The word "technology" comes from the Greek root techno-, meaning art, and today it is used to describe any scientific method of achieving a practical purpose. Technology therefore covers all human inventions which have practical value, from the oil lamp to the laser beam, from the wheel to the space shuttle.

The impact of technology on history and culture extends into the realm of literature. The literary critic C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) was the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. In 1954, delivering his inaugural lecture, "De Descriptione Temporum" ("Defining the Epochs"), he said:

Between Jane Austen and us, but not between her and Shakespeare, Chaucer, Alfred, Virgil, Homer, or the Pharoahs, comes the birth of the machines. This lifts us at once into a region of change far above all that we have hitherto considered. For this is parallel to the great changes by which we divide epochs of pre-history. This is on a level with the change from stone to bronze, or from a pastoral to an agricultural economy. It alters Man's place in nature.

[Click on image to enlarge] Lewis was thinking of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, driven by the eighteenth-century invention of the steam engine, which led to those of the spinning jenny and power loom (patented, respectively, in 1770 and 1783). These and other such technologies generated the country's economic growth and fuelled the expansion of its empire in the nineteenth century.

Lewis was also thinking of the birth of machines in his own time. The first car powered by an internal combustion engine was built in Germany in 1885, but its successors were only beginning to be seen on English roads in the 1890s. The Wright brothers' first power-driven heavier-than-air flying machine took to its element in 1903. Lewis was also born before the radio, radar, television, computer, and countless other machines that have changed the character, pace, and quality of human life (at least in developed western countries) in the course of the twentieth century.

[Click on image to enlarge] Many of these technologies were invented — and many more developed — during and in response to the wars that darkened the twentieth century and extended the spheres of conflict to the depths of the sea and to aerial heights previously thought the preserve of the gods.

World War I, like the wars that preceded it in the annals of human history, was fought principally on the ground; its central image being the trench. World War II was fought on the ground, in the air, and at sea; its central images are the fire from heaven and the mushroom cloud.

This topic opens with the testimony of a chronicler from the trenches of World War I, then follows the tank from northeastern France to the Egyptian desert, and the warplane from London to Hiroshima.


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