Understanding the Inventions That Changed the World

Course No. 1110
Professor W. Bernard Carlson, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course No. 1110
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Course Overview

We’re surrounded by inventions. Consider the clocks, appliances, and transportation that coordinate our days. Or the televisions, cell phones, and social media that connect us to each other. And the shopping malls, department stores, and catalogs that define the modern retailing experience.

Where did all these inventions come from? How do they work? And how do they reflect—even define—the values of our culture? From prehistoric times to the 21st century, inventions have changed the world, enabling humans to produce more food and energy and to establish social order and cultural meaning. In fact, great inventions have marked a number of key turning points in human history, transforming society and our daily lives. For instance:

  • The invention of clocks redefined our sense of time, life, and labor.
  • Telescopes and microscopes led to the scientific method of observation.
  • Access to clean water has perhaps saved more lives than any other technology in the history of the world.
  • Coal power gave rise to iron and steel, the basic materials of the Industrial Revolution.
  • The integrated circuit opened the floodgates for our world of modern electronics.

Now, you can learn the remarkable stories surrounding such monumental inventions—and how consequential these inventions were to history—in Understanding the Inventions That Changed the World. Taught by Professor W. Bernard Carlson of the University of Virginia, who is an expert on the role of innovation in history, these 36 enlightening lectures give you a broad survey of material history, from the ancient pottery wheel to the Internet and social media. Along with recounting the famous inventions you might expect, such as the steam engine, the airplane, and the atomic bomb, this course explores a number of surprising innovations, including beer, pagodas, and the operating room.

You’ll see how each invention is not only a product of engineering know-how, but a result of social and cultural conditions as well. You’ll meet some of the inventors and companies responsible for these innovations, and you’ll investigate what inspired these ideas. You’ll also get an inside look at the sometimes spirited competition between innovators to see who could develop—and market—the best, most cost-effective product.

From ancient China to 21st-century America, from the English coal mines to the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley, this course takes you around the world and across the ages to show you some of the most innovative moments in human civilization. This unique approach to history will boost your technology literacy and give you a completely new appreciation for the everyday objects around you.

Discover the Mechanics of Great Inventions

Material form has shaped the course of human history. In many ways, ours is a story of producing more—more calories, more work, more goods—with the same finite resources. Remarkably, while the materials and production techniques have changed over the centuries, from bronze to semiconductors and from the waterwheel to the assembly line, the process of invention remains largely the same. You’ll discover some key methods that have informed innovation for thousands of years:

Close observation: The great inventors pay attention to details. Close observation allowed ancient metallurgists to develop copper tools and bronze weapons. This same technique allowed 20th-century scientists to develop semiconductors, which are responsible for all of today’s electronics.

Invention by analogy: Inventors often borrow an existing idea and adapt it to another purpose. For instance, ancient potters created coiled pots modeled on the woven baskets already in existence. Similarly, Thomas Edison dreamed up motion pictures as a visual equivalent of the sound recordings played on a phonograph.

Thinking in terms of systems: Inventions don’t exist in a vacuum. Edison’s incandescent light bulb required a network of wires and generators. Likewise, cable television and cellular telephones require networks of computers, cables, satellites, and devices in order to work. Many inventors you study succeeded because they didn't design one machine but an entire system of coordinated devices.

Cultural contact: The story of inventions is the story of cultural contact, from the way merchants developed currencies and alphabets to facilitate trade between different societies, to the 21st-century political revolutions spurred on by social media and the introduction of new ideas into closed societies. You’ll compare and contrast how different cultures approach technical problems, and you’ll see how ideas spread around the globe.

Some of the great innovations you’ll explore are “vernacular inventions,” meaning they are the product of a group or community rather than a single individual. But with modern inventions in particular, we often know the individual responsible. In addition to studying how invention happens, you’ll enjoy learning about the personalities of notable figures such as

  • Leonardo da Vinci,
  • Prince Henry the Navigator,
  • Thomas Edison,
  • Nikola Tesla,
  • Alexander Graham Bell,
  • Henry Ford, and
  • Grace Hopper.

Explore the Turning Points in Human History

We often think of history in terms of great events—the invasions and battles and rulers of the world. But history is also a result of the interplay between individuals and technology. From bronze armor to the crossbow, and from gunpowder to nuclear weapons, the materials of war have shaped the nature of battle and, often, determined the victor. Professor Carlson gives you an intriguing look at some of the key points in our historical narrative from a wholly unique vantage point:

Early civilizations: Ancient humans are often classified as “primitive,” but in fact their inventions show they were capable of devising and controlling remarkably complex technical processes, such as the smelting of copper from ore and the brewing of beer from grains.

The shift into the modern era: From the waterwheel, our first major energy source beyond the muscle power of humans, to Prince Henry’s navigation techniques to get ships around the Horn of Africa, you’ll look at the inventions that moved humans out of the ancient world and into the modern.

The Industrial Revolution: Coal, steel, steam engines, and railroads—see how inventors and entrepreneurs used these technologies to increase speed, scale, and coordination, all of which led to dramatic improvements in productivity in the 19th century.

The “Mass” Century: The 20th century brought an unprecedented volume of goods, services—and threats—to the masses. Examine the inventions that allowed for mass production, mass consumption, mass media, and mass destruction.

The Information Age: It’s a brave new world, where messages are translated into binary code and transmitted instantly around the globe. Learn about personal computing, the Internet, search engines, and programming that make it possible.

In studying these turning points, you’ll also explore the icons of industry and discover the origins of some of our most recognizable brands, including

  • Ford Motor Company;
  • General Electric;
  • Sears, Roebuck & Co.;
  • Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P);
  • Hoover, Maytag, and Whirlpool;
  • NBC, CBS, and ABC;
  • Proctor & Gamble;
  • Texas Instruments;
  • Intel;
  • Apple; and
  • Google.

You’ll Never Look at the World the Same Way Again

These lectures feature an array of charts, diagrams, and demonstrations that will help you understand the science that underpins the world’s great inventions. Scientists, engineers, and laypeople alike will delight in finding out how all the wheels, gears, engines, and circuits operate, and you’ll come away with a solid understanding of what it took to create these inventions—both from an engineering stance and from a sociocultural perspective.

Professor Carlson clearly explains the key concepts, from the chemistry of distillation to the physics of electric currents to the principles behind computer programming. A witty storyteller, he packs the course with fascinating nuggets of information you can’t get anywhere else. You’ll find out where U.S. time zones came from, why Clarence Birdseye’s name fills your grocery store’s frozen foods aisle, and how 4G cellular signals actually work.

A dazzling introduction to the history of technology and innovation, Understanding the Inventions That Changed the World will change the way you see the world—and it will transform the way you think about business, economics, science, technology, and the course of human history.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Great Inventions in Everyday Life
    We're surrounded by great inventions that have transformed our daily lives, from the steam engine to the Internet. Begin your exploration of great inventions by considering just how pervasive inventions truly are. Do we notice them in the world around us? Do we know how they work? Who invented them, and why? x
  • 2
    The Potter's Wheel and Metallurg
    Step back to the Stone Age and look at the craft of pottery and the development of metals. Although we might think of ancient people as primitive," early humans were remarkably observant about the world around them, which led to several complex inventions." x
  • 3
    Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits
    One of the recurring themes in the history of invention is the way technology leads to material abundance. See how the Agricultural Revolution changed life for early humans. Then trace the development of alcoholic beverages from the earliest days of civilization through the Middle Ages and consider the cultural insights alcohol can offer. x
  • 4
    The Galley, Coins, and the Alphabet
    In addition to creating material abundance, technology, whether it's an oxcart or a telecommunications network, facilitates interaction between people. Explore the role of trade in early societies and how ships, coins, and the alphabet shaped the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean. x
  • 5
    Crossbows East and West
    To study the way people have used technology to secure and maintain political power, journey east to China and examine the role of the crossbow in the Warring States Era. As the world's first machine with interchangeable parts, the crossbow is a marvel of engineering that shaped the political history of China for centuries. x
  • 6
    Roman Arches—Aqueducts and the Colosseum
    We're all familiar with the glory of Roman engineering, from the Romans' system of roads to their impressive monuments. How did these structures work from a technical standpoint? And why build them? Delve into Roman history and explore the way in which technology served state ends. x
  • 7
    Waterwheels and Clocks
    Turn now to two inventions that moved humanity from the ancient to the modern world. The waterwheel was the first major energy source beyond human muscle and animal labor, which freed people to perform more sophisticated tasks. Meanwhile, the development of the mechanical clock redefined our sense of time. x
  • 8
    Pagodas and Cathedrals
    Inventions are more than merely practical things. This lecture shows you the evolution of the pagoda and the cathedral, which grew out of the spiritual practices of East Asia and Europe, respectively, and how religious beliefs can inspire remarkable developments in engineering and architecture. x
  • 9
    Paper and Printing
    Survey the development of writing from the days of clay tablets and parchment through the development of the printing press. You'll learn about the surprising history of movable type, which originated in Asia hundreds of years before the Gutenberg press in Europe. You'll also see how different cultural circumstances shaped the impact of different inventions. x
  • 10
    Gunpowder, Cannons, and Guns
    The story of invention is often the story of cultural contact. Witness the origins of gunpowder in ancient China and trace its movement into Europe. Then, shift your attention to the development of gunpowder weapons and consider how cannons, rifles, and handguns changed the face of warfare as well as the world's political and social structures. x
  • 11
    Telescopes and Microscopes
    You might assume that all inventions arise from science, but this is not always so. As the history of telescopes and microscopes demonstrates, the invention of new technology facilitates scientific advances. In this case, optical technology drove the Scientific Revolution, allowing Galileo and others to establish the scientific method of observation. x
  • 12
    The Caravel and Celestial Navigation
    Discover the story of Prince Henry the Navigator. His promotion of ship design and navigation during the 15th century arguably marked the start of our modern way of deliberately using technology to shape society. Better ships, information about wind and currents, and new navigation techniques brought about remarkable political and economic change in Europe. x
  • 13
    Unblocking the Power of Coal and Iron
    Turn now to the Industrial Revolution, which was marked by economies of speed, scale, and coordination, as well as improvements in transportation. To begin this story, you'll consider how the high thermal output of coal allowed for new uses of iron, which led to bigger, stronger machines that drove the new economy. x
  • 14
    Steam Engines and Pin Making
    Continue your investigation of the Industrial Revolution with a look at how the invention of the steam engine allowed us to produce more goods more efficiently. Then examine the division of labor and Adam Smith's story of pin making to see how the integration of social and technical innovations caused dramatic improvements in production. x
  • 15
    Canals and Railroads
    How do you stimulate the economy and create more wealth? In the 18th and 19th centuries, canals and railroads provided the backbone of the Industrial Revolution. Investigate the engineering challenges of creating nationwide transportation systems, and explore the connection between infrastructure and the economy. x
  • 16
    Food Preservation
    The modern food industry appeared during the Industrial Revolution as advancements in canning and refrigeration allowed for the long-term storage of fruits and vegetables and the preservation of meat. These advancements transformed the American marketplace, redefined the cultural meaning of home," and laid the groundwork for the range of year-round products in today's grocery stores." x
  • 17
    Water and Sewer Systems
    Chart the history of both water and sewer systems and see how they changed the world in the 19th century. From the Roman aqueducts to the London sewer system to indoor plumbing, a clean water supply has saved more lives than any other technology, a prime example of how inventions truly serve the public good. x
  • 18
    Batteries and Electric Generators
    How do you produce electricity? And once it's produced, how do batteries and generators deliver it? Take a fascinating look at where these fundamental inventions came from and how they work. You'll study the relationship between electricity and magnetism, the difference between direct and alternating currents, and the role of science and experimentation. x
  • 19
    Cameras, Telephones, and Phonographs
    The mid-19th century saw the rise of analog communications, where film and electric currents were used as substitutes for an object or message. Meet the inventors of the first information age-among them, Louis Daguerre, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison-and learn how they made information and knowledge widely available to millions. x
  • 20
    Electric Light and Power
    Electricity profoundly reshaped American culture and set the stage for the major inventions of the 20th century. This lecture introduces you to the history and science of electricity-arc lighting, the incandescent lamp, motors, and direct versus alternating currents. Learn about the inventions of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and the rivalry between their electric companies. x
  • 21
    Department Stores and Modern Retailing
    Shift your attention away from technology and production to the consumption side of the story. The 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to three new ways to shop: the department store, the mail-order catalog, and chain stores. Examine how these new ways of selling goods shaped American life-and gave rise to some of our most iconic brands. x
  • 22
    Motion Pictures
    The 20th century can be seen as the mass" century-mass production, mass market, and mass destruction. Add to the list mass entertainment, exemplified by the rise of Hollywood and the film industry. Track the development of motion pictures-and the inventions that made them possible." x
  • 23
    Surgery and the Operating Room
    Pain. Bleeding. Infection. Medicine before the 19th century was not a pleasant affair, especially when it came to surgery. Explore innovations in medicine-the operating room, sterilization procedures, and antibiotics-and discover some of the social challenges to introducing these innovations-including obstruction from the doctors themselves. x
  • 24
    Steel, Glass, and Plastics
    The engineering trends of the 20th century-economy of scale, mechanization, and scientific experimentation-were based on new materials. Dive into the world of steel, glass, and plastics and find out how these materials transformed our daily lives and our expectation of what the world should look like. x
  • 25
    The Model T
    Other than the personal computer, the Model T may be the single most important technology artifact of the 20th century. After surveying the history of automobiles, this lecture introduces you to Henry Ford and tells the story of the Model T-the car that changed the way Americans thought about travel and launched a consumer revolution. x
  • 26
    Aviation-The "Wright" Time for Flight
    The story of aviation has one of the most important lessons in understanding great inventions-that social or political circumstances are as important for an invention's success as the technology itself. Trace the development of aviation from the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk through the jet age. x
  • 27
    Radio and Television
    The sudden emergence of broadcasting in the 1920s upended existing business arrangements and led to the competition between the broadcast networks that are still with us today. Learn about the technology of radio and television, the challenges broadcasters faced, the origin of radio commercials, and the cultural effects of these new communications technologies. x
  • 28
    Nuclear Power
    Study two of the major inventions of the 20th century, nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Nuclear technology has inspired the utopian dream of cheap, abundant electricity as well as the apocalyptic fear of annihilation. This captivating lecture gives you a look at the inner workings-and risks-of nuclear bombs and reactors. x
  • 29
    Household Appliances
    Drawing on themes of previous lectures-the widespread availability of electric power, the mass production of goods, and consumer distribution channels-this lecture shows you how appliances such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines were invented, how they changed life in American homes, and how they act as symbols for the middle class. x
  • 30
    Electronics and the Chip
    See how the combination of several essential functions-the detection of radio waves, the amplification of weak signals, and the operation of switches-led to all of our electronic gadgets, from radios to computers. Professor Carlson takes you into the fascinating world of vacuum tubes, transistors, and integrated circuits. x
  • 31
    Satellites and Cell Phones
    We all have cell phones, but how many of us know how they actually work? Visit the world of communications satellites, radio towers, and mobile networks. You'll take an in-depth look at how bandwidth, infrastructure, and competition between companies like Motorola and AT&T have allowed for truly global communications. x
  • 32
    Personal Computing
    Embark on a tour of personal computing, beginning with its roots in IBM's business machines in the 1920s and the massive electronic calculators of World War II. Then compare the mainframes of the 1960s with today's PCs and consider the key roles of software programming and graphical user interfaces. x
  • 33
    Genetic Engineering
    This lecture tracks the story of genetics from Darwin and Mendel to Watson and Crick. Then turn to genetic engineering-the direct manipulation of an organism's hereditary information by introducing foreign DNA or synthetic genes. This technology-PCR-has important applications for today's agriculture, medicine, forensics, and more. x
  • 34
    The Internet
    Where did the World Wide Web come from? How does it work? This story begins with the conversion from analog to digital, from communication to information. Go inside the world of file sharing, packet switching, the Defense Department's inter-network, email, and finally, web browsers, search engines, and Internet advertising. x
  • 35
    Social Media and Democracy
    Inventions are not necessarily finished" until they are put into the hands of consumers, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of social media, where a Tunisian blogger can be as much an "inventor" of Facebook as Mark Zuckerberg. This lecture looks at the evolution of social media and its role in recent political events around the world." x
  • 36
    Inventions and History
    What lessons can we learn about technological creativity from history? How does studying inventions change our understanding of history? As you wrap up your course, reflect on what you've learned about the material dimension of history, consider the nature of progress, and take away some key messages about how we can use yesterday's technology to solve tomorrow's problems today."" x

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Your professor

W. Bernard Carlson

About Your Professor

W. Bernard Carlson, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. W. Bernard Carlson is a professor in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia, where he directs the Engineering Business Program. He earned his A.B. from College of the Holy Cross and his M.A. and Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. He then studied business history as the Harvard-Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School. Professor...
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Understanding the Inventions That Changed the World is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 79.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inventions that changed the world This was a gift for my husband. He enjoyed this course!
Date published: 2020-01-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Inventions That Changed the world Only had a chance to review one invention and it puts me to sleep. Hopefully it will begin to be more interesting.
Date published: 2019-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History at its best This course far surpassed my expectations. Instead of simply telling the stories of great inventions from prehistoric times to today, the professor also analyzed the conditions for technological or cultural developments, dispelled myths and raised provocative issues to ponder along the way. Another thing making the course valuable and interesting for me was the extent to which it included not only inventions that obviously involved material tinkering but also cultural innovations such as the alphabet and department stores that altered the way people communicate and live. And even where there were engineering details to explain, he always described the wider social context to include non-technical factors necessary for an invention to "catch on." With science and technology not being strong in my background, there were only a few sections of the course that I found boring or over my head. Via Audible, I listened to the course on audio only, and it worked for me in that medium because even when the professor was doing a demonstration or showing a diagram, he also used words to describe what viewers would be seeing. The one negative aspect of the course was the professor's constant stumbling over words. I fault the company more than the professor on this, actually. I don't understand why Great Courses doesn't invest time in coaching their distinguished professors to have the smooth delivery that customers expect (and deserve). Although this was quite distracting and annoying, it detracted just a bit from the value of the course to me.
Date published: 2019-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Course I have learn a lot with this course. It is easy to watch. Well presented. Great teacher
Date published: 2019-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understand how change happens To understand how the world has changed in the last few thousand years, it's necessary to understand the history of ideas. Many in the liberal arts will explore the contributions of political, social and artistic ideas to the way the world thinks. But mechanical and technological ideas are every bit as important as the others. So, a firm grounding in how invention has changed history is necessary for that understanding. This course fits the bill. To understand the world, you could do a lot worse than this course. The only drawbacks are that the professor's delivery kind of resembles John Ratzenberger playing Cliff Claven in the TV sitcom Cheers. His pronunciation of some words is also a bit... off. Also, his discussion of the Internet and Social Media have become outdated since the release of this course. I would recommend the documentary film The Creepy Line to fill in the resulting gaps.
Date published: 2019-04-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unprofessional Although the topics are generally interesting, the lecturer continually stumbles over the words that I assume HE has written! This is very distracting and unprofessional. Very disappointed and on more than one occasional I felt like giving up on this.
Date published: 2019-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Lecturer is as “Mechanical” as his Subjects The lecture subjects range from “Meh” to “Very Interesting”. For example, it is a real stretch to view Pagodas and Cathedrals as “inventions that changed the world”. For that matter, so were Castles and Forts - - - and Igloos. On the whole, though, the subjects are interesting. However, this presenter has two exceedingly annoying and detracting faults. First - and unforgivable - he is obviously READING a TELEPROMPTER - - - not giving a lecture. Second - and closely related - he has what has become a standard “performance technique” in Great Courses - - that of waddling back and forth from one of two camera/prompter positions to another - like a pendulum - - and nearly as regular. I’m sure this latter action is intended to give the impression of dynamism on the part of the presenter. But, for my part, I’d rather have someone stand, unmoving, behind a lecturn and give a real, informed, competent LECTURE (supported by relevant, interspersed slides/videos). This “staging” becomes annoying after a very short time. Chose this course if you have a strong interest in the subject matter and a high tolerance for the shortcomings I’ve mentioned.
Date published: 2019-02-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Irritating Over use of hands is irritating.He seems to move his hands, just for the sake of it. There are also a lot of spoken errors. As though he is unable to read autocue properly.
Date published: 2019-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive Course This course covered an incredible amount of material. I learned so much from it and it corrected a few misconceptions I'd learned long ago. Understanding inventions is only a part of what you'll learn. The instructor explains how the Invention impacted the world at the time, and the ripple effect that often carried forward for generations at one invention set the stage for future inventions. Well done!
Date published: 2019-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Men and Women Making the Future Inventions have made a big difference in our lives. Ten thousand years ago we had to hunt or pick our food in the wild, we moved only as fast as our legs could carry us, and information traveled only by word of mouth. Now we buy refrigerated meat at the supermarket, ride cars, buses, trains and airplanes, and get our news from the World Wide Web. Professor Carlson’s course therefore covers a profoundly important subject and is worth owning despite several problems. In his introductory lecture Carlson lays out his analytical framework. “Great” inventions are those that dramatically changed daily life, were inspired by unique thought processes, represented technological tours de force, or offer a window into social structures and values. They perform three critical functions for society: increasing material abundance, shaping social order and/or providing cultural meaning. You can see from the lecture list which inventions he regards as “great,” and except for Chapter 35 it is hard to argue with any of them. Anyone even passingly interested in the history of invention or technology will find much to enjoy here. It’s delightful how one small innovation enabled a major improvement in goods, services or infrastructure. The Romans didn’t invent the arch per se, but they were the first to incorporate it into buildings above ground. The washing machine was much improved by replacing the dangerous automatic wringer with the present-day perforated basket that draws off excess water from clothes by spinning them. It seems obvious enough to have faucets that can mix hot and cold water, but my grandfather’s house had bathroom sinks with separate hot- and cold-water faucets so under running water you boiled or chilled your hands (I preferred chilled). You will also meet great inventors like Johannes Gutenberg, James Watt, Thomas Edison, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and Grace Hopper. Who was Grace Hopper? Buy the course and find out. Now there are conceptual problems. First, Carlson never addresses the fundamental dualism of his course. Are we supposed to understand how the inventions worked or how they changed the world? Early in the course he can do both, but as the gadgets become more complicated and require more explanation, he lets the second question fall by the wayside. There just isn’t enough time. Second, his choices look rather lopsided when compared to his framework. Nearly all of them transformed daily life, even if he doesn’t explain how, and some of them were inspired by unique thought processes (like Edison hitting upon motion pictures as a phonograph for the eye), but very few provide a clear window into social structures and values (like the different ways Chinese and Europeans used gunpowder). As a “technological tour de force” he singles out only the pagoda for its resistance to earthquakes. In the same way, almost all inventions increased material abundance, a category that includes transportation, communication, information, weaponry, healthcare, and entertainment as well as food, clothing and shelter. Yet he discusses effects on social order or cultural meaning in only four or five cases each. In some places I disagree with his assertions. I don’t think the crossbow was important in spreading Confucianism, for example. The notorious thumbs-down to signal death for gladiators that Carlson demonstrates in Lecture 6 was really a thumbs-up. I doubt determinist historians have really dismissed Prince Henry the Navigator as unimportant compared to wind direction and caravel technology. I would have ditched Lecture 35 on social media and used the space for something else. There are also problems in the delivery. At first Carlson makes a strong start but a few lectures in he begins to regularly hesitate and have false starts in his speech. His pronunciation of foreign names is terrible. Most of his tabletop demonstrations and animations aren’t very impressive or helpful in explaining how the invention worked. Lecture 25 is only twenty-four minutes long; I’m sure he could have found six more minutes to talk about the famous Model T! Another problem is the fault of the video editor. As Carlson winds up each section, his last words are often obscured by the music accompanying the title animation. On the other hand, Carlson missed an opportunity to emphasize two themes that his course illustrates beautifully. First, inventions don’t really have a single inventor; each represents a process of continual improvement by known and unknown hands. This is true not only of the long-ago galley and clock and the more recent steam engine, but also the airplane and the cell phone. Second, inventing is only the first half of successful invention; the second half is marketing. Edison may have created the phonograph, but he expected people to stand around in commercial parlors listening to it through earphones. It took others to develop the home phonograph, the disc, and the recording industry. Xerox employees created the first personal computer (the Alto), but the company rejected it as a distraction from the photocopier business. You see, this lecture series may not be perfect, but you can learn a lot from it; don’t let a good invention go to waste!
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative I learned a great deal of new information about topics that I thought I knew well.The integrated approach of placing inventions in a social political context opened new windows on familiar topics.
Date published: 2018-08-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointed I was shocked to learn that the most important single invention that set civilization off was not discussed: the plow. That coupled with some pronunciation errors of commons words and ancient philosophers lead me to believe that the professor, though he may be quite competent in discussing some marvelous machines,lacks the breadth of knowledge other Great Sourses professors have shown.
Date published: 2018-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from understanding Inventions that changed the world Thanks for the incredible service. As usual, I procrastinated in ordering it as a gift for my husband for Christmas. It arrived in just 4 or 5 days, in time for Christmas. It is an amazing description of how inventions came to be incorporated into society and changed the world.
Date published: 2018-01-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Simply average Considering the cost of the course, I think it needs field trips to museums and sites around the world to highlight the subject matter.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a retired American historian and have purchased several courses over the last several years. I use these courses as sort of a jumping off point into a little deeper research and study on particular topics. This course is proving to be one of my favorites. The lectures present a lot of material I am not that familiar with, but have such a strong impact on history. They are well organized and presented. I find myself taking lots of notes of what I hear and what it causes me to think about. This course has proven to be well worth the cost, in fact a bargain when I consider the learning I've obtained from it.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating This course shows how various inventions were built on their predecessors. It shows how ideas grow, like trees, outward and upward.
Date published: 2017-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course! I thoroughly enjoyed this course that blended historical information about great inventions with their context in society and the impact of the developments. I grew fond of the professor as his passion for his subject and his insights into the larger picture (beyond just the facts) drew me in. I am a pastor by profession and I found his view of how people interacted and even cooperated toward goals and progress very helpful. I would highly recommend this course and will take another by Prof. Carlson if he presents one.
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The title is apt The professor drives me nuts with his artificial gestures with his two hands. I can't wait to be done with the course so I can start on thermodynamics. However the inventions are worth learning about
Date published: 2017-02-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Stiff Presenter, Could Use More Content I second (or 50th) what many others have said, which is that the professor is not comfortable in this setting, clearly is reading a teleprompter (and not well), and apparently was told to use hand gestures, which he does awkwardly. I suspect that any professional talking head could have delivered this course far better; really, no knowledge seemed necessary. The content is generally good, but in each lecture the professor spends about 10 percent of the time speaking generally about the invention, sometimes even philosophically, which eats into his time for providing interesting information ABOUT the invention. This is particularly annoying given his poor delivery. If he's most comfortable with technology, not presenting, he should at least stick to the technology.
Date published: 2016-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Course on Inventions and Their Effects This class highlights major inventions from the beginning of civilization to recent times. Carlson presents some scientific information on the various inventions, but his focus is on the effects that each invention had on society. He does a great job of showing how inventions discussed in one lecture set the groundwork for other inventions discussed in other lectures. This class is not quite of "5", but it is a high "4".
Date published: 2016-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the Inventions That Changed the Worl Instructor is a skilled teacher as well as passionate about his subject and has a wonderful cvommand of history that comes across in the videos.
Date published: 2016-09-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Beneath the Standard for The Great Courses I have to say I was very disappointed in this course, primarily because the professor was second-worst of any I have encountered in any of my past purchases. I have never before gotten the impression that the instructor was reading his lectures word for word. Dr. Carlson clearly was, This is an issue mainly because he is a very poor reader. Over and over during each lesson he stumbled over the words, occasionally skipping entire lines from the teleprompter, and never seeming to recognize it. He often placed emphasis on the wrong clause, or the wrong word, and as pointed out by another reviewer, he dropped his voice at the tail end of every sentence, making his lectures sound like an oral report delivered by a sixth grader. Furthermore, I don't feel that he had a solid grasp of all his material. First, there were a number of factual errors. For example, when covering navigation at sea, he incorrectly stated that sailors anywhere in the world can find their latitude by sighting on the North Star. In reality, the North Star is visible only in the Northern Hemisphere. In another lecture, he seemed confused as he tried to show how an S-trap (which he incorrectly referred to as an S-curve). He incorrectly reversed the inlet and outlet sides of this simple plumbing fixture. I also found it telling that he also miss-pronounced a large number of object-names and names of people, especially German and middle-eastern names. Finally, there were a number of instances like the following: he picked up a small motor, stuck his finger down inside it and talked about "this little flap here", as if we could possibly see it without the camera moving in on it. In summary, I thought that the entire set was awkward and amateurish.
Date published: 2016-09-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Inventions that changed the world The topics presented are very interesting. However, I have difficulty understanding the complete audio presentation, as the Professor tends to drop his voice at the end of every sentence. I still have more to look at.
Date published: 2016-08-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Does Not Include Cotton Gin While viewing this video on inventions that changed the world, I was shocked and dumbfounded to not see any mention of the infamous cotton gin which was invented by Eli Whitney to process cotton more rapidly and thus greatly accelerate the spread of cotton throughout the world and the terrible institution of slavery throughout the south. I don't know if this oversight was intentional or accidental. However even though it resulted in horrendous conditions for Africans and African American slaves, it was nonetheless a critical contraption that increased the spread of slavery and increased the suffering of black ancestors in this country. It therefore sadly was an invention that changed the course of the world and contributed to the worse war ever fought on American soil.
Date published: 2016-07-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Really, A History of Invention This course simply fails to deliver as described. The inventions themselves are not explained in any meaningful way that leads to deeper understanding. Throughout the course, it felt to me like I was listening to an extended essay written by a high school student – touching the subject in various ways, mentioning inventors and what they did, but lacking a strong central thesis. In Professor Carlson’s final lecture, he talks about the history of invention, which is really what the whole course is about. Had this lecture been adapted as the introduction to the course - and the title of the course changed to reflect this, viz. “A History of Invention” - I would have understood the real intent of the course and would not have had a continual feeling of frustrated expectations. This course also seems to reflect a too heavy reliance that The Great Courses technical staff places on the use of teleprompters. Some of my favorite courses are delivered in an almost extemporaneous style. Here, Professor Carlson seemed to be constrained by reading the teleprompter. His joy of the subject is lost behind his difficulty in reading the the text, and feeling it necessary to stick to it.
Date published: 2016-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another Way To Appreciate the Human Mind My wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed this course. Dr Carlson notes inventions are as much a part of creativity as art or literature, and a good basic 21st Century education involves understanding how inventions evolved and how to use them well. Unlike art or literature, though, inventions are a unique blend of creativity with a certain “inevitability” when certain conditions arise – inventions are produced when a “bright working idea” meets the fertile soil of the right technology and environment. The professor shows how personal creativity and persistence have blended with social environments, how inventions changed the world, and how they have affected our personal and social abilities. The author defines “inventions” broadly enough to cover everything from pottery to steam engines to the internet. The Teaching Company’s website overview gives a good course summary, so our review covers what we thought of the course. Perhaps our most important lesson was how much interactive work it has taken to bring us services we often take for granted. His broad coverage – from simple inventions to ones requiring vast integration and interaction – made us appreciate how universal inventiveness can be, and that we can use the same process in our own lives. The teacher’s thoughtful and skillful organization helped our understanding, and we appreciated his straightforward, personable style -- like listening to a favorite uncle. We thought it had commendably little “fluff” or unnecessary meandering that sometimes creeps into a course with so much lecture material. The video /studio quality was excellent, while the diagrams and models helped us maintain attention. Notably, the course shows another way to appreciate the most wonderful “invention” in the entire known universe – the human mind. You might find it useful to know what not to expect from the course. Omissions include important, life-enriching advances in, and challenges with, antibiotics and vaccinations (you can use the web to examine these). Recent major scientific advances (scientific collaboration, information theory, math, and information distribution are “inventions”) are not given much depth either, so it was hard to understand how inventiveness is likely to project into the future. We also thought the course did not explore topics like how the entrepreneurial spirit works, how some organizations have consistently promoted inventive and networking excellence, or how markets and trade have advanced civilization so much through the ages. Finally, the course didn’t adequately raise the question of why we think we have so many strains and incompleteness in the presence of so many wonderful inventions. Anyway, these are all items you can research further if you wish, and one lecture series can only do so much. It’s a solid course. If you have already decided to order it, we found the final lecture such an excellent summary we would suggest listening to it as the second lecture of the course. If you have already taken this course and enjoyed it you may want to consider the course by G. Sojka on agricultural “inventions” and the course on exploration by V.G. Liulevicius.
Date published: 2016-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Multifaceted introduction to a sprawling subject Video download When we think of inventions and the history of technology, many common beliefs come to mind: 1. Great inventions, like great art, require unusual creativity. They are big-leap-forward ideas developed by solitary geniuses. 2. The evolution of technology closely tracks the development of scientific knowledge. 3. Once created, a given invention has very similar consequences regardless of the culture and beliefs of the societies using it. 4. Great inventions address pressing needs. They are therefore enthusiastically received without much persuasion or alteration. __________________________ Dr Carlson's UNDERSTANDING THE INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD contradicts or at least seriously alters these beliefs. 1. Ancient inventions, such as bronze casting, required generations of anonymous craftsmen to come to fruition. Geniuses, of course, are easier to document in modern times. But even so, technologies such as the steam engine were group creations. 2. For millennia, inventions originated from the "craft tradition" of people intimately familiar with the physical properties of specific metals and liquids. A very different crowd created the natural sciences. Obviously, engineering and pure science are more closely related today, but as recently as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, knowledge of scientific theory played a minimal role. 3. Paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass all originated in China before spreading to Europe, but their influence on Chinese and Western societies were immensely different. 4. Yes needs are important, but in some cases new inventions create new needs no one could have imagined. And even when needs are directly relevant, alterations, new production systems and marketing are often critical. __________________________ PROS This course is very modular. There are advantages to seeing the lectures in chronological order, but you can follow your tastes as well. INVENTIONS is also ideal for younger students. Most TGC history courses are based on extensive textual, linguistic and historical sources. This course is simpler. Each "invention" has a limited number of easily accessible sources in the bibliography. Inventions by their nature bring up a wealth of fascinating side-issues — the nature of creativity, the role of government, unintended consequences, individual v. group strengths, analogical thinking and so on. The graphics are excellent to explain technology at an elementary level. CONS This is not an engineering course. The focus is on sources of originality and social influences, not internal mechanics. Carlson occasionally stumbles with his words. But this is a very minor quibble. _______________________ PRESENTATION is generally good. Carlson starts every lecture with a clear overview and ends with a recap. The overall effect is user-friendly. The guidebook is also good with an annotated bibliography to help those wishing to further study particular topics. To sum up, this is a well-designed introduction to a sprawling topic that involves many societal influences. Far from being one-size-fits-all, this course is an ideal starting point for different social sciences — history, economics, management and social psychology for example — connected to technological creativity.
Date published: 2016-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is one of the best courses I have purchased from The Great Courses! There are obviously many inventions that might possibly have been selected for this course. I applaud Professor Carlson for his selections and the sequence of their presentation. The stories, graphics, and especially the "toys" in the room were a definite asset to the overall presentation and my enjoyment. As a side note, it does not appear that Professor Carlson is particularly comfortable reading a teleprompter. I suspect he is more at home in his classroom.
Date published: 2016-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Understanding the inventions that changed world I love the speakers display models. He did zoom too fast through the early metals and writing each chapter is fascinating and I would love an entire hour per topic interesting material. And I will replay the entire program so I can get further understanding of the technologies. .
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A pretty mediocre course for the teaching company The subject is interesting and has a lot of potential. Unfortunately that potential is not realized by this course. The course is simply the speaker reading a teleprompter - few visual aids which are definitely needed in this course. The ones used are at times not even remotely relevant to the topic - apparently just stuff that the prof collected over time. The presentation is monotonic with little excitement and apparently extensive use of a thesaurus as some of the the words used don't seem comfortable . All in all comes across as fairly boring. One other aspect I found distracting is the professor's continual wandering into the realm of the role of government , bureaucracy, ... in innovation. To hear him speak, the government plays a major positive role in innovation.. While certainly some innovation did involve government, government's primary role has been the stifling of innovation and I felt the professor was a bit preachy as he routinely returned to the socio - political aspects of innovation which to say the least are debatable from a number of viewpoints. His assertions of=ten don't hold water.
Date published: 2016-01-18
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