Determined disjunction: Lynn White’s medieval technology and social change then and now

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Department of Social Sciences


Lynn Townsend White, Jr.’s short book Medieval Technology and Social Change (MTSC) was published by Oxford University Press, and the trajectory of its popularity over half a century helps shed light on the study of medieval technology, a discipline it, and he, largely helped create. MTSC is divided into three chapters: one on the stirrup revolutionizing mounted shock combat and feudal warfare and hence the feudal system; one on the agricultural revolutions of the plow, horse harnessing, and field rotation; and one of the growth of Western machines and the harnessing of mechanical power sources. White’s other studies were also eclectic and ranged across time and space, tying the European Middle Ages to such far-flung eras as the expansion of the American West and reflections on classical Buddhist technology in the Himalayas. That disjunction helps explain both the broad reach of the then nascent field of medieval technology studies and its subsequent diffuse institutional existence.

Publication Title

Fifty Years of Medieval Technology and Social Change