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Medieval Technology and Social Change (Galaxy Books) Paperback – 31 Dec 1966

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (31 Dec. 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195002660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195002669
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 1.2 x 13.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 529,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Excellent."--Louis P. Towles, Central Wesleyan College
"The most stimulating book of the century on the history of technology...a positive delight."--Isis
"At once an advance in the study of medieval technology and also the best introduction to the subject for the serious general reader."--The Economist
"Still essential reading for students of Medieval studies. A must for those interested in Medieval technology and its impact on the development of western society."--Cecile-Marie Sastre, Flagler College



"Excellent."--Louis P. Towles, Central Wesleyan College
"The most stimulating book of the century on the history of technology...a positive delight."--Isis
"At once an advance in the study of medieval technology and also the best introduction to the subject for the serious general reader."--The Economist
"Still essential reading for students of Medieval studies. A must for those interested in Medieval technology and its impact on the development of western society."--Cecile-Marie Sastre, Flagler College


"Excellent."--Louis P. Towles, Central Wesleyan College
"The most stimulating book of the century on the history of technology...a positive delight."--Isis
"At once an advance in the study of medieval technology and also the best introduction to the subject for the serious general reader."--The Economist
"Still essential reading for students of Medieval studies. A must for those interested in Medieval technology and its impact on the development of western society."--Cecile-Marie Sastre, Flagler College



"Excellent."--Louis P. Towles, Central Wesleyan College


"The most stimulating book of the century on the history of technology...a positive delight."--Isis


"At once an advance in the study of medieval technology and also the best introduction to the subject for the serious general reader."--The Economist


"Still essential reading for students of Medieval studies. A must for those interested in Medieval technology and its impact on the development of western society."--Cecile-Marie Sastre, Flagler College


About the Author

Lynn White is at University of California, Los Angeles.


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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
White certainly refutes the idea of the Middle Ages being all darkness, ignorance and brutality. The technological developments during that period were stunning, but we normally do not appreciate them because they are the foundation of our world and we take them for granted.

She explains the evidence for e.g. stirrups, horseshoes, the crank etc in its historical context e.g. early findings in China, which is helpful but more helpful (for me) is the aspect of social change. For example, the heavy plough was better than the scratch plough for most soil types north of the Alps, but it needed more power (oxen) which then necessitated more cooperation in a village but the result was a better harvest. Later, horses had their advantages (faster workers) and disadvantages (oat consumers).

With this kind of explanation a lot of history makes eminent sense.

Weaknesses:
The footnotes take up far too much space - up to 1/3 of a page.
White assumes that all her readers understand latin and doesn't translate any of the quotes which are presumably relevant.
She also assumes that her readers already understand the construction of cranks, treadles etc. There is not a single drawing anywhere and the pictures showing engravings etc are tucked away at the back ... after the index.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of the few books that really summarize medieval technology in comparison with social change without unneccessary details. There isn't a single useless paragraph, and although it is a rather dificult book to follow, it demonstrates how and why things took place where they took place (I won't give spoilers). I bought this book as reference material for a project and I am more than satisfied. It is rather difficult to encounter the subject matter outside of huge encyclopedias with so much detail and so substantiated. In the course of my research I've come up with few books that provide so much condensed knowledge, properly backed by historical evidence. I absolutely recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
Lynn White's seminal work is now regarded as one of the most widely read and influential works of historical scholarship in the twentieth century.
Well written, lucid, and to the point, the book is highly accessible.
In three short sections, White propounds his theory of profound technological change in Europe during the medieval period...and the effect this had on Europe's social and cultural fabric.
His first thesis is perhaps the best known: the argument that the formation of feudalism was made possible by the introdution of the stirrup into medieval Europe.
White's second section goes on to to show the importance of various agrarian innovations to the 'agricultural revolution' in medieval Europe.
His last section discusses the the growth in the use of 'power machinery' in the Middle Ages.
Readers should take note however: times have moved on since White, and our understanding of the history of technology in the medieval ages has advanced immeasurably (thanks, in no small part, to White). White's arguments on the Stirrup and the agricultural revolution have been widely critisized and to a large extent discredited.
The book, however, remains a classic in its field.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent, brief history on how technological change impacted medieval society.

The historical backdrop to the technological revolution takes place around the beginning of the Gothic era, when the Dark Ages had given way to a period of rapid change. This is when stable cities began to flourish in relatively greater safety, vast ranges of forest were cleared in a kind of internal colonization for purposes of farming, and, allied to the castle fortresses that were springing up, a knightly culture was born with new norms and modes of warfare.

White argues that three fundamental inventions spread at this time. First, there was the stirrup. This simple device enabled riders to better balance themselves, completely changing what they could do while mounted. As such, they were able to use heavier weapons, like sabers and battering rams for striking without fearing they would lose their balance or get knocked off by the force of the blow. Because the technology was very expensive, it offered further advantage to the rich, reinforcing their mastery over peasants. In addition to the unifying force of a rejuvenated and more uniform Christian ideology, this formed the basis of knightly culture.

Second, there was a revolution in agricultural techniques, the necessary adjunct to the man-driven deforestation that was taking place at the time. This is very technical stuff about how plows were altered so that they turned over the earth in new ways, enhancing fertilization and hence productivity, fuelling the urban boom underway. I will need to review the details many more times to remember them.

Finally, White examines the sudden fascination with mechanical devices, in particular the crank.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9910ac18) out of 5 stars 23 reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99121678) out of 5 stars A great work that connects technological and social history 2 Nov. 2002
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is one of the classic works of medieval studies to emerge out of the past half century, and its importance far outstrips whether or not White's famous stirrup thesis is correct or not. The overwhelming consensus is that it is incorrect. But only someone who has not read the book could imagine that that thesis was the bulk of the book, or the only idea in it. In fact, there is an unstated, larger thesis that underlies White's book, and which indicates why it is important: White implies that we can only understand the medieval period if we also understand its technology. White virtually ushered in the age of the study of medieval technology and seeing it as intimately connected and underlying the social and even political history.
This is a short book, shorter than it initially seems upon holding it because of the vast number of foot and endnotes. But the number of ideas and insights are completely out of proportion with the book's apparent brevity. It is absolutely stuffed to overflowing with content. Miraculously, that doesn't effect its readability. Even a relative neophyte to historical studies will have little difficulty following White's ideas and arguments, although, obviously, the more one knows, the better the background one will have for understanding his theses.
Although his stirrup thesis has largely been rejected, this remains an essential book on any short list of the great works of medieval history. More than that, it is fun, too. I strongly recommend it to anyone with the slightest degree of interest in medieval history.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x991217c8) out of 5 stars Jammed full of information 23 Aug. 2001
By Zach Schauf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although this book has been around for awhile, it represents a truly amazing source of information on the role which technology played in Medieval society. I thought that the first two parts of the book, dealing with changes in technologies of war and agriculture and their effect on Medieval society were by far the strongest part of the work. At times, I found the meticulous description of the archaelogy and etymology of various objects and words a bit much, but I was fascinated by the way in which White linked technological progress to the emergence of numerous aspects of Medieval life. I didn't enjoy the final section, on machinery, as much because it seemed to loose its focus on the social changes caused by the technology, although it did mention the new ethos that mechanical development fostered. I have done some more reading on the subject, and some critics have argued that White overstates the importance of the stirrup, but regardless about where the various historical controversies are today, this book provides a superb introduction to the field and would be a great resource to anyone doing research.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99d0ede0) out of 5 stars Relevant, not outdated 27 Sept. 2002
By Alexander Wyatt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book was part of the PhD curriculim at a top-tier university for Public Policy. The course was Science & Technology Policy I (a massive literature review before getting into our own research).
Whether or not the chain of events and relationships occurred precisely as White postulates is irrelevant.
The POINT is that small, technological change can have GIANT impacts upon life and social organization. This has been proven repeatedly by the researchers/students of complexity science (see Mitchell Waldrop, Murray Gell-Mann, Roger Lewin, John Holland, etc.)
By connecting medieval technological change (eg agrarian practices, stirrup, clock) to societal change (eg feudal system, settlement/town patterns), this book provides readers with a conceptual starting point to begin thinking about the impact of modern and future technologies.
In short, its a quick, VERY stimulating and interesting read. With the price at only 2 dollars, you can't go wrong!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99121984) out of 5 stars Old But Not Out of Date 13 Oct. 2002
By John D. Cofield - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Medieval Technology and Social Change was published in 1962. It is the production of a professor and it bears many of the characteristics of such works: huge numbers of footnotes, further Notes at the end (comprising about a third of the total book), and an extremely scholarly tone. Fortunately Professor White writes much better than many academics, and the book contains a number of interesting speculations about the effect of Europe of the technological changes which took place in the Middle Ages.
The book concentrates almost completely on Europe, so that you will have to look elsewhere for technological changes in the rest of the world, but what is here is fascinating. There is speculation on the role of the stirrup in revolutionizing warfare and feudalism, an examination of the effects of the three field system on the health of the medieval Europeans, and some intriquing hypotheses on the development of various power sources and machine designs. Worthwhile, particularly in combination with a broader work such as Technology in World Civilization by Arnold Pacey.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99121a14) out of 5 stars A classic summary of the impact of technology on life 31 May 2002
By David W. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have gone back to this book a couple of times a year since I was in graduate school back in the 1960s. What Lynn White brings home is that a little technological innovation like the invention and use of the stirrup (combined with some better horse breeding) was an instrumental element in the creation of an entire feudal society in northern Europe. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that those small changes have an impact that far exceeds their immediate effect. This is a very basic and easy to read book (despite some untranslated Latin and French), and to anyone interested in the long run effect of technology it is the place to begin.
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