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Impearls: Simple Tech - The "Hay Theory of History"

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Earthdate 2004-01-30

Simple Tech – The “Hay Theory of History”

Far-thinker physicist Freeman Dyson, in his intriguing book Infinite in All Directions, describes the profound impact in history of a very simple technology: 1

The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple.  A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay.  Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter.  All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe.  Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages.  According the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe.  The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze.  North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay.  So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe.  Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.
 

Reference

1 Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions: Gifford Lectures given at Aberdeen, Scotland: April-November 1985, 1988, Harper & Row, New York; Library of Congress catalog no. Q175.3.D97 1988; p. 135.
 

UPDATE:  2004-02-01 10:45 UT:  Simple Tech II posted.



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