Machines as the Measure of Men
Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance
Winner of the Dexter Prize (Society for the History of Technology)
Over the past five centuries, advances in Western understanding of and control over the material world have strongly influenced European responses to non-Western peoples and cultures. In Machines as the Measure of Men, Michael Adas explores the ways in which European perceptions of their scientific and technological superiority shaped their interactions with people overseas. Adopting a broad, comparative perspective, he analyzes the Europeans' responses to the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China—cultures that they judged to represent lower levels of material mastery and social organization.
Beginning with the early decades of overseas expansion in the sixteenth century, Adas traces the impact of scientific and technological advances on European attitudes toward Asians and Africans and on their policies for dealing with colonized societies. He concentrates on British and French thinking in the nineteenth century, when scientific and technological measures of human worth played a critical role in shaping arguments for the notion of racial supremacy and the "civilizing mission," ideologies which were used to justify Europe's domination of the globe. Finally, he examines the reasons why many Europeans grew dissatisfied with and even rejected this gauge of human worth after World War I, and explains why it has remained important to Americans.
The first work to show how the scientific and industrial revolutions contributed to the development of European imperialist ideologies, Machines as the Measure of Men helps us to understand the cultural factors that have nurtured disdain for non-Western accomplishments and value systems. The book tells us how these attitudes, in shaping policies that restricted the diffusion of scientific knowledge, have perpetuated themselves, and contributed significantly to the chronic underdevelopment of the Third World today. Adas's far-reaching and provocative book will be compelling reading for all who are concerned .about the history of Western imperialism and its twentieth-century legacies.