The Rise and Fall of British Technology

David Edgerton accentuates the positive in looking at the story of British technology in the 20th century.

The idea that Britain since 1870 should be seen as a prime case of a technological nation seems perverse. A long tradition of declinist historiography has insisted that post- 1870 Britain may be characterised by its lack of enthusiasm for science and technology, by the low social status of the practitioners of these obscure mysteries, and by the indifference of government to the needs of technology. If we were to look for a properly technological twentieth-century nation we would look to Germany, the United States, the Soviet Union, perhaps France.

Nineteenth-century Britain, by contrast, is par excellence a technological nation: it invokes images of the Industrial Revolution and the workshop of the world; a world of heroic entrepreneurs, inventors and engineers. And yet the contrast is an odd one: surely Britain after 1870 is more technological than Britain before 1870. Less obviously, the contrast between a technological Germany, Soviet Union and France, and an anti- technological Britain in the twentieth century is also deeply flawed.

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