History 398 - Spring 2001
Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspectives

Second Essay
Mid-Course Bearings

Write an essay of 1000-1200 words on one of the following topics. Since history is fundamentally an empirical disipline, your response should set forth an argument supported by specific evidence drawn from the lectures, readings, and precept discussions pertinent to the subject.


In Chapter 1 of The World We Have Lost, Peter Laslett describes the baker's family as a social unit of production. He might just as well have chosen a weaver. Using evidence from the readings, in particular J.T. Ward's The Factory System, and from the lectures on the formation of industrial society, describe the unit of production centered on the traditional handloom weaver and relate what happened to it with the introduction of the power loom.  Does the same pattern hold for the United States?


"The factory was more than just a larger work unit. It was a system of production resting on a characteristic definition of the functions and responsibilities of the different participants in the productive process." David S. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus
Using evidence from the lectures and readings, identify the participants, both seen and unseen, in the productive process pictured above and describe how each acquired his or her functions and responsibilities.


 "The advantages which are derived from machinery and manufactures seem to arise principally from three sources: The addition which they make to human power.-The economy they produce of human time.-The conversion of substances apparently common and worthless into valuable products." (Charles Babbage, On the economy of machinery and manufactures, 6)
 "John Stuart Mill says in his Principles of Political Economy: 'It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being.'  That is, however, by no means the aim of application of machinery under capitalism.  Like every other instrument for increasing the productivity of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the other part, the part that he gives to the capitalist for nothing. Thhe machine is a means for producing surplus-value" (Karl Marx, Capital, Chapter XV, 491)
Marx and Babbage clearly had different conceptions of the role the machine was playing in England's industrial society.  Clarify these differences by applying their analyses to nineteenth-century American industrialization.  Use detailed information from both the lectures and the readings.


"In the final analysis, the Industrial Revolution is about society, not technology.  The new power machinery and the factory system brought radical change to the processes of production, raising both output and productivity to unprecedented, even unimagined levels.  But that is merely a matter of quantity.  What made the change revolutionary were the social and economic transformations through which the new systems of production affected the quality of people's lives.  Whether or not they had more in 1830 than in 1760, they lived differently."
Using specific evidence from the readings and lectures, assess critically this claim about the relation of technology and social change in England during the Industrial Revolution.  May the same be said for the United States later in the nineteenth century?


"This paper represents my own work in accordance with University Regulations."

Essays are due by 3:00 PM Monday, 9 April, in your preceptor's box in the History Department Office, 129 Dickinson Hall.  Seniors with theses due on 10 or 11 April may have an extension until 3:00 PM Friday, 13 April.