1.6 Summary and Further Discussion

There are a variety of views about the meaning of history and whether it is a purposeful and controlled unfolding, or a series of fated cycles. To be useful, accounts of history must be interpreted in a flow from the past through the present. With some care, its lessons might be extrapolated to forecast the future. History is influenced strongly by the motivations of the people who make it, and by the technology that they use. Its events in turn shape ideas and technology for the next generation.

Although many divisions in history can be identified, those useful to this text are:

o Hunter-gatherer (the first civilization)

o Agricultural (the second civilization)

o Industrial (the third civilization)

o Information (the fourth civilization)

Many nations are now well into the fourth phase, and the transition is being accompanied by broad changes in society and technology, as well as by a lively new interest in ethical issues.

Specific examples of the historical development of certain technologies include:

o Technology and food

o Technology and health

o Technology and warfare

o Technology and transportation

o Technology and communication

o Technology and standard of living

The brief history of modern computing gives an indication of the way in which this particular technology has developed and become a powerful influence on society. Much of this text is concerned with such mutual influences, and many of these will be developed further in later sections.

Research and Discussion Questions

1. If you are reading an account of some event in the past, what clues could you look for in the narrative to determine how factual it is? In particular, how does a falsehood or exaggeration distinguish itself from the truth? How does a mythical account distinguish itself from an historical one? How could you spot possible distortions designed to favour the author's political, religious or economic theories?

2. What are some of the external sources to which one could turn in an attempt to verify a historian's account? Describe as many as you can think of, and comment on their value.

3. Consider Caesar Tiberius and Jesus Christ. Do library research to find out for which of these two there exists more complete and reliable documentary evidence to verify the historical accuracy of the main events of their lives (This could be a rather extensive research project). Now also comment on the extent to which such evidence is actually accepted by scholars and by the population in general.

4. What effect, if any, did the invention of the printing press have on the industrial revolution? On society in general?

5. This chapter speaks much about interplay of motivations (especially ethical), technology, and the events of history. From your own knowledge or research, provide examples of important historical events that hinged on (a) a specific application of technology; (b) a moral/ethical or political decision by a key player in the event.

6. Which do you think is more nearly correct: that societies develop in the way they do because of technological advances, or that technological advances take place because the society in which they are made is ready for them?

7. What were some of the effects on family life as a result of the industrial revolution?

8. If you (a product of the industrial/information age) were suddenly thrust into a hunter-gatherer society to make your way with no technological help, what would you do to survive?

9. If the plough is the key invention for the agricultural society, and the computer for the information society, what can be said of the industrial society in this respect? Is there a single piece of technology that can characterize the whole age? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

10. Write a history of the automobile, focusing on its effects on the economy and society of the Western world.

11. Write an account of the effects of television on Western society.

12. Write an account of the effects of computers on Western society.

13. Some material in the chapter focuses on particular turning points in history. Try to imagine how the world's history would have been altered if certain events had not occurred. Write down what the major differences in today's society and technology would be if:

a. the Romans had built a practical steam engine from Hero's model. Could an industrial revolution have taken place in A.D. 100 ?

b. the Mayans and Incas had both discovered the wheel and begun to use animal-drawn carts centuries before the Spanish arrived. (What if the Europeans had met a civilization stronger than their own?)

c. half the munitions factories built in the United States before the Civil War had been in the South, instead of (virtually) all in the North.

or the South had followed up at the battles of Bull Run, pursued the defeated Union army, and taken the undefended city of Washington, D.C.

d. England had been overwhelmed by Germany in the Battle of Britain.

e. Lee Harvey Oswald had missed, and John F. Kennedy had lived to be re-elected.

14. The text mentions some turning points in World War II. What were some others?

15. What is the importance of studying history for our present day society? for the future?

16. There have been many who have attempted to prophesy the future. Look up one or two of these from before 1990 and assess the extent to which they succeeded or failed.

17. Try to obtain one of the supermarket "tabs" annual issue of psychics' prophesies for the ensuing year. Describe these and say how many came true during the following year.

18. The Western notion of prophesy comes largely from the Bible.

a. What does the word "prophet" mean in the Biblical context?

b. Make a list of at least twenty prophesies, both the making and fulfilling of which are recorded in the Bible.

c. Make a list of at least twenty Biblical prophesies that do not appear to have been fulfilled as yet.

19. Write your own prophesy of the next ten years of technology.

20. Look up the Gutenberg project. Who is it named after? What are its goals, and why is it important (or not)?

21. The text attempts to formulate a principle of interdependence. Explain this, and try to reformulate it in other words.

22. Make a list of the ten most important turning points in history and explain why each was so important.

23. Make a list of the ten most important current problems that could be turning points in an account of our history written in the future.


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The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises