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section heading icon     primers and perspectives

This page highlight synoptic works of particular value.

It covers -

section marker     technology and economic growth

For an overview of the interaction between culture, growth and technology see David Landes' The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1969), Paths of Innovation: technological change in 20th Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1998) by David Mowery & Nathan Rosenberg and The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (London: Little Brown 1998).

WH Armytage's A Social History of Engineering (London: Faber 1976), the classic A History of Technology (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1954-84) edited by Charles Singer, the succinct A short history of technology from the earliest times to A.D. 1900 (New York Oxford Uni Press 1961) by Thomas Derry & Trevor Williams, the latter's A short history of twentieth-century technology c1900-c1950 (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1982) and Joseph Needham's magisterial Science & Civilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press) place developments in context.

For medicine see in particular The Cambridge History of Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2006) edited by Roy Porter.

section marker     electronics and ICT

For overviews of the ICT industries see in particular Inventing the Electronic Century: The Epic Story of the Consumer Electronics & Computer Industries (New York: Free Press 2001) by Alfred Chandler and A Nation Transformed By Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Oxford Uni Press 2000) coedited with James Cortada.

There is a deeper examination of particular themes in James Beninger's Control Revolution: Technological & Economic Origins of the Information Society (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1989), Jill Hills' The Struggle for Control of Global Communication: The Formative Century (Urbana: Uni of Illinois Press 2002) and JoAnne Yates' Control Through Communication: The Rise of System In American Management (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1993).

Two of the better impact studies are James McKenney's Waves of Change: Business Evolution Through Information Technology (Boston: Harvard Business School Press 1995) and Jan van den Ende's The Turn of the Tide: Computerization in Dutch Society, 1900-1965 (Delft: Delft Uni Press 1994).

There are pointers to other studies in our Communications Revolutions profile.

section marker     economics and business

For a crisp general survey of economic thought see The Ordinary Business of Life: A History of Economics from the Ancient World to the 21st Century (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2002) by Roger Backhouse. The Big End of Town: Big Business & Corporate Leadership in 20th Century Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004) by Grant Fleming, David Merrett & Simon Ville offers an overview of corporate shape and scale over the past hundred years. Ideas: a history from fire to Freud (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2005) by Peter Watson is one of the more approachable surveys.

Studies of particular technologies include David Thorley's Compass: A Story (New York: Norton 2005), Henry Petroski's The Pencil: a history of design and circumstance (New York: Knopf 1990) and The Evolution of Useful Things (New York: Knopf 1992), Robert Friedel's Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty (New York: Norton 1996), Witold Rybczynski's One Good Turn: a natural history of the screwdriver and the screw (New York: Scribners 2000), Mary Beaudry's Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2008) and Henry Petroski's The Toothpick: Technology & Culture (New York: Knopf 2007). For barbed wire - often as important as the telegraph wire - see Barbed Wire: A Political History (New York: Norton 2003) by Olivier Razac, The Wire That Fenced the West (Norman: Uni of Oklahoma Press 1965) by Henry & Frances McCallum, Devil's Rope: A Cultural History of Barbed Wire (London: Reaktion 2004) by Alan Krell.

section marker     commodities

Microhistories of particular commodities include, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (New York: Simon & Schuster 1991) by Daniel Yergin, Coal: A Human History (New York: Perseus 2003) by Barbara Freese and Salt: A World History (London: Penguin 2003) by Mark Kurlansky.

Studies of plants and related products include -

  • Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking 1985) and the less impressive Sugar: A Bittersweet History (New York: Penguin 2008) by Elizabeth Abbott and Bittersweet: the story of sugar (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin 2002) by Peter Macinnis
  • Maize & Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2005) by James McCann
  • Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization (New York: Grove 2003) by Iain Gately
  • The Story of Corn (New York: Knopf 1992) by Betty Fussell
  • Green Gold: The Empire Of Tea (London: Ebury 2003) by Alan & Iris MacFarlane
  • Uncommon grounds: the history of coffee and how it transformed our world (New York: Basic Books 1999) by Mark Pendergrast
  • The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World (London: Faber 1998) by Larry Zuckerman and Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History (London: Heinemann 2008)
  • Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World (New York: Penguin 2008) by Dan Koeppel
  • Citrus: A History (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 2008) by Pierre Laszlo and Oranges (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux 1987) by John McPhee
  • Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance (New York: Penguin 2004) by Patricia Rain and Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants (New York: Pantheon 1992) by Wolfgang Schivelbusch
  • Cotton: the biography of a revolutionary fiber (New York: Penguin 2005) by Stephen Yafa
  • Olives: the life and lore of a noble fruit (New York: North Point Press 1996) by Mort Rosenblum
  • The True History of Chocolate (London: Thames and Hudson 1997) by Sophie & Michael Coe and Chocolate: a bittersweet saga of dark and light (New York: North Point Press 2005) by Mort Rosenblum
  • Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind (New York: Harper & Row 1986) and Seeds of Wealth (London: Macmillan 2003) by Henry Hobhouse
  • Beans: A History (London: Berg 2007) by Ken Albala
  • Philip Pauly's Fruits & Plains: The horticultural transformation of America (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 2008).

Microhistories regarding the exploitation of animals include -

  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (London: Cape 1998) by Mark Kurlansky

An overview is provided in the Cambridge World History of Food (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2000) co-edited by Kenneth Kiple, complemented by The Sushi Economy: Globalisation and the Making of a Modern Delicacy (New York: Gotham 2007) by Sasha Issenberg.

section marker     law and rights

For Australian legal frameworks and practice see Bruce Kercher's An Unruly Child: A History of Law in Australia (Sydney: Allen & Unwin 1996) and Alex Castles' An Australian Legal History (Sydney: Law Book Co 1982), supplemented by Kercher's 2000 paper Why the History of Australian Law is not English.

For the US see Lawrence Friedman's A History of American Law in the 20th Century (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2002), extending his A History of American Law (New York: Simon & Schuster 1986), and Kermit Hall's The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1989). John Baker's An Introduction to English Legal History (London: Butterworths 2002), SFC Milsom's Historical Foundations of the Common Law (London: Butterworths 1981) and Ann Lyon's Constitutional History of the UK (London: Cavendish 2003) are of value for the UK.

For theory see in particular John Kelly's concise A Short History of Western Legal Theory (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1992) and An Historical Introduction to Western Constitutional Law (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1995) by RC Van Caenegem.

More detailed pointers to works on the Australian legal system and on human rights feature elsewhere on this site.

section marker     media

Works regarding photography, film, radio and television are highlighted here.

Works regarding books, printing, libraries and reading are highlighted here. Items on cartography are highlighted here.

section marker     prices and values

This site features a detailed note highlighting sources of data regarding nominal prices, purchasing power, wages and inflation in different eras and markets.

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