chapter  8
28 Pages

The Social and Cultural Dimension

A sufficient reason for not confining to formal institutions of education one's search for educational influences on growth is that the pace of American growth accelerated during a period when, as we shall see, those institutions were relatively few in number. But it would be shortsighted to conclude from this that education bore no relevance to technological innovation. As Abbot Payson Usher points out, not only innovation-the application of invention to processes of production-but invention itself, is a process the character of which has often been misconceived. Usher warns against 'an identification of invention with an act of genius. It leads toward an undue emphasis upon a relatively small number of acts which are presented without due regard to the conditions which make them possible, and to a concept of change at infrequent intervals in units of great magnitude, although the simplest effort

of analysis makes it clear that acts of insight are numerous, pervasive, and of very small magnitudes.' He believes that the study of technical change in the economy 'has been hindered by the failure of students to treat effectively the kinds of novelty that are a normal and continuous consequence of the skilled activity of engineers and technicians'. Based on a lifelong study of European technology, Usher's general admonition bears specific relevance to American history in the pre-Civil War period.