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Everyday life is interwoven with manufactured items that rely on technology and science. As we check the time on waking, make breakfast, travel to work or school, do our jobs, enjoy entertainment, or prepare to sleep, we connect continually to invention, to manufacture and to science.
The same was true 250 years ago, but many of the ‘tools for living’ worn, carried, employed and desired by our predecessors took markedly different forms.
Since 1750, countless new techniques of manufacture and new materials have transformed the nature of the things we experience in our everyday lives. And yet, some things, like saws and scissors, matured early on and have scarcely changed since the eighteenth century.
Not only people in different periods owned and used different things, but they have understood them differently.
Industrialization, which effected unprecedented changes in the way that goods were made, also transformed the ways that people lived. Factory hands, often fleeing rural poverty, exchanged village for town, and that new organism, the industrial town, was born. In the century from 1800. The population more than tripled, and towns swallowed most of the increase. New forms of work and new densities of urban living brought a heavy toll of disease. Choosing appropriate responses to these symptoms of rapid change was hard-fought and problematic.
Industrial cities (Ghent) were shaped by changes in technology, both indirectly as new patterns of work brought more workers into factories, and directly as new forms of infrastructure, including railways, water and sewerage were introduced. But technology was also experienced by citizens at a more intimate level in the tools and products people used to treat them, when they succumbed to the diseases of the towns.