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White L. Medieval Technology and Social Change

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White L. Medieval Technology and Social Change
London: Oxford University Press, 1962. — 220 p.
Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change, first published by Oxford University Press in 1962, was brilliantly conceived and researched. It was informed by White's compelling vision of the Middle Ages as a coherent and ultimately rational age. It brought to bear ten languages and almost as many categories of evidence, from epigraphy and archaeology to anthropology and philology. And it sparkled with clarity, wit, and insight. Still, the strenuous criticism it attracted almost from the start, and four decades of subsequent scholarship, call into question its continuing viability. While admitting that Medieval Technology and Social Change may be dangerous to their professional health, many historians of technology are loath to renounce it. Many still concur with Joseph Needham's assessment that it is "the most stimulating book of the century on the history of technology." White demonstrated the importance of technology in an era widely perceived as technically stagnant. He focused on artifacts seldom studied by historians of technology: stirrups, plows, horse harnesses and shoes, cranks. He brought insight and imagination to a wide range of evidence. And, most important, he argued that technology sparked social change, that the history of technology mattered. But can these many virtues, can this utility for historians of technology, outweigh the most fundamental standards of the profession? Can historians of technology continue to read and assign a book that is, in the words of a recent critic, "shot through with over-simplification, with a progression of false connections between cause and effect, and with evidence presented selectively to fit in with [White's] own pre-conceived ideas"?
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