Ten Innovations that Changed the World


Photograph of a wallet zipperOverview:
Every day we use a variety of simple and complex machines that make up modern life. Modern technology, as we will see, is greater than the sum of its parts; people, techniques, and idealistic motives have often created the contexts from which our machines and scientific understandings have emerged.

Discover the stories of the people, the crafts, the engineering, and the design involved in the production of such diverse innovations as gunpowder, the printing press, the zipper, and the Internet and see the lasting impact that each of these innovations has had on our world.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone who is interested in knowing more about the technologies that make modern life possible.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • Increased your knowledge of ten technological innovations which make our lives unlike those lived by people in earlier times. 
  • Discussed the biographies of people involved in the production of these innovations.
  • Developed your own views about the role of 
    • influence v. “borrowing” 
    • the different conceptions of intellectual property rights in different times and places
  • Considered different ways that people approached the history of technology.

Course outline:
Each session includes two one-hour lecture presentations with time for questions and discussion.

Session 1: Changes in warfare and navigation

  • Gunpowder
  • The compass

Session 2: Changes in communication and manufacturing

  • The printing press
  • The steam engine

Session 3: Changes in power generation and food preservation

  • Electrical power
  • The refrigerator

Session 4: Changes in medicine and fashion

  • Vaccines and antibiotics
  • The zipper

Session 5: Changes in transportation and communication

  • The airplane
  • The Internet

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

David White is a historian and education professional who studied history and journalism at the University of Kansas.

Nancy Marquez is a historian with degrees from Stanford, Notre Dame, and Victoria University of Wellington. Her PhD thesis was on a topic from the history of early modern science.

“I appreciated the course tutor [David] not assuming prior knowledge and pitching information at an appropriate level]”, Ten Protest Movements that Changed the World participant (2018)

“The course topics were interesting, well presented and inclined me to pursue many other avenues of reading and exploration around the topics presented”, Ten Protest Movements that Changed the World participant (2018)

“Really enjoyed it particularly with participants able to ask questions and have dialogue with the lecturer [David]”, Ten Protest Movements that Changed the World participant (2018)

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email: conted@vuw.ac.nz

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.