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History of Science 2

Often when describing the Old World civilizations (Paleolithic, Neolithic, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamia, etc.), historians separate science from technology arguing that ancient civilizations “applied practical skills rather than any theoretical or scientific knowledge to practice their crafts” (13). However, in Chapter 9, of Science and Technology in World History, James E. McClellan and Harold Dorn suggest a direct correlation between technology and the development of science in Medieval Europe; technological innovations in the fields of agriculture, military, and seafaring paved the way for the Scientific Revolution.

Innovative technology was the basis for Medieval Europe’s Agricultural Revolution, military development, and seafaring explorations.  I believe that each of these innovations resulted from a combination of the leisure time provided by the separation of Medieval European communities into professions, as well as the incorporation of foreign technology made possible by travel and exploration.  This Medieval European community was separated into specific trades and it was this particular partitioning of the working classes that created the foundation of the Medieval European community.  Thus, farmers were exclusively farmers, craftsmen were exclusively craftsmen, and knights were exclusively knights; each sought to master his/her profession.  Furthermore, I believe travel to the orient was made possible by this leisure time and Chinese technology became incorporated into European culture due to this exploration.  Thus, my opinion is that this community, with its separation of trades and professions, provided the leisure time for the exploration and incorporation of foreign ideas which allowed such innovative technologies to arise and prepped Europe for the Scientific Revolution.

The Agricultural Revolution provided innovations such as the heavy plow, substitution of the horse for the ox, the three field rotation, and the waterwheel which set the foundation for the Scientific Revolution.  I believe each of these innovations came about because of the free time farmers had to experiment to try to improve their yields. The heavy plow was a great farming tool that could tear up soil at the root line and turn it over.  I feel this was a major innovation in Medieval Europe because it increased agricultural yield created the possibility to spread the population and “to farm new lands, particularly the rich, alluvial soils of the European plain” (178).  I also believe the substitution of the horse for the ox as a draft animal also contributed to an increase in agricultural production.  That is because the horse was more resilient, agile, and swift than the ox.  Finally, a third factor helped bolster Medieval Europe’s agricultural yield: the three field rotation system.  According to McClellan and Dorn, this was a method employed by European farmers that involved splitting land into three fields and rotating plants over a three year cycle:  “The three-field system [greatly] increased the productive capabilities of European agriculture from 33 to 50 percent, an extraordinary surplus of food production that fed the rise of Europe and European cities” (179).  And finally, the waterwheel was an innovation that was also incorporated into village life.  McClellan and Dorn describe it as widely used and powering a variety of machinery such as the saw mill, flour mill, and hammer mill (180).  As a result of the Agricultural Revolution, population grew and cities developed, “the European university coincided with burgeoning cities and growing wealth made possible by the Agricultural Revolution” (183).   Thus, the Agricultural Revolution ensured a richer, more productive, more urbanized Europe destined for the Scientific Revolution.

Military technology such as the stirrup and armored knight led to European conquests, namely the Crusades, which in turn led to the incorporation of Greek and Islamic sciences into European culture.  I feel these innovations were a result of the leisure time provided by the separation of the community into professions as well as the mixing ideas brought about by travel.  The stirrup was a key piece of technology that revolutionized medieval warfare.  Originating in China, the stirrup was essential for the stabilizing of horseback warriors and allowed fighting without dismounting.  I believe Europeans borrowed the stirrup from the Chinese after observing foreign travelers using such technology.  This in turn lead to what McClellan and Dorn call “mounted shock combat” in which lancers rode on horseback – the equivalent of modern tanks (179).  My opinion coincides with that of McClellan and Dorn when they state that “being a knight was a full-time job;” knights were vital to the feudal system, in return for their protection, villages transformed by the Agricultural Revolution produced enough surplus to support them (180).  Soon the number of knights grew and Christian Europe became populated with more knights than could be supported.  I agree with McClellan and Dorn that the Crusades were disguised as a religious conversion effort to give bored knights something to do (180).  Europeans incorporated the science and philosophy of the people they conquered (although the same cannot be said about religion).  After the Christians captured Toledo, it became the “center of translation activity where teams of translators rendered classic scientific and philosophical texts from Arabic into Latin” (184).  Europeans recovered and integrated much of ancient scientific and philosophical accomplishments setting the stage for scientific groundbreakers such as Fibonacci, Albert the Great, and Jean Buridan.

The ocean did not limit European conquests; innovations in seafaring such as warships, ship parts, and the government funded explorations all stimulated European global conquest and changed the way the world was perceived.  I believe the development of ship technology was due to a political race for reputation (to see who could conquer the most land) much like the space race of the modern era.  As new ships were built, the technology of their components improved and soon ships were capable of sailing to explore distant lands.  “The Portuguese made their first contacts along the sub-Saharan coast of Africa in 1443, and reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1488” (199).  These excursions spurred competing governments to fund further expeditions in hopes of claiming and colonizing new countries.  Thus, I believe this set off a competition between countries to see who could have the better ship or colonize the most land.  These technological innovations led to the mastery of the compass and the further development of such sciences as geography, cartography, and cosmography.  And I feel that it also led to medical discoveries in vitamin deficiency, food preservation, and disease as well as scientific studies of foreign plants and animals.  Although these conquests and expeditions were for military and economical reasons, it forever changed the way we looked upon the world and seeded a new way of thinking that blossomed as the Scientific Revolution.

“Technological change embodies complex social processes, wherein strictly technical issues interact with social factors of all sorts to produce social outcomes that cannot be foreseen in advance” (199).  In laymen’s terms, McClellan and Dorn believe no citizen of the medieval era could foresee the future impact of their technological innovations.  Nor, could one technological innovation be the main factor in spurring a social movement such as the Scientific Revolution.  Thus, it takes many factors such as the Agricultural Revolution, military innovations, and foreign exploration to truly stimulate a social movement as momentous as the Scientific Revolution.


heavy plow-     a heavy plow pulled by 8 oxen that could plow more land more efficiently

iron horseshoe- a result of the movement from ox to horse, this allowed the horse to perform better as a beast of burden.
mounted shock combat-           McClellan and Dorn dub the mounted lancer as such.

stirrup-             The seat upon which a mounted warrior can fight without dismounting.




History of Science Essay #3

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I pledge my honor that I have abided by the Stevens Honor System



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