The first of its kind, History of Applied Science & Technology: An Open Access Textbook aims to provide a high quality, peer-reviewed, open access textbook to meet the needs of History of Science and Technology courses at centers of higher education around the world. This textbook is innovative in 3 ways.
Global in Perspective and Authorship – This textbook begins the process of decentering the History of Applied Science and Technology from its traditional focus on Europe. Because this project is collaborative in nature, many writers with many perspectives from all over the world enable us to showcase the importance of cross-cultural exchange as we strive to avoid culturally biased value judgements.
Living – This textbook is ever expanding. 2021 saw print publication of contributions that had been accepted to that point. Because we know there are gaps, we will continue this project as a living, growing digital venture.
Open Access – We use the the CC-BY license. The only requirement for use is attribution. Our textbook, in whole or in part, can be shared as many times and in as many ways as possible. It can be copied into other files and edited. The only requirement is that the contributors are acknowledged for their work.
Students will better understand the content presented here if they have a grasp of the basic conceptual tools that our authors have used. Below are the editors’ definitions of these concepts.
What is History?
History is an argument about how to interpret evidence left behind from the past. Many people tend to think of history as the past itself. It is not. There is no finding the past as it truly was; that is impossible. So historians use the evidence from the past to try to understand what happened in the past. They often disagree about how to interpret this evidence, which is why any good bookstore will have several books on the same topic.
What is Technology?
Technology is the manipulation of matter for human needs. Technology more broadly includes those aspects of human culture that are predominantly utilitarian in nature, whether machines or processes. It can include writing, for example. Some would go so far as to include algorithms as technology.
What is Applied Science, and how is it different from what we call Science?
Science is the systematic study, description, and explanation of the natural world. Science, particularly until roughly the middle of the 19th century, was a matter of understanding how the universe worked – simply for the sake of knowledge. We call this pure science. When scientific knowledge, such as, say the table of elements, is applied to technology as in the case of enhancing engine power or the strength and flexibility of metals, this is called applied science.
What is Periodiziation?
To mark major societal and cultural changes, historians break the past into periods. These tend to be Western in nature. While we envision a global History of Applied Science and Technology, these terms are widely accepted and used around the world. As a result, you will see them in this textbook from time to time. Periodization is rough and overlapping. Historians do not all agree on beginning and end dates.
The abbreviation ca. refers to circa, meaning around or roughly. The terms BCE and CE below refer to Before Common Era (before year 1 CE) and Common Era (year 1 CE through today).
- Ancient – before ca. 700 BCE
- Classical – ca. 700 BCE – 200 CE
- Late Antique – ca. 200 CE – 700 CE
- Medieval – ca. 700 CE – ca. 1500 CE
- Early Modern – ca. 1500 CE – 1800 CE
- Modern – ca. 1800 CE – present
What are Progress and Advancement?
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines progress as “Progression or advancement through a process, a sequence of events, a period of time, etc.; movement towards an outcome or conclusion.”
When applied to human events, this definition of progress assumes that human beings are on a trajectory toward some imagined future. Generally this future is imagined through a Eurocentric value system, which measures all civilizations according to an external ideal.
Technological innovation is not universally understood as progress or advancement. Some technologies are as destructive as they are constructive; others alienate humans from their natural environment in ways that can be destructive to human and animal health.
We have therefore avoided the problematic terms progress and advancement.
What is Society?
The OED defines society as “The state or condition of living in company with other people; the system of customs and organization adopted by a group of people for harmonious coexistence or mutual benefit.”
In general, this textbook uses this definition. Society and its structures or systems may not always work toward harmonious coexistence and mutual benefit, but this is generally the stated aim of societies.
What is Culture?
There are many definitions of culture. For the purposes of this textbook, culture is the sum of a community’s learned experiences as expressed through its practices, beliefs, and norms.
What is Worldview?
This textbook uses the OED definition or worldview, which is “a set of fundamental beliefs, values, etc., determining or constituting a comprehensive outlook on the world; a perspective on life.”
How Do Applied Science and Technology Affect Worldview, Culture, and Society?
There is considerable debate about this question. Do applied science and technology shape human worldview, culture, and society, or do human worldview, culture, and society shape technology?
Our answer is yes. Applied science and technology both shape and are shaped by worldview, culture, and society. You will see in these pages significant transformative impact of technological and epistemological changes on worldview and human behavior as they relate to every day life and global choices.
The term neo-materialism might be helpful. This textbook is informed by historian Timothy James LeCain’s approach to neo-materialism, which is a view that culture “is not an abstract phenomena solely confined to the human brain, but is instead intimately connected to the material world from which it emerges.” This approach to the history of applied science and technology places material objects center stage with human beings, and explores how human interaction with the material world and the material world’s impact on the human experience interact.
We believe that students best learn history by doing history, and our method reflects this commitment. We want students to understand how historians make sense of the past, why and how historians use argument to understand the past, and we aim to help students achieve this understanding by working with primary sources.
Each chapter has or will have a Doing History section. These sections offer students the opportunity to see how historians ask different questions based on the lens through which they are looking at a particular problem: gender, economic, social history, etc. Each Doing History inset contains 1 or 2 exemplary primary sources to illustrate how historians go about drawing conclusions related to their research questions.
You will notice that there are chronological and subject-matter gaps in the print version. The living, digital version is intended to remedy that. You will find it here.
History of Applied Science & Technology
For Instructors & Course Designers
This textbook is designed for maximum flexibility in the 21st century classroom. Faculty may adopt this work in whole, or as is more commonly done so far, adopt specific sections to address specific questions. You may remix these pieces. You might have students rework them and add to them for your own foci in particular courses. You might use elements of the textbook to create interactive presentations or drills. The only obligation is attribution to our authors for the original contribution to any use that students and faculty might make of these pieces.
In our vetting of scholars and their proposed contributions, we have allowed the focus to stretch in order serve the interests of our writers who often wanted to contribute in tangential ways. So you will find some pieces that may not fit the applied science and technology definition, but all articles address epistemological changes.
This project emerged from a need for a high quality, peer reviewed open access textbook in a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) course entitled Technological Transformations. For the last decade, this course had had the highest enrollment of any History course at UMGC.
Open Education Resources (OERs) offer a freely accessible foundation for college courses, with the ability to be tailored each instructor’s needs. To clarify, for instructors with the authority to select their own materials for their own individual courses, there is a vast quantity of free history resources available online. Many of them are outstanding, such as the Fordham University Sourcebook, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the rich troves available at Black Past and the Library of Congress to name just a few. However, these are not truly open because of their copyright restrictions. While they serve individual classrooms quite well, they cannot be used for all sections of a course where administrative policies dictate that all faculty use the same readings. The fair use clause permits limited use of copyrighted materials in individual classrooms. It does not permit mass use by hundreds of students in several sections.
The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has taken a significant leap in moving entirely to OERs for all courses. UMGC’s bold trial by fire illuminates strengths and weaknesses in OER implementation, something from which faculty and administrations at colleges and universities across the country can benefit. For example, we can see the strengths of OERs in the many mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics, etc., OA textbooks and even a US History OA textbook all offered through Rice University’s OpenStax.com.
With the exception of two peer-reviewed OA US History textbooks in the Open Access ecosystem, such resources are few and far between in the humanities, and often where they do exist, they lack peer review, and advertising detracts from and clutters the material.
UMGC, which, with over 90,000 students, could be the largest single consumer of OERs in the world. Through a collaborative effort with editors from the University of North Dakota and UMGC and writers from higher education institutions around the world, we have seized the opportunity to fill a specific need for History of Science & Technology instructors and to add to the OER ecosystem as a whole. The OER ecosystem is rapidly maturing and outstripping the traditional, closed resource ecosystem. Now is the time to be part of this process, to leverage what already exists and to expand the resources available.
As more and more schools move toward OERs, scholars will create better and better resources for their own classrooms, which ideally they will share with the world. One would expect that with the current momentum in OER production, there will soon be World Civilization and Western Civilization Open Access textbooks competing with one another for classroom use. This is good. Instructors and departments will have some choice. We anticipate that a History of Science & Technology textbook will emerge later, given the greater enrollment in courses like World and Western Civilization. While others are focusing on these courses – as we hope they are – we have seized the opportunity to meet the need for History of Science & Technology.
All pieces in the print publication and all pieces published in the digital version of the textbook not bearing *Guest Author in the title have been through the following process:
- Content editing by a member of the editorial board or ad hoc editor (See Ad Hoc Editors)
- Peer Review with two reviewers
- Final content approval by editorial board
Digital pieces with *Guest Author in the title have been through the following process:
- Content editing by executive editor or ad hoc editor
- Peer Review with one reviewer
- Copyediting by executive editor
As mentioned above, in the digital medium this is a living textbook. We are actively seeking contributions. If you have a master’s degree or higher and are interested in writing for this project, please email dskjelver (at) gmail dot com.
Danielle Mead Skjelver, Ph.D.
July 20th, 2021
Bozeman, Montana, USA
 Timothy James LeCain, “The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past,” LeCain: Exploring the New Material Humanism. http://www.timothyjameslecain.com/the-matter-of-history/
For a more fulsome exploration of LeCain’s theory of neo-materialism, see Timothy James LeCain, The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 8-20, 38-63.