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Innovation and technology shaped Western civilization. One of the best examples is the technology and innovation applied to the creation of large ships. These ships were used to discover new worlds. As a result, Europeans were able to travel beyond the European continent.
The foray into exotic lands enabled Europeans to acquire exotic products, raw materials, and slaves (Cole and Symes 265). The technology and innovation utilized during the Medieval Age had a profound impact on Western Civilization. However, the technology and innovation that was available during the Medieval Age paled in comparison to the technology and innovation that brought forth the Industrial Revolution.
Bringing Forth the Industrial Revolution
The people living in the Western world were stuck in the innovation and technology that was available in the Medieval Age. They needed a catalyst in order to surpass the achievements of the Medieval Age. Thus, it can be argued that without the Renaissance, it is impossible to imagine the possibility of an Industrial Revolution.
One of the major breakthroughs during the Renaissance period was the discovery of a higher form of mathematics (Romanek 14). Before the Renaissance, Europeans utilized the Roman numeral system. It was a cumbersome system. It prevented mathematicians from branching out into algebra, calculus, trigonometry, and physics.
These are branches of science that are needed to create steam engines, railway systems, and the equipment needed to construct modern factories. However, the discovery of Hindu-Arabic short form method allowed mathematicians like Rene Descartes to describe the size and shape of objects using mathematical expressions (Romanek 14) The ability to manipulate mathematical equations enabled inventors to create steam engines and railway systems. These modern inventions paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.
The Impact of the Railways
The Industrial Revolution can be described as the application of new technology to transform raw materials into useful commodities (Derry and Williams 259). It must be made clear that the major difference is the type of commodities that were produced. At the same time, there was considerable less dependence on manual labor. This revelation inspired historians to comment that the initial impact of the Industrial Revolution was to help ease the suffering of laborers.
According to one commentary, the technology available to them “tend to relieve the workmen either from niceties of adjustment which exhaust his mind and fatigue his eyes or from the painful repetition of efforts which distort or wear out his frame” (Ure 1). As a result, there was a great demand for manufactured products. However, the increase in demand requires greater access to resources.
The steam engine enabled workers to produce more. But the concept had to evolve into locomotives and railways before the impact of the Industrial Revolution was felt throughout the Western World.
From the year 1840 to the 1900s there was a race between European countries that attempted to build the most extensive railway system in the world (Halsall 1) Those who participated were labeled as industrialized nations, and the names of the countries are listed as follows: 1) Austria-Hungary; 2) Belgium; 3) France; 4) Germany; 5) Great Britain; 6) Italy; 7) Netherlands; 8) Russia; 9) Spain; and 10) Sweden (Halsall 1). By the year 1900 Russia and Germany are the top two countries with the most extensive railway system in the world.
The combination of innovations in steam engine and railway system technology revolutionized the transportation of people, raw materials and finished products. According to one commentary:
They are an effect because the steam engine made possible new modes of transport by sea, land, and air. But the new means of transport were also a cause of industrial change. Without them bulky and heavy materials – could never have been concentrated for manufacture, nor could the food found for the manufacturing population (Derry and Williams 364).
The application of innovation and technology paved the way for the mass production of commodities. As a result, businessmen were able to produce products in the most cost-efficient manner. These products are now affordable because these are mass-produced. At the same, there was greater demand for these products. Greater demand for finished products also means greater demand for workers.
One of the least anticipated outcomes of the Industrial Revolution was the creation of large urban centers in a short period of time. The United States was a newcomer compared to its European counterparts. However, the negative impact of the Industrial Revolution was just the same in American cities.
According to a researcher, “As more and more people moved to America’s cities to take advantage of all these opportunities, the character of the United States changed. America was no longer a land dominated by farmers, but one dominated by city dwellers living off wages” (Sakolsky 7).
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The modern world saw the phenomenal growth of cities that struggled to support millions of people inside a limited land area with limited resources. The increased manufacturing activity and the movement of people contributed to the destruction of the environment and the needless exploitation of natural resources.
One of the unintended consequences was the creation of cheap products that end up in dumpsters. Businessmen manufactured products in anticipation of demand. In many instances, their predictions did not come true. In the Medieval Age, a blacksmith will never produce knives and plowshares without a clear idea of the demand for such products.
Although the Industrial Revolution brought unexpected problems, the positive impact must not be understated. The Industrial Revolution paved the way for globalization. It paved the way for the creation of efficient machines and high-quality products. Consider the impact of modern sea navigation and the emergence of the modern airline industry. It is now easier and safer to travel long distances.
Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for the Information Age. The Industrial Revolution enabled European and North American countries to dominate global affairs. This was made evident by the participation of Western superpowers in World War I and World War II. The emergence of Western superpowers was made possible by the extensive railway networks that were established during the period covering the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on Western civilization. A civilization that was once dominated by rural communities and agricultural practices was suddenly engulfed by the positive and negative impacts of radical technological advances. Due to the application of innovations in the steam engine and railway technology, large urban centers were created almost overnight. It brought about overpopulation and the destruction of the natural environment.
However, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for the creation of new forms of technologies that made life easier. For example, it is now easier and safer to travel long distances due to improvements in sea navigation and air travel. The Industrial Revolution paved the way for the Information Age. The Industrial Revolution made it possible for industrial countries in Europe and North America to dominate global affairs. Thus, the Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the shaping of the Western world.
Cole, Joshua and Carol Symes. Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture. New York: Norton Company, 2012. Print.
Derry, Trevor and Timothy Williams. A Short History of Technology: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900. New York: Dover, 1993. Print.
Halsall, Paul. “Spread of Railways in 19th Century.” Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University, 1997. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Romanek, Trudee. Great Ideas of the Renaissance: The Renaissance World. New York: Crabtree Publishing, 2009. Print.
Sakolsky, Josh. Critical Perspectives on the Industrial Revolution: Anthologies. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005. Print.
Ure, Andrew. “The Philosophy of the Manufacturers, 1835.” Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University, 1997. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.