Staudenmaier, writing in 1990, reflects on the status of the history of technology as a field. He notes that internalists (historians focused primarily on the detailed inner workings of technology and technological systems), contextualists (those focused on how social changes determine the forms and inner workings of technology), and externalists (those focused not on the inner workings of technology, but only its symbolic place in society). Within the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), Studenmeier notes that the contextualists are winning this battle. Regardless of where historians fall on the internalist-externalist axis, most are interested in technological change: that is, which factors drive major changes in technology. The basic model, whereby invention leads to development, which leads to innovation (manufacturing and marketing), has stood virtually unquestioned from the 1950s, but the focus is beginning to shift from looking at individual technologies in isolation to viewing them as systems or components of systems. Studenmaier cites Thomas P. Hughes’ “Networks of Power” as exemplary. Hughes’ book viewed electrical systems as fundamentally constituted not only of interconnected technological artifacts (generators, couplers, relays, lamps) but also local, regional, and national political structures, perceived (and manufactured) societal need, geographical features, etc. Other areas hotly discussed in the field include the relationship between science and technology, the role of workers in the history of technology, the effects of capitalism on technological change, the effects of business and economic theory on the history of technology, and the analysis of technologies as symbolic constructs. Studenmaier closes by noting that the field has largely neglected to study non-Western technology (and non-Western perspectives on technology transfer), as well as the connection between technology and the environment.
David Hounshell, writing almost a decade earlier, was also concerned with the internalist-contextualist-externalist debate, as well as the general direction that the field was taking at the time.Tagged with: contextualist • externalist • internalist