February 20, 2021
Technology is defined by Cambridge as “the use of scientific knowledge or processes in business, industry, manufacturing, etc.”
In Chinese, technology《技术》 is made up of two characters – skill《技》and art《术》. Literally, in Chinese, technology means skills and art.
In this 2 parts article, we are going to discuss about,
1) Technology in Ancient History
2) Technology in the Renaissance Period
3) Technology in Modern History
4) Technology in the New Digital Normal
As a history buff, allow me to talk about Technology in Ancient History (before 1400s) and that during the Renaissance period (1400 to 1800)
Technology in Ancient History
Interestingly, according to Britannica, the term “Technology” is derived from two Greek words, “Technē” (art, craft) and “Logos” (word, speech), but the usage of the term “Technology” first appeared in English around the 17th Century and was used on applied arts only. It was only around the 20th century that the term has a contemporaneous resemblance that refers more to process improvement, science, tools, and machines.
From an Oriental point of view, the term “Technology” 《技术》has been used in ancient China and was recorded in Sima Qian‘s Historical Records《 史记 – 司马迁 》dated around 90 BC. It is noteworthy that many early Chinese inventions and technology like paper, printing, fireworks, crossbow, porcelain, and tea were adopted by the Western and other civilisations. However, in general, ancient Chinese inventions and innovations did not progress much nor evolve further due to cultural, religious, and political turbulence despite being way ahead of many other civilisations.
During the Golden Medieval Islamic period, science and technology flourished while much of Western Europe descended into the Dark Ages. At its apex, the Islamic Caliphates once stretched from the Caucasus to the Iberian peninsula. Their Sultans’ and people’s pursuit of knowledge led to the preservation, translation, and study of many ancient Greek works.
However, language (Latin vs Greek), religion (Christianity/Catholic vs Paganism), and politics saw a decline of interest in the many great Greek literature and studies in the Medieval Western Europe.
The Islamic scholars built on the classics and integrated Hindu, Chinese, and other foreign leading technology and knowledge into Arabic works and inventions like Algebra, Astronomy, warfare technology, and others.
With the fall of the Byzantine empire and capture of the great libraries from Baghdad to Cairo to Cordoba, the treasure troves of knowledge and technology were brought back and spread throughout Western Europe by the victorious crusaders along with fleeing Greek scholars.
Technology in the Renaissance Period
The Renaissance Period has been hailed by many scholars as one of the most important period in human history. The wealthy, and powerful Italian cities of Florence, Milan, Venice, Naples, and Rome attracted many scholars, artists, and are often regarded as the cradle where the golden Renaissance Period was borne.
It was during this period where the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, literature, and work, once overlooked and forgotten by Western Europeans, were translated from their Arabic versions into Latin that helped spawned the many great artists, scholars, explorers, and inventors which gilded the golden era.
Names like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Petrarch, Brunelleschi, Galileo Galilei, Niccolo Machiavelli, Cardano, Giotto, Dante, and families like the Medici, Sforza, Borgia, Aragon, Orsini, Baglioni, and others were synonymous with the great Italian Renaissance.
The Renaissance did not stop at the Italian city states. Trade, migration, and press printing allowed the promulgation, propagation, and pursuit of knowledge to other cities in Europe. Classics were written, inventions discovered, and birth of modern science launched by many great scholars, thinkers, and inventors like William Shakespeare, John Milton, William Byrd, Thomas Hobbes, Nicolaus Copernicus, Rene Descartes, Erasmus, Johannes Kepler, Christopher Columbus, and many others.
Arguably, technology in ancient times till the early 17th Century was largely used to improve agriculture, architecture, arts, commerce, warfare, entertainment, and others; but not in a deep and scientific manner that was seen in the subsequent modern history and current digital era.
The relevance and reverence of Technology in the early millenniums have been very different. As such, knowledge was not converted en-masse in a systematic approach into science. It is highly likely that the religious, cultural, and political environment in those periods, did not allow the people to question the unknowns, to be critical of norms and practices, and to challenge the status quo.
Perhaps, people were more pre-occupied with seeking solutions to basic and immediate issues on survival and sustenance. Perhaps, people were contented and happy with solutions provided for their food, shelter, and keeping the status quo allows stability and continuity?
Technology meant relooking, reviewing, reinventing, and that is limited by the people whose hearts and minds are closed and resistant to change.
In part 2, I will attempt to look at what changed the hearts and minds, and why and how the importance of Technology rose to the forefront.