Continuing to Scheme

7 December 1998
The essence of what we want to look at:

Inventions and Innovations
their Backgrounds, social and technical,
their Processes of Development from idea to product,
their Implications and Connections

In titling the course Technology and American Frontiers we mean to constrain its subject matter as little as possible, while still providing a common focus. Participants will choose a technology (or a technological realm) for investigation, and each person has the obligation to make the case that the chosen subject has to do with "invention and innovation", but the initial definition is much less important than the process of investigation and discovery that it inspires.

After all, what's not technology? What doesn't have some component of how to MAKE and DO? The problem is more one of how to situate and link up than how to defend whether something is or is not 'a technology'. Thus, MANAGEMENT can be thought of as a technology for managing enterprises; and POETRY can be thought of as connected with the means to compose and distribute words.
We specify "American Frontiers" in the same spirit of adventure, intending the broadest possible definition of 'frontier'.
How many ways can we think of 'frontier'? Space and time are the obvious senses, but there's also the notion of a frontier as a moving edge of knowledge, and as an arena of opportunity. Others?
And in everything we do in this course we want to concentrate on the process of doing: how do we find information to answer questions that arise? how do we develop ways to illustrate and express what we've found?
I think of implication as the central question: what things are connected to and entangled with a particular technology? What stories help us to a better understanding of the significance and influences of an innovation?

There are many ways to proceed, lots of starting places that lead to all manner of branching pathways. Take this example, dated San Francisco August 16, 1861:


By orders from the East Coast the



The Last Pony Coming This Way Left
Atchison, Kansas,

WELLS, FARGO & CO, Agents.

What's it about? What's its context? What are its implications? (has to do with the completion of telegraph connections to the west coast, an earlier information revolution)

Some topics are (arguably) too broad --"the railroad" is almost doomed to superficiality, but could be focused into an eminently doable project by concentration on time (viz: in the 1870s) or space (viz: in Pennsylvania) or some conjunction (viz: and the canals; or transition from wood to coal, or bye-bye black smoke choo-choo, etc.).
We'll use a broad range of stimulus materials to provoke discussion and suggest directions for individual work. John Blackburn called my attention to the newly-arrived
 TITLE        Eyewitness to the American West : from the Aztec Empire to the
                digital frontier in the words of those who saw it happen /
                edited by David Colbert.
 PUBLISHER    New York : Viking, 1998.
 DESCRIPT     495 p. ; 24 cm.
 SUBJECT      West (U.S.) -- History -- Sources.
 Leyburn Library        F591 .E94 1998
which has a number of short chapters that are epitomes of inspiration for technological subjects: "The Birth of Silicon Valley" (Lee De Forest in Palo Alto, 1911, pg 222); "The First Closeup and other movie innovations", pp 223-227; "Manufactured Weather: the invention of air conditioning", pp 250-251; "Philo Farnsworth Imagines Television", pp 252-255; "Talkies", pp 265-267; others, too...). There's one on Novajo Code talkers that got me hunting for other links, via AltaVista:
and there's a book in our library:
 AUTHOR       Bixler, Margaret T.
 TITLE        Winds of freedom : the story of the Navajo Code Talkers of World
                War II / by Margaret T. Bixler.
 PUBLISHER    Darien, Conn. : Two Bytes, 1992.
 DESCRIPT     xviii, 182 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
 SUBJECT      Navajo Indians.
              World War, 1939-1945 -- Cryptography.
              Navajo language -- Written Navajo.
 Leyburn Library        E99.N3 B59 1992

8 December
Inventions are certainly not the sum total of technology, and indeed are only one of a number of important viewpoints, but they do constitute an interesting entrée for the study of history of technology. Quite a few books emphasize the "great man" view of invention, which generally concentrates on !ahah! and slights the implicational perspective we prefer. Various books by Henry Petroski are good correctives to the !eureka! tendency:

CALL NO.     TA174 .P473 1994.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        Design paradigms : case histories of error and judgment in 
               engineering / Henry Petroski.
IMPRINT      Cambridge [England] ; New York, N.Y. : Cambridge University
               Press, 1994.

CALL NO.     TG23 .P47 1995.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        Engineers of dreams : great bridge builders and the spanning of 
               America / Henry Petroski.
IMPRINT      New York : Knopf, 1995.

CALL NO.     T212 .P465 1992.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        The evolution of useful things / Henry Petroski.
IMPRINT      New York : A. Knopf, 1992.

CALL NO.     TA174 .P4735 1996.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        Invention by design : how engineers get from thought to thing / 
               Henry Petroski.
IMPRINT      Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1996.

CALL NO.     TS1268 .P47 1989.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        The pencil : a history of design and circumstances / by Henry 
IMPRINT      New York : Knopf, 1989.

CALL NO.     TA145 .P47 1997.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        Remaking the world : adventures in engineering / by Henry 
IMPRINT      New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
CONTENTS     Images of an engineer -- Alfred Nobel's prizes -- Henry Martyn 
               Robert -- James Nasmyth -- On the backs of envelopes -- Good 
               drawings and bad dreams -- Failed promises -- In context -- Men
               and women of progress -- Soil mechanics -- Is technology wired?
               -- Harnessing steam -- The Great Eastern -- Driven by economics
               -- The Panama Canal -- The Ferris wheel -- Hoover Dam -- The 
               Channel Tunnel -- The Petronas towers.

CALL NO.     TA174 .T6 1987.
TITLE        To engineer is human [videorecording] / written & presented by 
               Henry Petroski ; producer, Alec Nisbett ; BBC Television.
IMPRINT      Chicago : Films Inc., 1987.

CALL NO.     TA174 .P474 1985.
AUTHOR       Petroski, Henry.
TITLE        To engineer is human : the role of failure in successful design /
               Henry Petroski.
IMPRINT      New York, N.Y. : St. Martin's Press, c1985.

9 Dec
Petroski is eloquent on "the extraordinariness of ordinary things" (1992:78), and his chapters on pins, paper clips, PostIts, staples and zippers (Chapters 4-6 of 1992) are exemplary.

A search via AtlaVista for 'Whitcomb Judson' (inventor of the zipper) turns up a nice array: and we have a tempting-looking book:
 AUTHOR       Friedel, Robert.
 TITLE        Zipper : an exploration in novelty / Robert Friedel.
 PUBLISHER    New York : W.W. Norton, c1994.
 DESCRIPT     xiv, 288 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
 SUBJECT      Inventions -- History -- 20th century.
              Inventions -- History -- 19th century.
              Zippers -- History.
 Science Library        T19 .F75 1994
And there's a Scientific American article ("The Slide Fastener", Lewis Weiner, June 1983, pp 132-144)
See also some pages on packaging: And there's a list of inventions with their inventors that might be useful as idea material.