Lecture 1 – Ancient Civilizations and Technological Determinism Ancient Technological Development

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Lecture 1 – Ancient Civilizations and Technological Determinism

Ancient Technological Development

  • Tool use for hunting and gathering (2 million years ago)

  • Agricultural Revolution (12000 years ago)

Early Old-World Hydraulic Civilizations

  • Urban revolution, 6000 years ago

  • Irrigation agriculture, management of flood water and fertilization, agricultural surplus and population increase

  • Management of surplus led to centralized government, taxation

  • Hydraulic engineering included: canals, dams, reservoirs, ditches, land drainage, artificial lakes

  • Slave labor, centralized bureaucracies, armies, tax collectors, scribes, specialized labor, priests, educational institutions

  • Social stratification, management and labor

  • Environmental circumscription: society restricted to particular areas due to need for water, slavery

  • Independent hydrological kingdoms:

    • 3500 BC, Mesopotamia

    • 3400 BC, Egypt

    • 2500 BC, Indus River Valley

    • 1800 BC, Yellow River

    • 600 BC Ionia, Greece (Hellenic)

    • 500 BC, MesoAmerica

    • 300 BC, South America

Trade, Crafts and Architecture

  • Bronze (copper + tin), “bronze age”

  • 1100 C furnaces, mining, smelting, metal currency, specialized labor

  • Large engineering projects, slavery or conscripted labor

  • Employment of workers in the off season, government power

  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canal, the Temple of the Sun

  • Writing and Mathematics

  • Writing and mathematics in all civilizations, practical orientation, surveying, calculating and recording taxes, managing agricultural surplus, exchange

  • State schools, writing and economic transactions, transfer of knowledge, literary and religious traditions

  • Sumerian and Babylonian base 60 (sexigesimal) number system, 60 minute hour, 60 second minute, and 360 degree circle

  • Astronomy, astrology, calendars, agriculture, transactions, religious events

  • State supported anatomy, herbology and surgery

Agriculture and Technological Determinism

  • Karl Wittfogel, hydraulic determinism: centralized control of water regimes using hydraulic engineering leads to autocratic government

Medieval Dutch Hydraulic Engineering

  • European rainfall, thick, wet soil, iron–shod plough and oxen

  • Field rotation, crop, fallow, manure, population increase

  • Horse-collar, increased horse population, cavalry, stirrups

Hydraulic Engineering in Holland

  • Limited land for farming, starvation, disease and warfare

  • Holland below sea level, hydraulic engineering to create farmland

  • Drainage of marshland using canals

  • Reciprocal effect: draining one area led to flooding in another, draining led to lowering of land further below sea level

  • Simple technological developments and unexpected consequences

Coordination and Control

  • 13th century: dikes (embankments to hold in water), dams (blocking rivers), sluices (canal with gates), and drainage canals

  • 1100 and 1300 hundreds of dikes and dams

  • Excluding external water meant more flooding

  • Polders: units of land at the same water level with shared drainage system, labor and capital intensive

  • System of autonomous water boards, predated government

  • No central co-ordination, taxes and public works local

  • The water boards were responsible for: regular inspection of facilities, recommending repair, supervising and organizing labour and materials, collecting taxes, dispute resolution

  • Management of problem, hydrological hypothesis, unintended consequences, technological fix, environmental changes

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