Sunday, May 20, 2007

David Edgerton

David Edgerton is the author of The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900, which opens with an inscription from Bertolt Brecht:

I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as/ the New./ It hobbled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen before/ and stank of new smells of decay which no one had ever/ smelt before. Bertolt Brecht (1939) from ‘Parade of the Old New’.

Edgerton answered some questions for the OUP blog, including:

OUP: Why did you pick Bertolt Brecht for the inscription of The Shock of the Old?

David Edgerton: Because it rather brilliantly captures the complex relation between new and old, and how we can easily get it wrong. It also reminded me of an epigraph I used in my first book, England and the Aeroplane: ‘Progress stalks with warhead and prosthesis’. That came from another German-language writer, Karl Kraus. I have some lines from Robert Musil lined up for my next book …

OUP:What will the next book be about?

Edgerton:My next book will be a new account of science, technology and industry in Britain in the second world war, for Penguin.

OUP: What inspired The Shock of the Old?

Edgerton: For years I felt that lots of assumptions underlying our thinking about technology and history weren’t quite right. These thoughts developed over the years, mostly in lectures, but I got a chance to write them up for the great French historical journal the Annales. The reaction to that paper convinced me that I was on to something. A second important influence was traveling to India, Malaysia, Argentina and Uruguay in the mid-1990s. These visits made obvious the need for a global history of technologies in use, as well as providing many examples of long-lived machines. What was in a sense obvious about technology in these countries applied just as much to Britain or the USA, but was not so visible there.

Read more from the Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Shock of the Old.

Writers Read: David Edgerton.

--Marshal Zeringue