This study examines how humanity’s insatiable appetite for science and technology transformed western nations to attain the level of success associated with the western world. The study looks back in time (18th to mid-20th century) to piece together scientific and technological advancements that played a significant role in the western culture. Most studies dwell on the modern technology leaving a gap on the past. The information submitted in the study is derived from books and journals that offer an insight into the history of science, technology and western culture. An incisive look into the 18th to mid-20th century proves that medical and technological advancements had a lot of influence on the economic, cultural and social life of the citizens of the western countries. The study reveals that the medical and technological advancements were so powerful to the extent of impacting other nations in the developing world. The research also highlights the twist that bedevils science and technology; environmental degradation that has come up as a consequence of science and technology. This makes the research to be vital in conducting future studies that assess the impact of science and technology to humanity, and to the environment.
The modern science and technology started to make inroads during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, it was not until 18th century that unprecedented developments in science and technology got realized. Such developments are synonymous with western civilization. For instance, achievements made in science and technology (especially in the fields of production, transport and communications), gave birth to the industrial revolution. Industrial growth took place not only in capitalist states, but also in the communist Russia and other backward countries like Mexico. These changes have come to be associated with the modern global civilization.
However, the rapid progress of science and technology has also been associated with the enormous use of raw materials that have resulted into depletion of minerals, disruption of natural resources and wanton forests destruction. Such environmental imbalances have threatened the gains made by science and technology. However, the negative experiences cannot be matched by medical and technological advances, made within the same period that have positively changed mankind’s economic, social and cultural life.
It is for this reason that advances in medicine and technology have proved to be indispensable to the history of western civilization. Developments made in science and technology provided the foundation on which sustainable economic prosperity could be anchored on and improved living standards could be attained. Consequently, medical and technological advances have become synonymous with the civilization of many of the western countries. However, the magnitude of the advancements did not impact on the western nations only; developing countries from all the continents of the world also felt the impact of the advancements.
Science, technology and western culture
Western civilization can be defined by some combination of distinctive features in politics, society and culture (Stearns 37). The period 18th to the mid-20th century saw a rise in the number of scientific and technological advancements that shaped the culture of western nations. Discovery of improved equipment and effective medicines improved the quality of life (economically and health wise). Advanced technology made human life convenient while new drugs saved lives and prevented illnesses. With time, more people shifted to the urban areas. As more scientific and technological developments came out, urban life steadily became complex in terms of the political, economic and social structure (McClellan and Dorn 15).
This research is essential in understanding how science and technology has made contributions to humanity (especially in the areas of medicine and technology). This is in line with goals of the course because historians need to go back in time to understand the impact of medical and technological innovations to mankind, as well as the gaps and inconstancies that have not yet been answered. A chronology of the most influential medical and technological innovations made from the 18th century to the mid-20th century would give a historic account of the advancements which have brought mankind thus far.
Currently, most studies concentrate on the impact of modern technology on humanity. This leaves a gap on the systematic changes that occurred before attaining the level of civilization associated with the western world. It is for this reason that the study goes back in time to the 18th to the mid-20th century to provide a chronology of the most significant scientific and technological advancements. In theory, good things have been said about science and technology without offering a balanced opinion on the impact of science and technology. The journey was not so smooth and some of the innovations have had both negative and positive impact on the people. An insightful look into the scientific and technological advancements commissioned in the 18th century proves that while some of the innovations improved the quality of life, their impact on the environment has been ignored and thus gets underreported.
Evolution of science and technology in the western culture
Technological advancement is both a dynamic and cumulative process. It is dynamic in the sense that it is never perfect. There has always to be a way for improvement. It is also cumulative in the sense that one thing paves the way for another. The lessons gained when working with the existing technology provide materials, tools and knowledge useful for the next stage of development (Volti 7). The process of technological change is one of continuous improvement in the internal workings of the particular technology. It represents mankind’s dream of unrealized potential (Volti 7). These aspects introduce the evolving nature of science and technology. In the quest to satisfy mankind’s ever changing needs, science and technology has evolved in order to keep up with the changing times.
Advance of human knowledge is at the centre of mankind’s remarkable success in raising the living standards achieved over the centuries (Nelson 909). Knowledge here refers to the wide variety of techniques that human societies have gained to enable them to meet their needs. However, the advance of human knowledge is uneven. It is relatively rapid in some fields and resplendent in some fields but quite deficient in others (Pickstone 490).
The growth of science and technology has had both positive and negative impact on humankind. For example, while development of the aircraft increased the convenience of humanity, and gene therapy enabled us to cure diseases, the march of technology has also brought upon the threat of global pollution, overpopulation and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Technology has also been responsible for social disruptions (Volti 3). This is evident when automation leads to loss of jobs, or when new weapons cause power imbalance between nations. When technology fails, it does so in a big way. This can be exemplified by the loss of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and massive radiation at Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union (Volti 3). Despite the disasters and the shortcomings, modern technology still finds favor among the public.
Scientific and technological advancement are a creative process involving human ingenuity. The infatuation with science and technology has led to quick fixes. It has led to the use of basic technology to solve complex problems. This has ultimately led to more problems, which are not solved rather the problems have been made more intractable. An outstanding example is the use of military technology by the United States to solve long-standing and complex political, economic and social problems throughput the globe (Hughes 15). Sustainability of the scientific and technological advancements has also come under sharp focus. For example, environmentalists are deeply concerned about the natural world. The human built should be sustainable and supportive of the human life (Hughes 15).
Scientific advances with an impact on western culture
Medical advances reduced mortality rate significantly in Europe and the tropics. For example, the discovery of the quinine in the 1850s was a considerable relief. Quinine was quite effective against malaria. This reduced the death rates from around 50 percent in 1800 to around 10 percent in the 1850s. Prevention of smallpox was also a sizeable leap. Vaccination has brought the smallpox virus to the brink of extinction. The nineteenth century saw a continuation of the medical developments made in the previous century. Two significant developments in the course of 19th century change the course of medical history forever. This was the discovery of anesthesia and microorganism as the cause of diseases. In the same period, there were changes to the organization of hospitals, physicians and public health activities. This was triggered by the alterations brought about by the industrial revolution (Landau, Achilladelis and Scriabine 17).
There have been contraventions on the part played by medical advances in reducing mortality rates. In 1976, Mckeown published a study in Britain’s national series on death records. This is during the period 1850-1914. The study disregarded the belief that medical advances played a significant role in the reduction of mortality. He argued that the diseases had disappeared way before the relevant medical inventions came along. Mckeown claimed that the major influences on the declining mortality rates were the rising standards of living and the rise in the average nutritional intake. Public health was a secondary factor. In the epidemiological study, the professor showed that rising living standards went along with reduced incidences of tuberculosis (Deming 53). The rising standards of living are now not taken for granted in playing a crucial role in reducing mortality rates.
However, unknown to Mckeown, public health improved as a result of scientific medicine. Consequently, the rates of mortality reduced significantly. This was helped by the rise in household income for most families. Deaths caused by infectious diseases reduced as early as the eighteenth century. This is best explained in the case of tuberculosis. In England, tuberculosis began to decrease steadily in the 1830s. It was wiped out due to the invention of streptomycin drugs in 1947. Bronchitis, pneumonia, and influenza whooping cough, scarlet fever, and diphtheria were effectively controlled after the discovery of the sulfa drugs. Such a scenario was replicated in the case of water and food borne diseases such as typhoid, typhus, dysentery, cholera and diarrhea.
Another outstanding example is in the case of cholera vaccine, which was developed in 1879. In the 1920s vaccines for diphtheria, tuberculosis was developed. Improved supply of clean water also played a significant role in reducing epidemics caused by water and food borne diseases. Introduction of antibiotics controlled more than nine tenths of the deaths arising from ear, nose, and throat infections. Fever deaths were controlled by at least 25 percent after the introduction of vaccines and therapies. In 1935, the first vaccine of yellow fever was discovered. This proves that role of medical therapeutics cannot be wished away in saving many lives in the 18th century to the mid-20th century. There were many factors that also aided in lowering the death rate and increasing the population. This included raised standards of living, an improved environment, medical advances such as vaccination and better institutional healthcare provided by hospitals and dispensaries (Lane 162).
Anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide have helped in carrying successful surgeries without inflicting much pain on the patient. It was one of the discoveries that have facilitated the development of surgery in medicine. The discovery of anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide was made in the 1800. Ever since, improved anesthetics have come up and helped a great deal in facilitating successful surgeries. For example, in 1846 the first painless surgery was made using the general aesthetic. The discovery of anesthesia was soon followed by the successful transfusion of human blood carried out in 1818 by James Blundell. Blood transfusion has since then saved countless number of lives. In 1881 Louis Pasteur discovered the anthrax vaccine and the rabies vaccine in 1882. In 1895 x-ray was discovered for use in medical imaging.
The study of human genetics is another key area that has contributed to the phenomenal success of medicine in the early 20th century (Landau, Achilladelis and Scriabine 16). The knowledge of human genetics has facilitated the control and management of hereditary related diseases. It would have been impossible to attain such a feat without Gregory Mendel’s input regarding human genetics. For example, it was possible to manage and control Leukemia effectively among relatives after Mendel’s observations were incorporated into conventional medicine.
The 18th century saw the development of a range of medications. The quack medicines also had a heyday during the same period. They were relatively inexpensive, were heavily advertised and were offered as a self-treatment before seeking the attention of a medical practitioner (Gorman 56). This greatly hampered the effectiveness of the drugs made at that time. The counterfeits could not fight the diseases experienced during that period. In some instances, they could lead to poisoning and consequently lead to deaths.
Some illnesses have defied the efforts to deal with them better (Nelson 910). The human know-how has to be coordinated in order to attain better results. For example, the surgeon and the anesthesiologist have to combine their skills to produce the best results for the patient. They work with specialized apparatus that enable them to monitor progress, and the modern apparatus that can work.
Nineteenth century had many technological developments which made Europe conquer Africa and make inroads into the continent. Advancements in medicine, transportation and discovery of firearms facilitated this. For example, the use of firearms made European countries take Africa with ease. Guns were powerful, fast, cheap, durable and conspicuous. As a result, it was possible to conquer Africa with ease and some degree of safety for the Europeans.
Technological innovations with an impact on western culture
Although people tend to think of the advances in science and technology as the greatest in human era, we overlook the remarkable advances made in the preceding century. They were astonishing to people during that time, as advances in the 20th century have been astonishing to us (Deming 27). The use of the steam engine ignited industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. It was vital for America’s expansion. It was vital to the North for winning the civil war and in helping United States become a regional power. Although it has now been superseded by powerful and efficient power plants, it was the king in the nineteenth century. This was soon followed by the locomotives that made it easier to cross the country within a few days.
At some point, it reached a level whereby Europeans had attained a limit of their capacity to conquer other people. Fortunately, at that time, they acquired other means of advancing where their predecessors had been unable to conquer. The early nineteenth century saw an era in which technological innovations of the industrial revolution were made and advances in science since enlightenment. This led to demand for raw materials and the conquest and colonization of other areas. Industrialization of the western countries stimulated the demand for raw materials and exotic stimulants. It also catalyzed the way in which western nations could expand their spheres of influence and impose their will on non-western people in order to obtain the necessities and achieve other goals for the empire builders (Headrick 8).
The early 18th century saw the development of improved printing technology which opened the floodgates for mass publication. Communication between different parts of the world received a significant boost. Newspapers could now be churned out suing the mass printing press. Communication also received a further boost from the development of the telegraph in the 18th century. The telegraph technology facilitated the transmission of messages over long distances without any physical contact. This facilitated faster and timely relaying of vital information. It was a step that made human communication easier and convenient.
Another useful development in the early 20th century was the manufacture of efficient automobiles. Although the technology existed before the 19th century, it was not until Ford made useful automobiles for use by the Americans. The automobiles triggered economic growth in the United States. Other service related industries also came up within that period. It also created jobs directly and indirectly for many American citizens. However, the automobiles industry has also been faced with its own share of problems.
The world today faces a problem of the amount of energy consumed per day. With the use of computer technology in most operations, the world consumption of energy in the industrial nations continues to rise. Ecological and environmental problems have to arise. The energy consumed by the manufacturing plants may soon or later lead to the depletion of natural resources (Huesemann and Huesemann 37). The emissions from the factories contribute immensely to the gases that promote the pollution of human air. The gadgets made to make human life convenient and easier are contributing to the negative ecological impact on the world. The gases have a devastating effect on the ozone layer and produce the phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. This has led to unreasonably warm winter periods and cold summer periods.
The melting of ice is also causing a rise in the sea levels. This has a ripple effect on the world as evidenced by the increased frequency of natural disasters in various areas of the globe such as devastating typhoons, floods and violent storms (Burns 17). Rise in modern technology has paved the way for high energy consumption. However, without modern technology it would be impossible to develop environment friendly products such as the bio-fuels. Making a step towards reducing the amount of damage technology has to the environment, it is necessary to find ways of managing new technology responsibly in order to have positive ecological impacts.
Despite the persistent assertions that technology is at fault for causing most of the world’s ecological problems, technology also serves an essential purpose of improving the shape of the planet. Technology’s frustrations can be saved by the advances made in medicine. People in the industrial countries, are now healthier, save for the anxiety caused by new threats such as AIDS and resurgent tuberculosis. Medical knowledge has profound strength; it has an excellent record of coping with disasters, controlling potentially deadly epidemics of infectious diseases. It has literally saved millions of lives (Tenner 27). For instance, airborne diseases retreated when effective vaccines and treatments were available.
The medical discoveries have shaped the world as we know it today. Medical innovations have saved countless lives through preventing, curing, and illnesses. However, some of them had their own fair share of controversies. It cannot be denied that increased use of various forms of technology has resulted into both positive and negative impacts on the planet. All in all, they have reshaped the way humans understand the world. The convenience brought upon by the medical, and technological advancements from the 18th century upto the mid-20th century has benefitted mankind in so many unimaginable ways.
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