chapter  1
28 Pages

Who Unbound Prometheus? Science and Technical Change, 1600–1800

This article is from Peter Mathias (ed.), Science and Society, I6oo-I90o, Cambridge University Press, 1972,

I An economic historian is interested in science not for its own sake (which for a historian of science is doubtless the only academically respectable way of looking at it) but for his own utilitarian purposes. He asks the questions: how was science related to technology at this time? how far did scientific change influence the process of technological change? to what extent was the Industrial Revolution associated with scientific advance? Taking the very long view from medieval times to the present day is to see a dramatic change in these relationships. Broadly, we may postulate the earlier position as a context where empirical discoveries and the development of industrial processes in such industries as metals, textiles, brewing, dyeing took place and advanced without being directly consequential upon knowledge of fundamental scientific relationships in the materials concerned. The chemistry ofwhat happened inside a blast furnace was not known until the middecades of the nineteenth century. The secrets of fermentation were first revealed by Pasteur. There might be close links between science and technology in other ways, but this was none the less a world very different from our own where industrial advance becomes more directly consequential upon the advancing frontier of scientific and technological knowledge, with a developing institutional relationship between science and industry to consolidate the connexion.