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date: 08 December 2022



  • Lynne Lancaster


The term “technology” comes from the ancient Greek τέχνη, techne, meaning “art, skill, craft.” In modern practice, definitions of technology often vary according to the discipline and era under examination. Concepts used to study modern technology can be of use in framing questions about technology in antiquity, but along with the methodology one risks adopting modern assumptions that are not necessarily valid for pre-industrial societies. For example, the concept of “progress” has underlain much modern evaluation of ancient technology. It can be found in some ancient writings on science and philosophy, but nowadays it also comes with the post-Enlightenment baggage of having been used in theoretical debates justifying imperialist goals.1 Moreover, modern notions of “progress” are linked with the idea of technological determinism, a theory that assumes that technical progress was a natural path of development towards the Industrial Revolution. Those societies not reaching this goal have often been considered economically and technologically stunted by some fundamental internal flaw.


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

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Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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