Along with the scientific
and industrial revolutions (17th and 19th centuries,
respectively) came a new respect for technology. New
attitudes towards technology--that technology will make us
rich and that "science and invention were the
engines of progress" (p. 9)
from the scientific revolution until the late 19th century
the relationship between science and technology is
what we call technology had been just something that
craftspeople do, and the word as we use it today wasn't
now it began to be seen as a field of study, as something
coherent and interesting
Consider the word: technology (used to mean only the
scientific kind of technology, or at least the systematic
study of tools, now we use it more broadly)
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following
a. A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the
scientific study of the practical or industrial arts.
Practical arts collectively.
A particular practical or industrial art.
2. The terminology of
a particular art or subject; technical nomenclature.
d. "high-technology" applied to a firm,
industry, etc., that produces or utilizes highly
advanced and specialized technology, or to the products
of such a firm. Similarly low-technology.
3. In Greek: systematic
treatment (of grammar, etc.), Obsolete. rare.
4. Special Combinations:
technology assessment, the assessment of the effects on
society of new technology; technology transfer, the
transfer of new technology or advanced technological
information from the developed to the less developed
countries of the world.
Nye's point is that the word technology used to mean
something very different
first meant only a book about practical arts, then came to
mean the arts themselves
now it means scientific study of a practical
art--practical arts were not very interesting to scholars
So what does "practical arts" mean?
Learning used to be divided up into:
This older definition of technology assumed that formal
science and technology didn't have much to do with each
- fine arts: painting, music, etc.--beauty for its
own sake, not practical
arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic,
geometry, musical harmonics, and astronomy, also not
- practical arts: anything useful
American colleges taught prestige subjects--Latin,
Greek, mathematics, philosophy and theology
But that still wasn't what we usually mean by technology
- Watch out for the idea that technology is the
application of science--that was not true before the
18th century and only gradually became so over two
centuries before about 1950. Even now, there are
many technological innovations that don't involve
- Technology became the word for high prestige
practical arts, it isn't so much used for low prestige
ones (which is why technology today is sometimes used
to mean computers--they have the highest prestige
Amos Eaton portrait
The history of Rensselaer
shows the process of making engineering into a formal
subject instead of simply the business of
the key idea in the 19th century development of
engineering and science education was that technology
based on science will provide us with a new and better
- In England engineering was still
learned by apprenticeship until around 1900, while
France had developed a system of formal schooling in
engineering in the late eighteenth century.
The flagship school in France, Ecole
Polytechnique, taught a broad foundation of
mathematics and science with the idea that the
students would then go to specialized programs to
learn such fields as mining engineering and bridge
- In the United States the Rensselaer
School was founded in 1825, the first civilian
technical school on the college level (the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point was already teaching
Van Rensselaer put up the money and Amos
Eaton (1776-1842) provided the ideas and
directed the new school.
- Eaton had started out as a lawyer and
gone to jail accused of cheating in a land deal.
While in jail he studied science by reading
books. After he got out he made a living by
giving public lectures about science.
- How does Eaton think you should teach
- you need hands on experience, not
just to read a book
- students should give
lecture-demonstrations to the professors
- learn practical scientific
knowledge, not just abstract knowledge
- Eaton stressed that students would
learn science from its practical applications.
At Rensselaer: "In every branch of learning, the pupil
begins with its practical application; and is
introduced to a knowledge of elementary principles,
from time to time, as his progress requires.
After visiting a bleaching factory, he returns to the
laboratory and produced the chlorine gas and
experiments upon it, until he is familiar with all the
elementary principles appertaining to that curious
substance." Eaton was struggling to figure out the
relationship between science and engineering
education. He was also a pioneer of hands-on
- Van Rensselaer wrote in 1824: "My
principal object is, to qualify teachers for
instructing the sons and daughters of Farmers and
Mechanics, by lectures or otherwise, in the
application of experimental chemistry, philosophy, and
natural history, to agriculture, domestic economy, the
arts and manufactures."
- Rensselaer was reorganized to teach
more courses in engineering, particularly after Eaton
left in 1842. The trustees hired a
Franklin Greene, who was committed to the French
model . This proved successful, and for twenty
years or so Rensselaer was the civilian equivalent of
West Point for training in civil engineering.
Engineering was becoming a specialized profession
- we can make the world a better place
- we do that not by trial and error but by
- science will give us power
- technology--the scientific study of practical
matters--is the key to progress
- by the mid 19th century you had a new social
understanding of what technology is and what it can do