The Medieval Horse Harness: Revolution or Evolution? A Case Study in Technological Change
Gans, Paul J.
Villard’s Legacy, Ashgate (2004)
It is now over twenty-five years since Jean Gimpel’s La revolution industrielle du Moyen age was published in France and almost as long since it was translated into English and published as The Medieval Machine? Although not the first book on medieval technology to appear in English, it certainly was one of the most popular. It brought the technological achievements of the Middle Ages to the attention of the general public in a way no previous book had done. Looking back, we can see that it was Lynn White who first stressed technology as one of the driving forces behind historical events. But it was Jean Gimpel who reached the wider, public audience. Where White dealt with specific technologies, Gimpel’s approach was broader, covering more ground. Today, the integration of technology into history is fairly common; one can, for instance, no longer discuss the notable economic development of western Europe after the millennium without also discussing the technological changes that made it possible. This modern joining of technology and history has caused scholars to reexamine a range of historical issues. A typical example is the very slow introduction of firearms into western warfare, which, thanks to Bert Hall’s recent work, is now understood as strongly dependent on available technology and not on political or economic factors.