Final Report: The Mechanical Clock

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University of Massachusetts Amherst
David Gross

Corey Reed History 180 The Mechanical Clock:AStep Towards Modernity If we look into the past we see a lifestyle much different from our own. In today’s world, people are ruled by the clock, by time itself. We wake, eat, sleep, and move about directed by the simple fixture on a wall displaying numbers that have a meaning felt throughout modern civilization. However, life was not always this way. In ancient times man was ruled by nature, by the ebb and flow of the seasons, and by the callings of his job.Afarmer rose with the morning light to tend to his fields and worked until he no longer had the light to do so. Townspeople would rise and go about their activities according to their needs, not directed, as we are today, by a ticking counter over their heads. It is not until the 1300’s that we see significant change come about. With the invention of the mechanical clock and its introduction into society, the Middle Ages would never be the same. The introduction of a source of centralized timing allowed citizens to time out their days accordingly, and subsequently achieve more efficiency, which is a massive step towards the extreme efficiency which we have achieved in modern society. The invention of the mechanical clock allowed people to plan their day according to a rhythm other than that of nature. Mechanical clocks were first used in monasteries where there was a necessity for accurate time measurement so that prayers could be done at the proper time 1 There is some dispute as to why the technology to build a clock was around as early as the year 1000, yet the clock did not apper until around the year 1300. From David Landes, Reovlution in Time: Clocks and The Making of the Modern World (Harvard Univ. Press, 1983) (pg. 54) 1 and not be missed by any brothers. This skill of time management then spilled over to towns and cities, marking a transition from an agrarian society to one more industrialized. Instead of paying for production, which is subject to differences between workers, industries were now able to pay hourly wages to their employees, changing the dynamics of the employer and employee relationship.As we see today, companies somewhat own the time of their employees. People rise at a certain time, go to work, have their lunch break, and end their day according to the clock. This is all made possible in the MiddleAges by the invention of the mechanical clock. With its introduction people “in cities and towns ruled themselves by the clock.” Instead of workers deciding on their own whether it was time to go into work by rules such as being able to see the face of a person clearly from across the street, they were told when it was time to begin and end working by the tolling of a bell. In a hypothetical sense, “punching the clock” began in the MiddleAges. One unintended consequence of the introduction of the mechanical clock was the inevitable evolution of time-consciousness within the general population. Before the introduction of the clock, time was grouped into larger periods. Within a year you had the seasons, the changing of which affected all. In a larger sense time was broken down into even larger periods of years and segments such as the length of a certain ruler or regiment. However, with the introduction of a centralized clock, time could be segmented into smaller quantities. Hours were of most importance now, deciding when someone was to meet for a business endeavor or when it 4 was quitting time
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