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An Overview

Lawrence W. McBride

The systematic study of science, technology, and invention in either a particular instructional unit or through a fully integrated Science-Technology-Society curriculum within a social science or United States history course will benefit students in several ways. First, it will help students gain knowledge of the most significant individuals and episodes in the history of science, advance their understanding of basic scientific concepts, and develop their ability to communicate their knowledge and understanding to others. Second, the study of science, technology, and invention will bring the students face-to-face with some of the most daunting political, social, and economic questions of the modern age.

Teachers who set the study of science, technology, and invention in the context of the history of Illinois will have an advantage in helping students develop their knowledge, skills, and understanding. The events and trends associated with science, technology, and invention that transpired on the national and even international levels were reflected on the smaller stages of state and local history. The study of state and local history offers students the opportunity to examine unique perspectives on national and international events and trends. Teachers who encourage students to complete a research project under the theme of Science, Technology, and Invention—in conjunction with the Illinois History Day academic competition or as a classroom project-will help them increase their knowledge and understanding of history as well as develop their writing and critical-thinking skills.

The state and local context also provides teachers and students alike with the opportunity to discuss current social, political, and economic issues related to the development of science, technology, and invention. The history of Illinois and its communities is filled with examples of how its people were affected by developments in science and technology and how those developments had both predictable and unpredictable consequences. Among the burning issues that affect every citizen in every community is the impact of technology on the local environment, the unequal access of various groups of people to new technology, the disposal of hazardous wastes, issues related to the perceived benefits and dangers of genetic engineering, and the citizenry's inability to keep abreast of the advance of scientific knowledge and understanding.

Students should grasp several concepts to develop fully their understanding of the links among scientists and their research activities, technological development and invention, and entrepreneurs and the marketing of new products. First, students ought to understand that nineteenth- and twentieth-century Illinois developed during that complex period of rapid change known as "the industrial revolution," when technological innovations resulted in the substitution of machinery for human skill and animal power. That revolution gave birth to the modern, global economy. In Illinois, that process not only resulted in the early and sustained development of agriculture as the state's leading industry but also in the subsequent urban development of heavy industry and machine manufacture. The state's prime geographic location and the improvement of its transporation system during the


nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries fostered Illinois' equally important development as the epicenter of the nation's burgeoning marketing network.

Second, students must understand that the scientific discoveries and inventions during the industrial revolution fueled more advanced technological changes as well as changes in the workplace. These historic changes continue to have both positive and negative effects on society. In Illinois, these ongoing changes are seen in agriculture, where crop yields have increased dramatically while the number of farms has declined. Illinois' failure to adopt new technologies in the steel and automobile industry prompted industrial plants to relocate to other regions of the country and the world, with devastating consequences for the skilled workers in the communities that depended on industry for their livelihoods. Third, students must understand that the industrial revolution and the resulting new methods of organizing production and marketing products caused fundamental changes in the structure of power. Interest groups of capitalists, businessmen, workers, and consumers try to influence government policies, assess economic opportunities, and distribute resources. Conflict occurs as each group maintains its particular vision of what constitutes a better way of life for all. Fourth, students must understand that technological change is largely the result of the application of scientific research and development to solve a particular problem. Significant inventions rarely happen completely by accident. Moreover, students should know that technological developments largely occur as a result of a demand from a section of the marketplace for a new product. For example, farmers demanded a mechanical reaper that could harvest crops more efficiently than a laborer could with a scythe. Business managers demanded a computer that could manage a company's financial ledgers faster and more accurately than an accountant working with pencil and paper. A "better mousetrap" will be developed and marketed when there is a demand for it. Key factors govern the process of research and development: risk-taking entrepreneurs or government officials who invest capital in the development of new technology; inquisitive scientists in the private sector and universities who have the educational training and laboratory facilities to conduct their research; and merchants with a distribution system to market new products. In addition, the public must be confident that science, technology, and invention will work in concert to serve the best interests of society.

Finally, students must be able to discuss issues related to science, technology and society. The dual aims of the study of history are to help people understand how the past has shaped the present and to give students the understanding of themselves as part of long-term historic processes. The study of the past, therefore, is the best starting point for students to approach contemporary issues. History gives them the skills they need to trace and analyze the trajectory of an issue over time. Students with knowledge and understanding of the course of past events can participate as informed citizens in the public debates that address the potential ways of solving problems. Moreover, they will be in the best position to set rational demands on those who have the power to make scientific and technical changes now and in the future.

This publication will help teachers integrate some aspects of the history of science, technology, and invention into their history and social science curriculum. The four essays following this introduction provide overviews of the significant individuals, episodes, and trends in the historical development of Illinois agriculture, transportation, industry, and technological innovation. Each of the essays notes both the benefits and costs to society that stem from the development and distribution of new technology.

The publication also includes a number of lesson plans that address topics in early and modern Illinois history. These plans serve as models for teachers at all grade levels who wish to use the local history of communities in Illinois as the context for presenting topics in science, technology, and invention. As such, teachers should feel free to adapt the plans to suit their own instructional purposes. A bibliography at the end of the volume suggests additional sources should a teacher wish to further pursue a particular theme. Finally, the photographs that appear throughout the text will stimulate student interest in potential research topics.


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