From innovation to use: Ten eclectic theses on the historiography of technology

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Abstract

The paper argues that most (Anglo‐Saxon) historiography of technology, including recent sociologically‐oriented work, is concerned with innovation rather than technology, and that there has been an unfortunate conflation between the two. Distinguishing innovation from use allows an engagement between the history of technology and history more generally, and is essential to the investigation of questions concerned with gender, race, and class in the history of technology. Moreover a focus on use allows us to make better sense of such terms as “technological determinism”. The history of innovation, while interesting and important, cannot address many issues which should be central to the history of technology, and cannot answer many of the questions historians of technology pretend to ask. A history of technology‐in‐use does so and, at the same time, opens up new areas for investigation, including the history of maintenance, repair and remodelling, as well as further developing accounts of innovation based on use. The paper deals largely with modern technology, and draws on a number of different, and all too often disjointed, traditions of thinking about the role of technology in history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-136
Number of pages26
JournalHistory and Technology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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