Decolonizing the Technological Imagination: Towards a Framework for the History of Technology

Dr. Kathleen Ochs
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For the last 50 years, historians of technology have focused primarily on case studies of recent history. I argue that scholars need a new framework — one that includes prehistory and archaic states' technological systems — to better understand history. Otherwise, history is reduced "to a mere stuttering repetition of the present." (C. Tilley) For prehistory, I illustrate this point using Chrisophe and Helwige Boesch's studies of chimpanzee tool-use. Their findings suggest a vastly different gender-technology relationship for hominids' discovery and early use of stone tools. The socio-political and technological systems of archaic states provides a second example. Scholars' have vastly increased knowledge about these systems allow historians to revisit the relationship between technology and society. Human learning often advances using comparison and contrast. Knowledge about prehistoric and archaic states' paradigms and world views enables a comparison of many different systems (and their embodied values) with industrial technological systems. Better historical understanding can help humanity find appropriate technological systems for the future.

Keywords: History of Technology, Frameworks, Prehistory, Archaic States, Paradigms, Thomas Kuhn, Gender and Technology, Socio-political systems
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Decolonizing the Technological Imagination

Dr. Kathleen Ochs

Associate Professor, Liberal Arts and International Studies, Colorado School of Mines

Professor Ochs graduated from the University of Toronto's Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Her research has included a study of the Royal Society of London's History of Trades program, a quantitative study of the Colorado School of Mines mining engineers who graduate between 1900 and 1940, a study of women and technology, and most recently, a search for frameworks that make sense of the history of technology and science. Professor Ochs has taught several classes at the Colorado School of Mines, including a traditional history of science and technology class and a class that focuses on the relationship of technology and society using science fiction. She is a member of the Society for the History of Technology (and the Women in Technological History group) and the History of Science Society. She is currently working on a book that incorporates prehistory and archaic states into the history of technology.

Ref: H05P0367