The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900

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Oxford University Press, 2007 - History - 270 pages
From the books of H.G. Wells to the press releases of NASA, we are awash in cliched claims about technology and history, writes David Edgerton. Now, in The Shock of the Old, Edgerton offers a startling new and fresh way of thinking about the history of technology, radically revising our ideas about the interaction of technology and society in the past and in the present. Our sense of technological time--and our thinking about technology and production, nationalism, war, and more besides--will all be changed, and to a surprising degree. Modern technology, writes Edgerton, is not just a matter of electricity, mass production, aerospace, nuclear power, and the internet. It also involves the rickshaw, the horse, corrugated iron, cement, DDT, small arms, flat-pack furniture and the refrigerator. The Shock of the Old challenges us to view the history of technology in terms of what everyday people have actually used--and continue to use around the world--rather than just what was invented. The reader discovers that many highly touted technologies--from the V-2 rocket to the Concorde jet--have been costly failures. On the other hand, corrugated iron emerges as hugely important, a truly global technology. Its cheapness, lightness, ease of use and long life made it a ubiquitous material in the poor world in a way it never had been in the rich world. Edgerton reassesses the significance of such acclaimed inventions as the Pill and IT, and underscores the continued importance of unheralded technology, debunking the idea that we live in an era of ever-increasing invention and casting doubt upon the many naive assertions about "the information age." A provocative history in the mold of Simon Schama, David S. Landes, and Eric Hobsbawm, The Shock of the Old provides an entirely new way of looking historically at the relationship between technology and society as well as invention and innovation themselves.


1 Significance
2 Time
3 Production
4 Maintenance
5 Nations
6 War
7 Killing
8 Invention
Selected Bibliography
List of Illustrations

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About the author (2007)

David Edgerton is the Hans Rausing Professor at Imperial College London where he was the Founding Director of its Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. One of Britain's leading historians, he has challenged conventional analyses of technology for 20 years. He has written for such publications as Prospect, the London Review of Books, Nature, Times Higher Education Supplement, and the Guardian, and has often appeared on television and radio. He lives in London.

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