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Cultural Improvement Using Technological Progress

Throughout the history of human development, technological innovations have always accompanied cultural, social, and political dimensions of life. People strive to introduce technological improvements as a new form of material culture, as well as intensify the nature and role of innovation in advancing society. Within this perspective, Robert Friedel presents his alternative view of nationalization and cultural improvement using technological progress.

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By settling the notion of capture as part of a series of sustainable and positive changes, the author argues that a culture of improvement did take place in the course of Western technology development. At this point, the analysis of the commercial environment of the Middle Ages displaying new production techniques, the examination of the role of fortification in shaping the political integrity in Renaissance Europe, as well as renewal of Northern European cities after the wartime, indicates and underscores the rationality of Friedel’s thesis.

In the book, Friedel states that a culture of improvement is both specific and contingent on the times and goals. While deliberating on the sequence of events, the author chronologically refers to medieval times, where there seemed to be no signs of technological advances. Such a situation does not prove the absence of progress but provides a belief that the society that had a stronger commitment to the culture of improvement was limited to certain technologies (Friedel 92).

To support the ideas, the author provides an example of Alessandro Spina’s invention of spectacles at the end of the thirteenth century and relates to this event as a part of sequences leading to the development of Western culture. Another important invention is connected with mechanical clocks developments in the fourteenth century. The device was necessary to measure intervals of time through escapement, which could be “the single most important mechanical invention to emerge from the Middle Ages” (Friedel 101).

The possibility to measure time enabled the scientists to trace the motions of the planets and the moon; it has also become the mechanism for creating schedules. What is more important is that the invention of mechanical clocks triggered the formation of organized communities. During the Middle Ages, the need to measure intervals of time was explained by the need to create schedules for prayers in monasteries. Hence, clocks created certain standards for the community.

Greater organization of communities in the fourteenth century increased greater control and interaction between people and government. As one period followed another, different situations and opportunities emerged that necessitated the search for advanced technologies and productions. At this point, Stahl refers to the coining process in the era of the medieval Venetian, the time when millions of coins were produced annually, ranging from copper coins to pure gold ducats (189).

According to the author, the coin production and development “used…to support vital Venetian interests…providing a significant source of revenue for the city coffers” (Stahl 195). Hence, the invented alloys of coins triggered different social, economic, and political processes that led to the progress in the medieval community. Hence, a culture of improvement was a part of a complex strategy to gain a competitive advantage over other prosperous regions, such as Florence.

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While tracing the history of innovation, Friedel takes a closer look at the consequences of technological intervention and its positive influence on the overall improvements. By focusing on concrete facts and details from the history, the author states, “printing, gunpowder, and the compass…have changed the appearance of the state of the whole world: first in literature, then in warfare, and lastly in navigation” (Friedel 113).

Hence, these minor inventions can be regarded as “captures” of a larger chain of technological interventions and discoveries leading to shifts in communication and providing a new meaning to human evolution. The technological introductions, therefore, have managed to capture the changes in industrial and societal spheres. The revolution in the military sphere, particularly the invention of gunpowder, fostered the development of military architecture, as well as the advent of the fortification era, as a response to the “the challenge of the artillery” (Pepper 573).

The new era of warfare has provided the community with a rationale to establish a new form of architecture, as well as new rules and principles of city defense. Despite the wartime damages, as well as the consequences of battles between cities, the city wall was symbolized independence and civic status. In particular, Pepper has found out, “the purely defensive function of the wall was coupled to a constitutional role as the line dividing privilege from the economic and political subservience of the suburb” (584).

Therefore, the introduction of such architectural constructions as the city wall, gates, and other fortifications enhanced the personal reputation of the governmental authorities and introduced political integrity to the citizens. Judging from a series of events, technological interventions could be considered as the turning point in shifts that occurred in the political and social life of the cities.

Awareness of the presence of available natural resources encourages people to deepen their knowledge concerning how such resources as water, air, fire, and earth can be synthesized to improve the social and economical environment. From the sociopolitical perspective, the techniques of the capture of technological change were embedded in society and, therefore, the improvements they promulgated were largely dependent on inventions and discoveries. For instance, with the discovery of fire, society has managed to ameliorate the conditions of labor.

The author, therefore, argues that improvement is primarily fostered by individuals who can either reveal or conceal their interest and enthusiasm while dealing with specific goals and historical frames. Engineers and improvers can also be regarded as a part of a “capturing” process. Focusing on individuals widens an understanding of the way improvements are introduced through knowledge improvement.

At this point, a culture of improvement is closely associated with the extent to which people are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the surrounding environment. Individual achievements have been collected within one stimulus to improve the future of the communities. According to Israel, communities “…achieved something altogether exceptional and remarkable which they referred to as their ‘freedom’” (16). Hence, the mental advantage was recognized as the primary over the physical one because it provided significant prospects for technological development and human evolution.

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In conclusion, the arguments represented in Friedel’s work, as well as other persuasive evidence represented in the paper approved the argument that a culture of improvement did exist in the Western world. Signs of technological evolution demonstrate the chain of significant discoveries that gradually provided the modern world with improvements. Hence, the essence of technological improvements lies in introducing a commitment to social advancement. Moreover, the evidence also proves that technological change has a sustainable rather than ephemeral nature.


Nuvolari, A. (2008). A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium – By Robert Friedel. Review of Policy Research, 25(6), 582–584.

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