Transcending Internalism: On the Historiography of Technology in the United States

77 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2019

Date Written: February 1983


For more than a decade now [i.e., ca. 1983], historians of technology in the United States have been engaged in a collective historiographic endeavor to generate a "conceptual framework" or set of "organizing themes" that would finally give some coherence to the history of technology as an academic endeavor. Yet, as constructive and thought-provoking as these debates have been, they have generally failed to appreciate the degree to which "internalism" has been the field's dominant intellectual force. Once the presence of this birthmark in all its subsequent variation is recognized, the historiographic debate takes on a different caste. It suggests not that the field has failed to coalesce, not that it has floundered for want of a coherent conceptual framework. On the contrary, it testifies to the power that the internalist perspective continues to wield in the field, at the same time that it gives signs of renewed challenges. This prospect then opens for consideration several historiographic questions that so far have not been adequately addressed: What are the theoretical implications of the notion of a "history" of "technology"? Why has the internalist perspective persisted so long in the field? What have been the interpretive consequences, especially of its tendency to abstract from the political economy? How would one characterize "good" history of technology?

Keywords: history, historiography, history of technology, technological determinism, internalism, political economy

JEL Classification: N01, N11, N12, P16

Suggested Citation

Dunlavy, Colleen A., Transcending Internalism: On the Historiography of Technology in the United States (February 1983). Available at SSRN: or

Colleen A. Dunlavy (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin-Madison ( email )

Madison, WI 53711
United States
608 770-0398 (Phone)

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