Medieval Technology and Social Change Essay

This essay has a total of 1196 words and 5 pages.

Medieval Technology and Social Change



Medieval Technology and Social Change


Oxford University Press first published Medieval Technology and Social Change in 1962. It
discusses the technological advances during the medieval times and how these changes
affected society. The book's author, Lynn White, Jr., was born in San Francisco in 1907.
Educated at Stanford, Union Theological, and Princeton, White taught at Princeton and the
University of California at Los Angeles. He was also president of Mills College in Oakland
from the 1940s to the 1960s. His other works include Medieval Religion and Technology:
Collected Essays, published in 1978 and Life & Work in Medieval Europe, the Evolution of
Medieval Economy from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Century, published in 1982. White's work
has been influential both in medieval history and the history of science.

In Medieval Technology and Social Change, White examines the role of technological
innovation during the rise of social groups in the Middle Ages. White begins with the
invention of the stirrup. He shows how this innovation, in turn, introduced heavy,
long-range cavalry to the medieval battlefield. The development thus escalated small-scale
conflict to "shock combat." Cannons and flame-throwers followed, as did more peaceful
inventions, such as watermills and reapers. White also reviews the development of the
manorial system with the introduction of new kinds of plows and new methods of crop
rotation. He reviews the evolution of the scratch plow into the heavy plow and explains
the use of each type in different areas of Europe. White next discusses the social effects
of feudalism and how it spread from the Franks to Spain and later to England. He shows
that military service became a matter of class, with lands and titles being exchanged for
the commitment to serve as mounted warriors. The concept of the knight's duty to his lord
translated into chivalry and noble obligation. White then ventures into the slow collapse
of feudalism, coming about with the development of machines and tools. This caused the
introduction of factories, which took the place of cottage industries. Although White's
work falls short in a few areas, it is valuable for the attention that it pays to aspects
of medieval history that too often go ignored

White's work is important because he advocates the importance of science and technology to
medieval history. Before White, few scholars thought that any significant science or
engineering was done in Europe during the Middle. Because of this they assumed that any
advances in technology could safely be ignored when discussing the history of agriculture,
politics, theology, or warfare. White, on the other hand, believed that new technologies
played crucial roles in the rise of feudalism and agricultural and manufacturing
productivity in the late Middle Ages. His work, Medieval Technology and Social Change, was
so influential that it has had an impact beyond scholarly circles. His descriptions of
these technologies and their affects on medieval life appear regularly in European History
textbooks, for example, William McNeill's The Rise of the West.1
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