6.2 Production and Technology

Studies of technology (at work, at home, elsewhere) have the potential to prove informative. The centrality of technology to modern life is commonly acknowledged yet, often, technology is researched in isolation from people (e.g. in the more old-fashioned kind of industrial archaeology). Technologies always exist in relation to people and vice versa; a focus on technological relationships leads research in fruitful new directions.

Industrially-produced material culture of the modern period is often recovered in large quantities from archaeological sites, and for the most part it does not set the pulse racing. However, even the least glamorous of nineteenth-century finds can be revelatory of the ways in which changes in technology enabled new forms and both answered and enabled changing values, attitudes and tastes. Window glass is a pertinent example. The replacement of small, irregular, seeded panes of broadsheet glass by high quality, crown, cylinder or ultimately plate glass of high transparency was the result of developments in glass technology (Charlston 1984, Tarlow 2007). In turn it enabled the large shop windows without which the window display – an important element of the consumer revolution – would not have happened (Girouard 1990). It also permitted the characteristic sash windows of polite Georgian architecture which encouraged the development of landscapes designed to be viewed from the house, and the kind of light interiors that demonstrated taste and gentility (Louw 1993).

The ascendancy of mass production is evident not only in artefacts themselves but also in the places where they were made (e.g. the replacement of small-scale production spaces within the house by factories), and in the tools for their manufacture.

Production did not always produce artefacts: other kinds of commodity, such as metal, chemicals, fuels or foodstuffs were mass-produced through new or refined industrial processes. In turn, many of those commodities facilitated the enhanced production of secondary goods. The extraction of far greater quantities of coal, for example, enabled the production of steel goods and powered factory machinery which produced many manufactured goods of all kinds of material. The emergence of the panhouse method of salt production in the late 15th and 16th centuries involved the development of efficient industrial-scale coalburning systems coupled with the manufacture and maintenance of very large waterproof iron pans made of riveted iron plates, housed in purpose-built industrial works, and requiring major capital investment by its owners and round-the-clock shiftworking by its workers. The requirement for large quantities of plate iron may have both stimulated and reflected Scottish-Baltic contacts, while the demand for coal was a major stimulus for the development of that industry; the production and export (to England and to much of northern Europe) of large quantities of clean white salt produced major capital accumulations which could then be circulated within the Scottish economy, as well as having substantial implications for the balance of trade, for agriculture, and for long-distance trade and seafaring. However the implications for the workforce were less positive; as already noted, the indispensible nature (genuine or alleged) of the symbiotic coal-salt industries led to the introduction of lifetime bonded labour for colliers and salters.

Mass production favoured specialisation within the productive process so that craftspeople no longer personally took the production of artefacts through from raw material to finished good. Instead, factory organisation of production separated the elements of manufacture, an efficiency propounded by economic theorists such as Adam Smith. Yet there were also a range of productive modes between artisan craft production and assembly-line Fordism, including ‘putting out’ and home workshop production, as well as the persistence of traditional craft methods. Archaeology can potentially say how far the workers themselves determined production processes, and how designed industrial systems were adapted.

A series of waves of new transport forms broke across the country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from the development of toll (and military) roads, to the excavation of canals and finally the arrival of the railway. The development of the railway network, in the latter part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth, brought vast changes. These included the standardization of time across the country, vastly increased mobility of people and goods and the accelerated dissemination of ideas through the increased circulation of newspapers and correspondence.

Studies of technology (at work, at home, elsewhere) have the potential to prove informative.  The centrality of technology to modern life is a common refrain but, often, technology is considered in isolation from people (e.g. in the more old-fashioned kind of industrial archaeology).  Technologies always exist in relation to people and vice versa; a focus on technological relationships would lead research in fruitful new directions.

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