A Brief History Of Engineering

Prehistoric humans were hunter-gathers. About 500,000 years ago, they began to use tools for a wide range of purposes, but their strategy for survival began to change around 12,000 to 10,000 bce. In the fertile river deltas in Mesopotamia in present-day Iraq, and along the Nile River, an agricultural revolution gained momentum. While Egyptian engineers used trialanderror for improving their technical know-how, Greek engineers relied on math and science. Around 300 bce the political and economic importance of the Greek civilization began to decline. The Romans gradually gained influence, mostly because their armies were larger and better equipped. The Romans made fewer scientific breakthroughs than the Greeks, but their engineers were remarkably successful. Over approximately 600 years, Roman engineers constructed a network of roads that stretched 60,000 miles and connected 4,000 towns and cities all over Europe. The Roman Empire continued to expand until its sheer size made it difficult for a single person to govern it effectively from Rome. Around 300 ce the empire was split in two halves.

Between approximately 700 bce and 1200 ce Islamic technology was more advanced than that of medieval Europe. In Europe, the iron plow was introduced around 600 ce. Unlike wooden plows, it cut deeper into the soil (up to one foot). This triggered an agricultural revolution in northern Europe. During the early modern era Europe became the most prosperous and fastest developing region of the world. Good ports and agricultural conditions led to increased trade, in combination with increased respect for private ownership and a functioning legal system.

There is no consensus in the literature on what causes technological change. Technological determinists argue that technological innovations determine social developments. Social constructivists believe that human decision makers shape technological innovation processes and give meaning to new technologies. On this view, human action drives societal transitions, as well as the development of new technologies. The co-constructiviststance is an intermediate position between technological determinism and social constructivism. Co-constructivists believe that technological innovations together with social processes shape social and technological transitions. Neither element is the sole cause. To explain change over time we therefore need to pay attention to the technological as well as the societal dimension.

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