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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

History of technology

CHSTM 043-bridges-(2)
Overlaid bridges, Castlefield, Manchester.  Transport technologies have both served and directed the wider technological development of Manchester, influencing the scale, shape and identity of the city (a seaport 38 miles inland, thanks to its extraordinary Ship Canal.)  The Castlefield heritage district is home to a confluence of active and former road, national rail, canal and light metrorail links, spanning nearly two hundred years and reflecting both an industrial past and a more leisure-oriented present.

What is technology? Traditionally, people think of 'science' as the realm of experiment, theory and abstract reasoning, and of 'technology' as what results when science is put to work in the real world. But historians of science now generally accept the unavoidable presence of this 'real world' - through social, political, personal and material contingencies - at all levels of scientific work. And in the era of the military-industrial-academic complex, globally-standardised production and economies based on information transfer, could it be that 'science' and 'technology' have effectively fused to form a single operation?

Manchester - the first shock city of the Industrial Revolution - built its global reputation on an image of unrestrained economic development in which radical technological innovation played a central part. The rise of machine textiles across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the re-organisation of the city itself, and to the first appearance of many developments in civil engineering and transport technologies which are now seen as essentially 'modern'. More recently, the area's computing heritage has informed the programme to position Manchester as an 'Information City' for a new and uncertain age.

Among British HSTM institutions, CHSTM places a uniquely strong emphasis on the history of technology in its teaching profile, addressing the classic and current questions which inform the global profession: does technology 'drive' history? Is invention a matter of straightforward progress? Do artefacts such as machines and buildings always enforce their creators' intentions, or can they be subverted by users? At the same time, in both teaching and research, CHSTM has always worked to present the history of technology in the light of its inextricable relations with science and medicine.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

James Sumner and Graeme Gooday, eds, By whose standards? Standardization, stability and uniformity in the history of information and electrical technologies. Vol 28 of History of Technology (series editor: Ian Inkster), London: Continuum, 2008.

Thomas Lean. "From mechanical brains to microcomputers: representations of the computer in Britain, 1948-1984". In Alice Bell, Sarah Davies and Felicity Mellor, eds. Science and its publics. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008, 179-200.

Julie Anderson, Francis Neary and John V Pickstone. Surgeons, manufacturers and patients: a transatlantic history of total hip replacement. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

Carsten Timmermann and Julie Anderson, eds. Devices and designs: medical technologies in historical perspective. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Jonathan Harwood, Technology's Dilemma: Agricultural Colleges between Science and Practice in Germany, 1860-1934. Berne: Peter Lang, 2005.

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