White: “The Medieval Uses of Air”

By: Kayla Hinds

Lynn White Jr., in his article “Medieval Uses of Air”, examines past technologies. White began the article by explaining the relationship between science and technology. They weren’t always studied together. White says that science was mainly used to understand nature, while technology “was an exclusively practical attempt to use nature for human purposes”. In the past, people wouldn’t take the extra step to analyze the science behind technological devices. Studying it leads to further improvements (or advancements). Specifically, for air devices, studies on the motion of air currents contributed to many important inventions.

Image result for medieval parachute

15th century sketch of the parachute made by an anonymous Italian engineer.

But in this article, White explores air technologies and their impact on society. New theories developed as new inventions were made. For example, Aristotle’s early theory of motion which states that a moving object stays in motion if something (a force) continues to move it. The theory of impetus was created shortly after this to explain projectile movement. Scientists who were against Aristotle’s theory experimented with a rotary grindstone to disprove it and came to discover that “the grindstone moved not by pressure of air but by impetus until the resistance of friction at the axle stopped it”. White goes on to detail other significant inventions, such as suction pumps. Suction pumps were used for pumping groundwater to the surface. This invention led to further investigations of air pressure. There were many great gadgets made, but the 4 most significant among them all were blast furnaces, windmills, sails, and suction pumps.

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