John W. Farrell wants you to rethink your assumptions about medieval technology: namely, that there wasn’t any, and that innovation languished during the Middle Ages, and had to wait for the technological revolutions of later centuries. In The Clock and the Camshaft: And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can’t Live Without, Farrell ably upends that assumption and others (for example, that development always moves linearly from the simple to the complex, or that technology drives social change rather than developing to address existing changes). The Middle Ages saw the emergence of agricultural tools like the heavy plow and new kinds of mills; of paper, printing presses, and eyeglasses to read those new pages. Many of these innovations owe their success to clerics and religious orders, like the competitive cathedral-building that led to new infrastructure, the clocks in those cathedral towers, and the legal codification of incorporations, including autonomous universities, preceded by the Church’s own fight for autonomy.
The Clock and the Camshaft
And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can’t Live Without
John W. Farrell
$19 | 192 pp.