That is, the main concern is with exploring the nature of technology, its malleability, relation to culture, and so on. This helps us to understand more why so little work set in the past is concerned with historical arguments about technology, let alone challenging existing historical pictures. Its concerns are elsewhere.
The conflation of invention/innovation and technology is deep-seated. It is found not only in older studies, but is central to most work in the social construction of technology (SCOT) and actor-network theory (ANT) traditions It is also there, despite immediate appearances, in Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s call for the study of the “consumption junction,” and in Ruth Oldenzeil’s subsequent arguments that studying users shows women active in the shaping of technology Studies of users and innovation, going back to the 1970s, and later developed under the SCOT tradition, and recently extended, are similarly primarily concerned with users and changing technologies It is revealing too that the key concept of “technological determinism” has been routinely defined as something along the lines of “technical change causing social change” rather than the older definition of technology shaping society. It is also significant that in STS and history of technology circles it was primarily criticized as a theory of technology, rather than what it classically was: a theory of society and history
In recent years there have been serious and rewarding efforts by historians of technology to engage with general histories of the nation and the world. Yet here too an innovation-centric picture of technology has been central. Thomas Hughes has written just such a book, explicitly committed to a providing a history of America. It is called, appropriately and revealingly, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm More recently Pauline Maier, Merritt Roe Smith, Alexander Kayssar, and Daniel Kevles have written a textbook of American history which includes much material on innovation in science, technology, and medicine: the book is called Inventing America: A History of the United States Global histories of technology too are innovation-centric. One very recent world history of technology illustrates this. The period 1870‒1930 is discussed in terms of research and invention in electricity and chemicals; 1936‒1990 in terms of the wartime history of the atomic bomb, electronics, and computing; and 1970‒2001 in terms of the fax, hamburgers, and the internet Such a list of technologies, in this chronological form is, apart from the hamburger, far from idiosyncratic. It is very similar to the choice of technology in works on the history of US technology in their coverage of the twentieth century: the interwar period tends to have electricity, motor cars, and aviation, and the period of the Second World War and later is deemed to be the age of nuclear power, computers, space rockets, and the internet One historian of the United States claims explicitly that “four technological systems have dominated twentieth-century history: automobiles, and their attendant roads and fuel sources; aircraft, spacecraft and also rockets; electronic communication devices; from wireless telegraphy to personal computers; and finally, biotechnologies, new foodstuffs, medications, and contraceptives,” an argument which has the virtue of insisting on the simultaneous existence of these systems
Innovation-centeredness is also found in the global histories of writers other than professional historians of technology. So-called “long-wave” theories, which see the world economy going through fifty-year cycles of activity, driven by innovation, are a good example The Schumpeterian focus on innovation is also central to the global historical work of David Landes and Joel Mokyr: for them a few innovations are of crucial importance, and are discussed mainly around the time of innovation Many global histories show a Smithian focus on technologies of communication, with, again, a strong innovation-centric biasWe need to stress that these are not studies of innovation, but rather of studies of the economy, focused on innovation.