Thinking with Technology in Medieval and Renaissance Europe





Technology—referring to the processes by which humans provide themselves with the material goods of life—is firmly embedded in the cultural history of medieval and Renaissance Europe. Focusing on the period between 500 and 1600, this seminar explores simultaneously three broad themes. First, it investigates the basic historiography and scholarship pertaining to the history of medieval and Renaissance technology, considering such topics as the medieval “industrial revolution,” the role of the stirrup in the development of feudalism, and the role of building construction in Renaissance economic prosperity or depression. Second, the seminar focuses on technological “objects,” from silk cloth to pots and pans to plows. Students engage in an extensive investigation of such objects: their materials and where and how they were obtained; the technological processes that transformed them into objects, the artisans who made them, and the consumers who use them. Third, the seminar ranges widely in considering theoretical, philosophical, and historical issues, including the history of technology and the Annales School, material culture as a focus of study, invention and its relationship to traditional technologies, gender and technology, the relationship of craft production to the development of the empirical sciences, the transmission of craft knowledge through apprenticeship and authorship, Renaissance engineering and machine books, urban contexts of technology, oral transmission and its implications for the culture of craft, the changing status of handwork and craftwork, the development of proprietary attitudes toward craft knowledge, and commercial capitalism and its significance for artisanal culture. 3 credits.