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Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

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"Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages"

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"Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages" is a comprehensive look at the rise of technology in the post-Roman era. The book seeks to shed light on the ignorance and negative press about the Middle Ages.

What the Middle Ages were not: backwards scientifically, oppressed by brutal religious thinking, or lacking in technological development. These views were promoted during the

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Enlightenment and furthered by 19th century Victorian Scholarship as typified by Edward Gibbon- author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire- who summed it up as "the triumph of barbarism and religion."

Such views do disservice to both Classical Antiquities and the Medieval era, at the expense of real historical understanding.

This simplistic view suited the style of scholarship common during the 18th through to 19th century. But in the 20th century serious academics began to apply their talents to the neglected Medieval Era, using more exacting methods. The unfortunate trend today is towards a resurgence of anti-religious sentiment, specifically anti-Catholic sentiment. This has led to a redacting of an important part of Western History and Culture.

"Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology in the Middle Ages" was written by Frances and Joseph Gies- a former technology editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica- husband and wife Medieval scholars who have written books on major aspects of the Middle Ages.

The first chapter of the book is dedicated to explaining the origins of the term "Dark Ages" (which is now retired in academic circles), the modern background of Medieval Scholarship, and how the Catholic Church and her monasteries promoted the science of mechanics in post-Roman Europe. The Middle Ages saw a widespread development of practical technology.

From the book:

The Church Fathers... showed a new interest in and enthusiasm for what St. Augustine called "our human nature" and its "power of inventing, learning, and applying all such arts" as minister to life's necessities and "to human enjoyment."

Whereas the philosophers of the Greeks and Romans speculated on the higher sciences- the nature of the cosmos, and mathematics- they stagnated in technological development. Roman society was built on the power of muscle, because they could always employ more slaves and animals to do grunt work. They saw no need to apply science to the everyday, or to ease the laboring of society.

In the Middle Ages technological advancements- that were only in the conceptual stage under the Romans- were employed on a wider scale as the Church did away with slavery. Things such as the waterwheel, padded collars for harnessing the horse to plow and open vast areas of Northern Europe to cultivation. Other areas developed were tools and techniques of agriculture, craft industry, metallurgy, building construction, and navigation. Also the Middle Ages borrowed and employed innovations from the East like, the magnetic compass, cotton and silk, papermaking, firearms, and "Arabic" numerals.

The book provides a comprehensive overview of the innovations of Medieval Europe in technology, economics, and political organization. Chapters include: Nimrod's Tower, Noah's Ark, The Triumphs and Failures of Ancient Technology, The Not So Dark Ages A.D. 500-900, The Asian Connection, the Technology of the Commercial Revolution 900-1200, The High Middle Ages 1200-1400, and Leonardo and Columbus: The End of the Middle Ages.

The book, "Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel" is well worth a read for the student of Western Civilization.

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