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660 Technology and Military Innovation

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Daily Schedule, SAASS 660


All: Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution, Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800, Cambridge, 1996, ALL

Student Report: Cliff Rogers (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate, Westview, 1995, report on pp. 1-117 (Chps. 1-4 “Paradigms”) and pp. 337-367 (Chp. 13 “Rejoinder”)

How we got here, the Rise of the West and the Military Revolution

Geoffrey Parker’s Military Revolution argument is fundamental to the ideas of this course. In it he argues that a number of technological advances as well as other variables in economics, politics and culture combined in the 16th Century and allowed the West (Western Europe) to dominate the rest of the globe. This ‘Military Revolution’ led to, and maintains the power of the West to this day. In this reading you will consider the variables that led to Western ‘Power’ (in many forms), and the role of technology in the ascent.

The student report, drawn from Cliff Rogers’ edited work is the subsequent debate of the Military Revolution argument. In Rogers’ book, we refine the variables and ideas where other historians have offered their opinions on the ‘revolution’ and its components, the timeline, and the importance.

Some questions for consideration:

Why the West? How did Western Europe come to dominate the globe?

What is the role of technology in the history of conquest? Why is it important?

Which perspective presented in the readings offers the most persuasive argument for the rise of the west in world history?


All: Merritt Smith and Leo Marx, Does Technology Drive History? MIT Press, 1994, pp. 1-113, 237-273

Student Report: Lynn White, Medieval Technology and Social Change, Oxford, 1966, report on ALL

Technological Determinism: the Argument that Technology Drives History

Smith and Marx offer an edited collection of essays on the importance of technology in world history. These authors go so far as to say that technology is a driving force behind history. In these essays, a variety of theorists offer the opinion that technology in and of itself has been the force behind history and cultural evolution. Technology(ies) force social (r)evolution, and push progress towards the future. In your reading, pay particular attention to the arguments and logical consistency, looking for areas where you may be able to challenge this perspective.

In the student report, White offers three cases for technological determinism: Stirrups, the Plow, and early Machines. Each of these, he argues, pushed Western Civilization to new heights of power, wealth, prestige, and by extension, dominance. Consider the importance of these statements, and critique his argument.

Questions to ponder:

What are the strengths of the technological determinist argument? The weaknesses?

How persuasive are your authors today? Can you refine the arguments to make them stronger?

In your own opinion, to what extent is the determinist model persuasive?


All: Wiebe Bijker, et al., The Social Construction of Technological Systems, MIT Press, 1989, (1-133), AND Stephen Chiabotti, “Heterogenius Engineering and JPATS: Leadership, Logic, and Acquisition Requirements” article, ALL

Student Report: Kelly Johnson, Kelly, more than my share of it all, Smithsonian, 1989, report on pp. 50-151 (Chps. 7-14) and pp. 189-199 (Chp. 19)

Social Constructivism and the Heterogeneous Engineer: the Argument that Society (and Individuals) Drives Technology

In today’s class we discuss the opposite end of the spectrum from the determinists: the Social Constructivists. The authors today argue that technology is socially constructed, based on wants, needs, and market factors, based on peoples’ (governments’, militaries’, etc.) demands and needs. Within the social constructivist argument is the great man theory. In the chapter on the Heterogeneous Engineer, pay close attention to the definition and examples represented by Law. As well, you will read (our very own) Dr. Chiabotti’s article that lays out the argument in article form.

In the student report, we will hear about another example of a heterogeneous engineer (and in this case a real engineer), Kelly Johnson, a famous aircraft designer for Lockheed. Be prepared to discuss the role of the individual in technological evolution.

Questions for contemplation:

What is the role of individuals (or groups) in technological evolution?

What is the interaction between people and the market? Why is it important?

Which case from the last two days is more persuasive, determinism or constructivism? Why? Can you justify using both?


All: Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine, France, Britain, and Germany between the World Wars, Cornell, 1986, ALL

Student Report: Hal Winton and Dave Mets, The Challenge of Change, Nebraska, 2003, report on pp. 1-107

Changing Military Doctrine: Where does it originate?

On this day, you will be exposed to Barry Posen’s lasting argument on the development of military doctrine. Posen’s argument is important to how we will discuss changes in the military and how it copes with crises. Where he adds to the literature is in his discussion of technology and innovation. Look carefully and consider in detail his argument as it pertains to the French, British, and Germans as each dealt with post-WWI military doctrine.

In the student report we will hear from our very own Hal Winton (and former SAASS prof David Mets) and their opinions on the same countries with regards to more specifics. Look for differences in the student report from what you read in Posen.

Questions to keep you interested:

How does the military innovate?

Why does the military innovate?

Why is it an important question?

Who did it best in the interwar period (according to these authors)?


All: Stephen Rosen, Winning the Next War, Innovation in the Modern Military, Cornell, 1991, ALL

Student Report: Williamson Murray and Allan Millett (eds.), Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, Cambridge, 1998, report on Chaps. 3, 4, 7

Innovating the Military: How is it done?

Today’s class considers the response to Posen’s argument. In Stephen Rosen we find a more nuanced argument on military innovation and evolution, with new and exciting variables for consideration. He distinguishes between inside and outside forces, wartime and peacetime, and budget issues in his argument. Consider Rosen’s argument, then re-consider Posen; decide which is more persuasive.

For the student report, we consider the best from The Ohio State University and leading US military historians as they tackle a variety of specific platforms. Consider how each develops different technologies and for what purpose.

Questions for the day:

Does Rosen add or detract from Posen? Can you synthesize the two for a better understanding of military innovation?

Why is innovation important in a 21st Century military? How would you influence your service to innovate? Can it be done in today’s climate (political, social, economic, etc.)?

*NOTE* - as we get to the final phases of theory, you should be making comparisons between different innovation theories, building a case for your personal opinions on technological evolution and influence in society.


All: Peter Jakab, Visions of a Flying Machine, Smithsonian, 1997, ALL

Student Report: Walter Vincenti, What Engineers know and how they know it, Johns Hopkins, 1993, report on Intro, Chps. 3, 7, and 8

Disruptive technology and innovation

Today’s discussion will center on our first case study. In 627 the faculty left out the birth of aviation specifically so that we could address the history of aviation innovation in 660. Today we will discuss the Wright Brothers, their innovations, and their influence on the history of technology. Considering your theory to this point, come to some sort of opinion on how you would characterize the birth of flight at the dawn of the 20th Century.

In the student report, Vincenti’s book offers interesting insight into the thought processes of engineers and how their ideas develop. To what extent do his conclusions support or detract from previous readings or personal experience?

Questions to stump you:

Considering the Wrights and the birth of flight, what theory best explains the first heavier-than-air powered flight in 1903? How would you construct an argument for the technological breakthrough?

How does the Wright achievement rank in the history of technology?

Is the birth of aviation an example of evolutionary or revolutionary technological innovation?


All: Scott Palmer, Dictatorship of the Air, Cambridge, 2006, ALL

Student Report: Curtis Peebles, Dark Eagles, Presidion Press, 1995, report on pp. 1-83, 217-244, 280-286 (Chps. 1-3, 10, 13)

Cultural Influences on Aviation Technology

Today we consider how different cultures affect technological innovation and evolution (in this case aviation). While the US and Soviets were industrially equal (more or less), each had different developmental pathways in aviation (and later space) technology. The remaining question is: Why? Be prepared to discuss variables that influence technological development based on today’s book and student report.

In the student report we will hear about the American program in the development of a number of (then) secret programs. Look for differences between US and Soviet approaches to similar problems as the two entered the Cold War.

Questions you should ask yourself:

How does culture influence innovation? Why is it important?

Is this an economic argument or is it something more sublime?

Evaluate how well (or poorly) the USSR fared in aviation supremacy and ascribe a qualitative metric.


All: Thomas Mahnken, Technology and the American Way of War Since 1945, Columbia, 2008, ALL

Student Report: P.W. Singer, Wired for War, Penguin, 2009, report on Chps. 10-15, 17

Military technology and innovation on the cusp of the 21st Century: evolution or revolution?

Our final case study considers present and near-future US Military weapons systems, where they have come from, where they are going to. As we think about the role of technology, think about the importance of technology to the US Military (and our Allies) in general, and the USAF in particular.

For the student report, we will hear about near-future technology that MAY change the character of war (possibly the nature as well?). Consider future technology and the reciprocal relationship between technology, the military, and warfare.

Question yourself:

Which came first: technology or strategy? Which SHOULD come first? Why is it important?

What is the reciprocal relationship between the components of the Military-Industrial Complex? Why is it important? Should it be changed?

What is the role of economics in US military technology and procurement?

How does technology fit into strategy? What could you do to influence the arrangement?


All: Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution, Broadway Books, 2005, All

Student Report: Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Penguin, 1999, report on Chps. 3-8, 12 (all if you have time and inclination)

The future of technology and innovation: an accelerated pace in change

Today’s class deals with predictions for the future of technology and previews an interesting look at the future of computers, bio-engineering, and human society. Garreau’s book presents three future scenarios, all of which are controversial and thought-provoking. Going back to the first days of the class, you should begin to recognize determinist versus constructivist approaches, and how theory is used to predict future tech.

The student report presents Kurzweil’s argument (from 1999) in more detail, but also shows the danger of trying to predict the future. Pay close attention to what he gets right, what he gets wrong, and some of the (logical) rationale behind his predictions.

Future questions:

Where is technology taking us (humans)? Where are we (humans) taking technology? Why does it matter?

What are the major ethical/moral/cultural concerns regarding future technology? Why are they important? Where do the post-modernists fit in?

To what extent will technology shape future society (determinism), and how will society shape technology (constructivism)?

When will we have flying cars? When can I have a robot body?

DAY TENfinally

All: Bob Seidensticker, Future Hype, the Myth of Technological Change, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006, ALL

Student Report: David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, Technology and Global History Since 1900, Oxford, 2006, report on Chps. 1, 5-7 (all if you have time and inclination)

The future of technology and innovation: a response to Garreau/Kurzweil

Today’s class introduces the rejoinder to Garreau and Kurzweil. While we in the West focus on ever-advancing technology, we may be too focused on ‘progress’ at the expense of the rest of the world. We must consider that everyone does not enjoy the same level of technological advantage that we have, and must also think about our perspective on technological change. In the reading for today, FutureHype argues that technology is not in fact changing as fast as we think (or hope, or want), that there is in fact a flattening of the ‘progress’ curve. Judge for yourselves.

Our student report offers an interesting look at the non- and under-developed world, and how they make due with what we would consider obsolete technology. It turns out that how the rest of the world uses technology differs from our ideas.

Final questions for the class:

Is technology really changing as quickly as we think? Are we ‘present-ists’ or even ‘future-ists’? Does it matter?

What does the rest of the world do with our obsolescent technology? Should we learn new lessons from them?

Are we ‘progressing’ too quickly? Should mankind consciously retard the pace of technology and focus on other issues?

At the end of the day, with our computers, cars, iPhones, and satellite TV, do we control technology or does it control us? Does it matter?

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