736-4).
          Pacey, Arnold (1990). Technology in world civilization.
          Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, $9.95 (paperback), 238 pp.
          (ISBN 0-262-66072-5).
          Pursell, Carroll W. Jr., Ed. (1990). Technology in
          America: A history of individuals and ideas. Cambridge,
          MA: MIT Press, 2nd ed., $11.95 (paperback), 319 pp.
          (ISBN 0-262-66049-0).
          Reviewed by Dennis W. Cheek
              These five books, all available in paperback, are part
          of a growing and intersecting corpus of scholarship that
          will enlighten technology educators at all levels -
          elementary through post-doctoral studies. Two books provide
          a very broad base from which to consider the other
          contributions, which focus on the history of technology in
          America. The five volumes as a set, make a wonderful
          resource library for any technology teacher seeking to
          understand technology within the contexts of American
          history and global interdependence.
              McGinn's contribution to the well-known and highly
          acclaimed Prentice Hall Foundations of Modern Sociology
          Series, is the best introductory sociology of science and
          technology textbook in English. The author is department
          chair of the Values, Technology, Science and Society (VTSS)
          Program at Stanford University. The nature, contexts, and
          relationships between science and technology are briefly
          explained. Modern theories of science and technology in
          society are presented to form a context for topics in the
          remainder of the book. The final two sections consider the
          influence of science and technology on modern society and
          the impact of modern society on science and technology. An
          appendix briefly introduces the reader to the growing STS
              The sociological approach of McGinn is nicely
          complimented by Pacey's historical tour de force which looks
          at technology over a thousand year period of world
          civilization. A singular contribution is his emphasis upon
          the adaption of technology to particular cultures and
          peoples. Pacey presents many examples of the diffusion and
          transformation of technology from Asia and Africa to Europe
          and cases where the diffusion occurred in the reverse
          direction. His informed criticism of naive technology
          transfer from industrialized to nonindustrialized nations is
              What then of technology in America? The reviewer knows
          of no better starting point to pursue general studies in
          this arena than the recent works by Hughes, Marcus and
          Segal, and Pursell. The broadest perspective is that of
          Marcus and Segal who deliver just what the book's subtitle
          promises - a brief history. Within this handy tome, the
          reader will find a concise yet encyclopedic account of
          technology in America. The authors skillfully link
          technologies to their underlying political, social, and
          economic contexts, and establish systematization as a major
          theme in American technological development. The technology
          teacher will gain a new appreciation of how interwoven
          technologies are with one another in both their origins and
          subsequent evolution.
              More detail about specific individuals instrumental in
          the development of technology in America can be gleaned from
          the very useful second edition of Pursell's edited volume. A
          group of 22 eminent historians of American technology
          present biographical vignettes of 21 key individuals and
          their ideas. Instead of merely cataloguing of achievements,
          each essay helps the reader see the individual within an
          appropriate social and historical context. The essays are
          non-technical in nature and many would be suitable for high
          school technology students to read and consider.
              For in-depth treatment of technology in America during
          the last one hundred years, there is probably no better
          treatment on the present market than American Genesis from
          the pen of the noted University of Pennsylvania historian of
          technology, Thomas P. Hughes. Taking "the world as artifact"
          as his metaphor, Hughes tries to explain historically how we
          have come to live and accept life in a technologically
          fabricated world. He admirably succeeds in his goal to
          produce not simply another history of technology in America
          but a rich social history that considers technology's broad
          impacts and pervasive influence on the culture, behavior,
          and mores of modern America. The book breaks new ground with
          bold new explanations and like all books of this type,
          causes an informed reader to part company with the author at
          certain points. Yet, that is one of the hallmarks of a
          worthwhile book.
              All five books enable the technology teacher to see
          technology in a broader and deeper context than is often the
          case. Each contributes worthwhile perspectives to anyone
          seeking to think in fuller ways about technology and its
          role in the modern world. All of these works are accompanied
          by lists of additional readings, subject and author indices,
          and period B & W photographs. Some also include diagrams
          from the period under discussion. If you've been teaching
          technology without much sense of its history or impact,
          these books are sure guides that will enrich your teaching
          and your thinking.
          Dennis W. Cheek is Book Review Editor for the Journal of
          Technology Education and Coordinator of Curriculum
          Development, New York Science, Technology and Society

Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992