Innovation and Change

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The approach we are taking to the study of history is a theme-based one, which considers broad topics in the social studies and investigates how changes in these areas over time have influenced the human experience. Thus far, we have considered the theme of innovation and have traced developments in this area during major periods in human history. A brief summary of these ideas and concepts are included below.


The goal here is not to explore all major innovations in depth, but to focus on a few from each period of human history, helping us better understand the idea of innovation, it’s causes and consequences (both positive and negative), and the complexity of human experience that results.

An important consideration here is also how innovation can lead to more innovation. The innovations of hominids and Early Modern Humans, while quite significant, were relatively few in number compared to what would come later. For example, hominids developing the use of early lithic (stone) tools would make it possible for later humans to build upon these innovations to create a wider range of tools of varying materials for specific purposes (e.g., bronze tools for artisans to craft goods in ancient Mesopotamia, or the creation of bronze weapons and armour during the same period, contributing to the first empire building by Sargon of the Akkadians). As civilization developed and more people lived in cities, specialization of labour resulted in a wider range of occupations and, hence, increased the possibility of further innovation. Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From (2010), illustrates this phenomenon:


As we know today, innovation is key to our experiences in all aspects of life, just as they were in the past. Ideas – another crucial aspect of the human development – is linked to innovation and, as we will see in the coming weeks, can have complex causes and deep consequences for a considerable range of experiences.