NATS 1775 Lecture Notes - Plough, Movable Type, Horse Collar

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Published on 20 Apr 2013
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2009 © Vera Pavri
Lecture 3: Technology in the Middle Ages
I. Medieval Attitudes towards Technology
- distinct views of technology developed within medieval intellectual
tradition; one that we will examine closely today involves linking technical
arts with religious salvation
- idea that technical arts could lead to religious salvation first proposed by
Hugh of St. Victor around 1140 AD who saw the mechanical arts as “part
of man’s religious and philosophical quest”
- St. Victor saw mechanical arts as a branch of knowledge that paralleled
theoretical knowledge and practical arts
- Theoretical knowledge was a remedy for ignorance; practical knowledge a
remedy for vice and the mechanical arts a remedy for physical weakness
- Pursuing any of these kinds of knowledge would contribute to man’s rise
from his fallen state (i.e. Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, etc…) and
would lead to religious salvation
- Different ideas about how influential St. Victor’s views were
- Most positive attitudes towards technology found in artisan monk and
laboring classes as opposed to medieval philosophers who continued to
reject the importance of the technical arts
- In treatises written by these philosophers, the mechanical arts continued
to be subordinate to all other sciences
- This was because the mechanical arts were preoccupied with the body
and material world
- crafts therefore were considered “unworthy, servile or vulgar”
- Aristotle’s views on technology greatly influenced many of these medieval
philosophers: he believed that technical arts or craftwork was “base” and
that this kind of knowledge was inferior to theoretical knowledge because
former dealt with particular or specific kinds of information while theoretical
info was more universalistic and could be applied to all phenomena
- Some philosophers influenced by Arab tradition did give mechanical arts a
higher status but on the whole, during this time the technical arts remained
subordinate to natural philosophy
II. Asian Technology in the Middle Ages
- The “Golden Age” of Chinese science and technology came with the Sung
dynasty (960-1279 AD)
- Chinese civilization developed many techniques for improving agricultural
practices and increasing rice surpluses
- Population rose from 50M in 800 AD to 115M by 1200AD
- In China, science and technology were also considered to be very
separate traditions done by different people in different institutions, etc…
- Although craftsmen had a lower social status than natural philosophers,
China became a world leader in technological advancement
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2009 © Vera Pavri
- Chinese “firsts” include the wheelbarrow, gunpowder, porcelain, umbrella,
fishing reel, suspension bridges, paper-making, moveable type
- Chinese also using paper money by 1024 AD
- One reason why Chinese are so successful in producing these kind of
technologies is because of government involvement: government owned
many of the industries (i.e. mining, silk, paper-making, iron production)
and employed craftsmen who specialized in particular fields to work in
these factories
- One of the most important technologies to come out of China was block
printing (9th century) and moveable type (11th century)
- Important to understand that although moveable type was invented in
China, it eventually became a much more successful technology in
Europe, especially after the advent of the printing press
- Why? Some consider moveable type impractical for Chinese writing which
involves complex pictograms
- Gunpowder also developed in mid 9th century in China, although it was
initially used for fireworks, etc… and not for military purposes
- By 12th century gunpowder was being used for military purposes such as
rockets, explosive grenades, bombs, guns, etc…
- Chinese also amongst first to use magnetic compass (2nd century); initially
did so for spiritual practices, such as the proper area to site houses,
temples, roads, etc…
- Compass eventually used as navigational tool by 12th century, and by 15th
century China had one of the largest navies in the world
- However, by end of 15th century there begins to be a decline in oversees
travel, shipbuilding
- Reasons for this change include construction of Grand Canal: lots of
money put into this technological project, removed need to go oversees;
also could be result of whims of ruling party
III. European Technology in the Middle Ages
- while many technical advances “lost” in Middle Ages, European innovation
came with new agricultural techniques and energy sources
- Europe had an “Agricultural Revolution” between 600-1000 AD where its
population rose almost 30%
- This came as a result of new technological innovations which allowed for a
greater agricultural surplus
- In Europe, land is very scarce; land used for everything and use of wood
for fuel makes it even more of a precious commodity
- Most land that was cultivated in Europe at this time was done by a light
plow where only 2-3 oxen used
- Major change came with invention of heavy plow which used up to 8 oxen;
this allowed heavier, richer land (soil) to be cultivated for farming
- Europe also started importing crops from “new world” like potatoes, maize
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2009 © Vera Pavri
- At this time, also see substitution of horse for ox as draft animal (horses
could move faster and for longer periods of time than oxen); horse collar
- One major agricultural innovation included development of a 3-field
rotation system for planting crops (production went from 33% to 50%) as
opposed to 2 field system
- With development of heavy plow, etc…, there is a rise in communal
agriculture as most individuals could not afford to go at it alone
- Medieval villages thus had form of collective ownership, communal
agriculture
- Use of horses allowed villages to grow; see rise of cathedral building and
first universities constructed at this time
- Medieval culture consists of lords, ladies, knights, etc…
- Along with these agricultural developments there are other important
technical innovations
- Chinese invention of stirrup (5th century) came to Europe by about 8th
century: prior to invention, most battles fought on ground; men would
dismount from horses to engage in combat
- With stirrup, no longer had to get off horse to fight
- New energy sources also include increased use of waterwheels and
windmills; helped power sawmills, flour mills, etc… and this increased
agricultural and material production
- Machinery could be found in most villages; people became more familiar
with the technology
- Slavery versus labor saving machines argument
- Black Death in Europe between 1347-48 wiped out 1/3 of population
- By 14th century, there is rise in use of military technologies: adoption of
gunpowder, manufacturing of guns (musket introduced in 1550s) and
cannons meant decline of “knight in shining armor”
- Military technology greatly financed by state or royal treasuries; for
example, French in latter half of 15th century went from producing 20000
pounds to 500000 pounds of gunpowder
- role of military technology and the rise of nation-states
IV. The Mechanical Clock
- Mechanical clock one of the first technologies to be made entirely out of
metal; its importance in our society today cannot be underestimated
- examining the origins and spread of mechanical clock allows us to
examine some important themes related to this course including the
“economic needs” argument as well as cross-cultural comparisons of
technological use
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Document Summary

Hugh of st. victor around 1140 ad who saw the mechanical arts as part of man"s religious and philosophical quest . St. victor saw mechanical arts as a branch of knowledge that paralleled theoretical knowledge and practical arts. Theoretical knowledge was a remedy for ignorance; practical knowledge a remedy for vice and the mechanical arts a remedy for physical weakness. Pursuing any of these kinds of knowledge would contribute to man"s rise from his fallen state (i. e. garden of eden, adam and eve, etc ) and would lead to religious salvation. Different ideas about how influential st. victor"s views were. Most positive attitudes towards technology found in artisan monk and laboring classes as opposed to medieval philosophers who continued to reject the importance of the technical arts. In treatises written by these philosophers, the mechanical arts continued to be subordinate to all other sciences.