I Saw The Old Approaching

Another old/new manifesto, this time the epigraph of David Edgerton’s terrific, game-changing book The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900:

I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching,
but it came as the New.
It hobbled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen before
and stank of new smells of decay which no one had ever smelt before.
–Bertolt Brecht, “Parade of the Old New,” 1939.


  1. That looks like an interesting read, and I’ll have to check it out.

    I note that in the introduction there is no mention of any bioscience (except for DDT, I suppose). Is that just an oversight of OUP or is that some sort of systemic thing in the study of technology?

  2. Two things, I think, Mark: On the one hand, bioscience probably does get short shrift in history of technology because it’s usually seen as history of medicine, which is historically a separate field.

    On the other, Edgerton’s whole argument is that when studying technology we are too prone to emphasize the new, the shiny, the cutting edge–and he would include bioscience in that category. He is skeptical that bioscience, genetics, what have you have changed people’s lives that much on a global scale.

  3. I’ll have to read the book for sure now, because if he’s serious about that second argument, I’d like to know how he deflects the impact of penicillin, not to mention other medical advances such as vaccines, x-rays, etc.

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