A note from Marjorie Senechal . . .
“Technology” today conjures ipads and whiteboards, yet the most ancient of technologies -- the wheel, the rope, the loom, the bridge -- are indispensable to modern life. How did our ancestors, thousands of years ago, think up these things? How did they make them? How did they use them? I began to ask myself such questions in 1994, after seeing an ancient water wheel – in action—in the mountains of northern Albania. Fortuitously, the next year Peter James and Nick Thorpe published Ancient Inventions, a compendium of amazing things our ancestors made.
But the book doesn’t say how they made them. How indeed? And so “Ancient Inventions” was born. With Greg Young, the director of Smith’s science center’s machine shop, I taught the course for the first time in 1997. The students read Ancient Inventions and other sources, and then tried to recreate an ancient invention of their choice from scratch. The final exam was the ultimate test: the invention had to work.*
Greg and I taught the course for several years, the last time in the spring of 2004. That semester we were joined by the director of Smith’s Picker Engineering Program, Domenico Grasso. Domenico moved to the University of Vermont that fall. I retired from teaching in 2007, and Greg plans to retire next year.
“Ancient Inventions” is no longer taught at Smith, but you can see it – in action -- in the wilds of northern Vermont. Click here to see a video of the “Ancient Inventions” course at the University of Vermont, made in the spring of 2012.
* We made an exception for the trephination machine, used to drill holes in skulls to relieve headaches. The student did make a real working machine, but also a paper model for demonstrations.