History of Technology


This course aims at providing students with a core of concepts which allow them to develop their own scientific and technical culture.  Our purpose is to lead students to think about their future work as engineers and ask themselves crucial questions such as “what is technology?”, “does technology drive (European) History?” “is there a social responsibility/ethics in the work of the engineer/technologist?”

Bearing these questions in mind a set of significant moments (from the technological point of view) in the European history is selected. Machine and technical systems are the starting point of the analysis of each topic; further on we analyse these material signs as both agents and products of social life.

The course of History of Technology aims, therefore, at providing students with the capabilities of:

(i) Specific capabilities:
* understanding the internal structure of technical knowledge and of its relations with both science and various social, economic, and cultural contexts throughout history;

* understanding the historical process which led to the symbiotic relationship between technology and progress;

* exploring technical knowledge and practice as a dynamic process of successes and failures;

* mastering the main concepts that allow us to analyse the complex process of production and dissemination of technology;

* studying a set of technological moments that contributed to shape the face of Europe.

(ii) General capabilities:
 * understanding the dynamics of technology from a historical perspective;

* building a critical and *historical memoir of the role played by technology and engineering in the European society;

* developing the sense of social responsability of our students (future engineers/technologists)

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Maria Paula Pires dos Santos Diogo


Weekly - 2

Total - 63

Teaching language



Available soon


General bibliography

  • Cardwell, D., The Fontana History of Technology, Londres, Fontana Press, 1994 
  • McClellan, J.E., Dorn, H., Science and Technology in World History, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006
  • Misa, T.J., Leonardo to the Internet, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004
  • Mowery, D., Rosenberg, N., Paths of Innovation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998 
  • Reynolds, T.S., Cutcliffe, S.H. (eds.), Technology and the West: A Historical Anthology from Technology and Culture, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1997. 

For each  topic of the program further bibliography is recommended to the studends. This specific  bibliography is available on Moodle (www.dcsa.fct.unl.pt) . The films that are suggested within the course are available at the Moodle page. 

Teaching method

Presentation of the topics by the lecturer, supported by slides; discussion of texts and films covering the topics outlined in the syllabus. Discussion of some topics by students under staff supervision and avaliation.

Evaluation method


1) a critical reading of a book selected by the teacher accordingly with the academic profile of the student;

2) five short essays on two articles, also selected by the teacher accordingly with the academic profile of the student;

3) public discussion of the essays mentioned in 2).

Subject matter

1. Methodology
1.1 Technology as the metric of progress.
1.2 Some basic concepts: Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos: “is the history of technology a cumulative process?”; invention and innovation; creativity and social construction of technology; the “Kranzberg Laws”.

2. Topics on History of Technology

2.1 Operational technology: pre-classical and classical civilisations. Technology as means of solving practical problems; technology as amusement and hobby; technology as a political structure.
2.2 Technical practice and change in medieval society: agriculture, energy and architecture. 
2.3 Renaissance: understanding nature in order to control it. Technologies of the court. Leonardo da Vinci: war and flight; Francis Bacon and his technical agenda; Galileo: machines and efficiency. Perspective and press as a means of spreading technical knowledge.
2.4 The age of mechanism: technical development in the 17th century. In the threshold of industrial age: energy and manufacturing.
2.5 The age of industry: Industrial Revolution and civilisation: energy, machinery, materials and communication. 
2.6 Consolidation of an industrial culture. The World Exibitions. The engineer as an industrial expert. New patterns of space and time.
2.7 The triumph of technology; mass production, expertise and globalisation. Technical systems and research in the 20th century: big science and big technology; oriented research projects; socialcontrol of technology: the "HAL syndrome and the Moore''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''s Law.

3. The Portuguese Casethe anatomy of a profession. The teaching of engineering. Engineering and Portuguese modernity.


Programs where the course is taught: