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Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change

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Many were taught that the middle ages were a period of technological and scientific stagnation or even regression. However, the truth is quite the opposite. The middle ages were a time of technological and scientific innovation. Western Europeans took the knowledge they had gained from classical sources and diffusion from the east and adapted to it and built upon it for their own uses. In order to support this innovation, society adapted to conform to and support the new ideas. In Medieval Technology and Social Change, Lynn White highlighted some of the new technology and the social changes that they provoked.

One early example of medieval innovation was the stirrup. The original theory was that Charles Martel was impressed with the fighting tactics of the Muslim cavalry during the Battle of Poitiers in 733. In order to convert the Frankish army, which had relied heavily on infantry, to cavalry, Martel and his son Pippin III confiscated land from the church and reorganized the Frankish kingdom into a feudal state. White presents a different theory. He said that Martel had already begun confiscating lands a year before the battle and that cavalry had long been a part of combat. However, he said that, up to this point, the weapons of the cavalry had either been thrown, shot with a bow, or thrust. With the introduction of the stirrup, the rider could now brace himself for a powerful impact with a lance. This greatly increased the effectiveness of heavy cavalry. However, the cost of maintaining such a cavalry was exorbitant. The horses themselves were expensive as well as the armor they wore and the feed they ate. In order to finance this new fighting style, Martel confiscated the church lands and distributed it among the warriors that pledged to fight in his new heavy cavalry. This was the birth of the feudal state.

Another such technological innovation that led to widespread social change was the development of the plough and the medieval Manor system of agriculture. Early European ploughs were virtually unchanged from the scratch ploughs left by the Romans. Scratch ploughs were crude devices which dug into the ground which had to be cross ploughed in order to adequately break up the soil. Even then, this type of plough is only suitable for dry, sandy soils of the Mediterranean. The soils of northern Europe are much heavier and wetter, for which the heavy wheeled plough was much more suitable. The heavy plough could dig under the soil and turn it over to either side. This not only eliminated the need for cross-ploughing but also brought richer soils to the surface greatly increasing the amount of land that could be managed as well as increasing food production. However, these new ploughs and the ox, or the later horse teams that pulled them were very expensive. It usually required groups of peasants to collectively own a single plough and animal team. In order to settle disputes between peasants and to decide on management of the surrounding lands, villages convened powerful councils to provide such government. However, agricultural innovation in the Middle Ages did not stop here.

In western Europe during the early Middle Ages, ploughs were primarily pulled by oxen. Unlike horses, their hooves did not break so readily when the ground was wet. Also the harnesses that were used in the west tended to cut off the circulation in the horses neck. By the beginning of the 10th century, horses were increasingly becoming shod with nailed horseshoes which originated in Siberia a century earlier. Almost two centuries later in the late 11th century, a new horse collar, which rested around the horses shoulders made its way to western

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