I have been an educator for two decades and an engineer for longer. Right now, I am fascinated by an apparent tangent to my day job: exploring industrial revolutions (past, present, and maybe even future) from an engineering and educational perspective. Why? People are pretty much people, having not really evolved too much since we left the caves. Although bringing down a woolly mammoth for a feast doesn’t feel quite the same as sitting through the annual banquet of your favorite professional society, both are tribal rituals, which involve food and drink, tools, organization, preparation, communication, and knowing the shared behavioral rules in order to survive, and maybe even enjoy, the event. We are still typically interested in eating and drinking and finding shelter, with added upgrades once the basic needs are met in the basic ways.
There are differences, too, between hunting the ancient elephant and attending formal dinners. Proper dress, for one thing. But somewhere between a prehistoric Emily Post mandating the proper precedence for pachydermal plundering, and googling the etiquette of indulging in a few clandestine rounds of Angry Birds during the fourth after-dinner speech, there may be a goldmine. Who knows what worked and what didn’t in revolutionary times of intellectual and industrial progress? What sort of social, technical, intellectual, economic, ethical, whatever-else-that’s-important climate favored various industrial revolutions? Are there common threads? Or do times of great progress erupt in history as randomly as Mount Vesuvius? Would we, as a society, be better focusing on educating a populace of Montessorial “prepared minds” for “innovative moments” than sponsoring one more seminar on grant-writing to encourage entrepreneurship? Or just having another refreshing beverage and watching the game?
So, true to the engineering stereotype, my inner nerd and I are just going to treat all of history as a grand experiment, yielding a great wealth of data to be mined for these answers, remembering that in mining, lots of claims have more gangue than gold. We hope that the prospecting will be a worthwhile and interesting adventure and look forward to sharing this journey with you.
Our first stop will be “THE Industrial Revolution”, because there is such a wealth of information. Literature, art, music, newspapers, schoolbooks, and industrial records reveal how people lived and learned, what they wrote and read, and who was inventing what and why. Join us next week to track our progress.