Patronage and the Shaping of Technology

Bronowski, J. and Mazlish, B. The Western Intellectual Tradition: From Leonardo to Hegel (1960) New York. Chapter 1 excerpt, p. 9-19.
Hollingsworth, Mary. Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to Early Sixteenth Century (1994) London. Introduction, p.1-8.
Hughes, Thomas. Human-Built World: How to Think About Technology and Culture (2004) Chicago. Chapter 1, p. 1-10.
W. Patrick McCray, “It’s Not All Lightbulbs,” Aeon (2016).
Misa, Thomas. Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present (2004) Baltimore. Chapter 1. (All readings available on Blackboard in the Weekly Course Readings folder)

This week’s readings include broad overviews of larger historical and technological themes while also focusing in on the role patronage has played in the directing and shaping of certain technologies. Based on the readings by Bronowski and Mazlish, Hollingsworth, Hughes, McCray, and Misa, as well as the in-class presentations, please discuss the following four (4) points in a well-written, 300-400 word narrative essay (feel free to exceed that amount if you have more to say):

  1. Both Thomas Misa and Mary Hollingsworth provide a number of examples of how patronage shaped and directed certain technologies during the Italian Renaissance. Drawing from these readings, identify at least two (2) specific examples of how the actions of patronage shaped the direction of specific kinds of technologies which ultimately exerted a lasting cultural or social impact upon society.
  2. What would you consider to be an example of present-day patronage — that is to say patronage of the type examined by Misa and Hollingsworth? In what way does the current example that you chose relate to examples from the Renaissance?
  3. Bronowski and Mazlish state that Leonardo’s attention to detail in his art and inventions was motivated by a desire “to find…meaning.” (p. 12) What are some examples they provide to explain this desire?
  4. Two-part opinion question (no right or wrong answer): Part 1: In his Introduction to Human-Built World, Thomas Hughes mentions the “Janus-face” of technology. Are all technologies neutral and benign? Are some more harmful than others? Provide one example of what you believe to be a positive technology and one example of what you believe to be a negative technology. Part 2: In his essay, “It’s Not All Lightbulbs,” Paul McCray writes “The history of technological change is full of examples of roads not taken.” For me, this immediately brings to mind the different energy paths followed by different countries (e.g.; choosing renewable energy resources or fossil fuel energy resources). Can you think of an example of a “road not taken” in the history of technological change?

Sample Solution