The Technological Activity and Competition in the Middle Ages and Modern History: A Quantitative Analysis


Authors: Korotayev, Andrey; Grinin, Leonid
Almanac: History & Mathematics:Economy, Demography, Culture, and Cosmic Civilizations

Abstract

The paper presents a quantitative analysis of innovative activity and competition in technological sphere in the Middle Ages and Modern Period (till the end of the 20th century). The authors consider the innovative competition in two aspects. The first section of the present paper shows the growth of the number of innovations over half-century intervals in Europe and Asia. As is widely accepted at present, by the early 2nd millennium CE Europe lagged far behind the main eastern countries not only in terms of development of the productive forces but in respect of many relevant parameters. According to some data, Europe failed to outrun China (as regards scientific-technological growth rates) not only in the 12th or 13th, but even in the 14th century. On the other hand, the authors show a rather vigorous acceleration of those rates in Europe since the 12th century with one more such acceleration in the 13th century (when Medieval Europe produced its first paradigm changing inventions – initially, the invention of the spectacles and the mechanical clock). In the 15th century Europe definitely outpaced Asia.

After such historical breakthrough, it is very important to trace how the leadership has changed in this respect within Europe. The second and the following sections of the paper are devoted to this aspect. Here we consider the dynamics of technological inventions in Europe from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Our analysis of the technological innovation dynamics shows that:

firstly, the British lead began to show up only in the second half of the
17th century; before Britain had clearly lagged behind Italy and Germany. Thus, during the two initial centuries of the Industrial Revolution Britain absorbed the achievements of European societies, and only then was it succeeded to start its own innovative climb.

Secondly, though we observe the British evident leadership in the technological innovation from the second half of the 17th century to the first half of the 19th century, for a greater part of that period, the overall innovation activity of ‘the rest of the West’ was higher than that of Britain. The primacy of Britain
in the field of technological invention was absolute only during a relatively short period in the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th century, i.e. the period of the final phase of the Industrial Revolution.

Thirdly, by the first half of the 19th century the British endogenous technological growth rate virtually stagnated against the background of a very fast increase of those rates in France, Germany and the USA, as a result of which those countries caught up with Britain in a rather significant way.

Fourthly, in the second half of the 19th century Britain finally lost its technological lead, as in the late 19th century the number of major inventions made in the USA, Germany, and France exceeded the number of British inventions.

Keywords: technology, technological innovations, inventions, Industrial Revolution, Asia, Europe, leadership, quantitative analysis.