Complementing Guns and Sails 1400-1700, Clocks and Culture traces the development of technology crucial to the Industrial Revolution through monasteries, urban guilds, and traveling craftsmen such as locksmiths, clock and gun makers. The work starts with a certain grammatical and historical flourish: "A thousand years ago, most of Western Europe was covered by great forests swarming with wild animals....People were few in number, small in stature, and lived short lives. Socially they were divided among those who fought and hunted, those who prayed and learned, and those who worked. Those who fought did it in order to rob. Those who prayed and learned, learned little and prayed much and superstitiously." (15) It may not be fair to the folks living at turn of the last millennium, but it sure makes for great reading. Cipolla sums up the big trends that flow into the 1300s: growing urban centers, the organization of guilds, especially craft guilds, the use of mechanical means, especially mills, for powering activities, and high price of labor. In addition was limited but still important exchange of information and technology with the Arab world. In the early 1400s Italy and southern Germany was becoming a center of technology, especially in the arms, mining and iron industries (27). Arguing along the same lines that Arnold Pacey would later pursue, Cipolla suggests that the flow of trades and crafts people due to religious wars kept a technological dialogue going across Europe. In addition to the migration of skilled labor, was the development of centers of humanistic and utilitarian learning, especially mathematical learning, at universities. Together these trends developed a high percentage of literate and skilled instrument makers in the labor pool of Europe.
Cipolla mentions the kinds of clocks that precedes the mechanical clocks, among them water clocks (clepsydra) and fire and sand clocks. He links the desire and need for clocks with the desire and need for bells as signals in monasteries and urban centers. He also notes that metal working had advanced considerably, and that bells, clocks and cannons were developed simultaneously. The all-important verge and foliot regulation device had been developed sometime in the early 1300s, although precisely where, and influenced by precisely whom, is uncertain. After the first few variations on the verge and foliot, rather than aiming for precision, innovators made clocks more elaborate, with more calendrical and astronomical movements. Monasteries, striving to maintain a daily order of services, rapidly installed clocks, but urban centers followed more slowly; big town clocks were expensive, and consequently took some investment on the part of the citizens. Smaller clocks were collected by royalty, but were a rarity in the general populace until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (49).
Cipolla pays particular attention to the crafts and guilds that produced clockmakers -- gunmakers, metalworkers, smiths -- the artisan class. Of course, the clock also drew the attention of scientists, mathematicians and astronomers , among them Galileo, Hooke and Leibnitz. About 300 years passed before any substantial improvements in timekeeping were made (see chart, p. 59), but centers of clock making grew up at Augsberg, Nuremberg, Geneva, Paris and London. English records show a fair amount of complaining about the presence of foreign clock-makers in London, but "by 1680 England had attained an unrivalled pre-eminence in the field of horology." (69), and export to Turkey and China began in the late 1700s.
Trade with China had proceeded on fairly unequal terms throughout much
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; since Easterners wanted very
few goods of Western manufacture, the silver and gold of America went to
pay for the silks and porcelains of China. An exception was clocks.
How did the Chinese respond to Western clocks and clock making? Chinese
rulers were first given gifts of clocks by Jesuit missionaries, and they
were valued as mechanical toys, as marvelous automata, as the ultimate
collectibles. The Japanese responded slightly differently;
they created their own clocks (as did the Chinese) but altered the internal
mechanism to reflect their own reckoning of unequal hours, and so developed
an indigenous art far more quickly than China did. "A machine
has a practical meaning only as an expresion of man's response to the problems
set by his environment and by his fellow men." (89). Cipolla argues
that the clock addressed no needs, and solved no problems, in the Asian
culture, and thus remained and oddity and toy (somewhat like a glowing
yo-yo) purchased by the populace when they became cheap. Clocks were
not desired or employed in the ways that Europeans desired and employed
As the clock spread, it changed the way people responded to work, to the natural environment, and to each other. "Men began timing activities that, in the absence of clocks, they had never thought of timing." (104). Finally, and perhaps himself influenced by the clock, Cipolla suggests that machines are never just neutral tools, and consequently, we must understand and account for the uses to which we put them.