The Technological Competition after the Twelfth Century: A Quantitative Analysis


Authors: Korotayev, Andrey; Grinin, Leonid
Almanac: Globalistics and Globalization Studies Global Evolution, Historical Globalistics and Globalization Studies

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 twentieth 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 second 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 twelfth or thirteenth, but even in the fourteenth century. On the other hand, the authors show a rather vigorous acceleration of those rates in Europe since the twelfth century with one more such acceleration in the thirteenth century (when Medieval Europe produced its first paradigm changing inventions – initially, the invention of the spectacles and the mechanical clock). In the fifteenth 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 fol-lowing sections of the paper are devoted to this aspect. Here we consider the dynamics of technological inventions in Europe from the fifteenth to the nineteenth 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 seventeenth 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 seventeenth century to the first half of the nineteenth 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 eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, i.e. the period of the final phase of the Industrial Revolution.

Thirdly, by the first half of the nineteenth 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.