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Title: Machine past, machine future : technology in British thought, c. 1870-1914
Author: Wilson, Daniel C. S.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2729 538X
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis concerns the way technology was conceived in Britain during the period c.1870-1914, when the word 'technology' was not yet available. Just as historians of technology have rarely focused on the conceptual and semantic histories of the word 'technology', intellectual historians have not focused on how technology was conceived during this period. The thesis addresses this gap by focusing on 'ideas of the machine', posited as antecedent to the later concept of technology. This thesis argues that ideas about technological change more characteristic of the early nineteenth century (and known as the 'machinery question') returned in new forms during the period c.1870-1914. It claims that this new understanding of machines consisted in relating them to readings of historical change at large, and so was temporal in nature. During this period, the first historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution of c.1800 were compiled in different settings, producing visions of what is termed here the 'machine past'. As part of their growing ambition, scientists at the British Association produced histories which sought to take credit for the success of new technologies. The historians Arnold Toynbee, William Cunningham and WJ Ashley developed accounts of the Industrial Revolution which presented machines as complex agents of change. Their accounts were built upon by the economist JA Hobson, who is shown to have theorized technology extensively, an aspect of his work which has been hitherto ignored. Contemporaneous with these visions of the 'machine past' were future-oriented works which offered a critical assessment of technological trends. In a range of writings, HG Wells, GK Chesterton and others debated the shape of the 'machine future'. This thesis provides a close reading of influential, competing visions of the machine and demonstrates how projections of machinery (past and future) served as critical commentaries on the growing significance of technology for human life. It concludes that the increasing specialization of intellectual inquiry during this period became a barrier to the holistic investigation of technology, a process described here as a 'technological settlement'. 3
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available