Beauty in Ingenuity: The Art of Science

The complex, sometimes conflictual, relationship of man and machine is a constant thread in “The Art of Innovation,” at London’s Science Museum. Recalling how the mechanical telling of time itself became contested during the Industrial Revolution, as the historian E.P. Thompson described in a famous 1967 Past & Present article, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” here is a handsome double-dialled clock from a Macclesfield mill, dating from 1810. In the catalog, the curators tell us that while the lower dial showed the actual time, the upper dial was connected to the silk mill’s waterwheel: if the waterwheel ran slowly, or stopped, “mill time” was slowed or suspended, and the workers would have to make up the lost production time, “ruled by the pace of their machines.” Paradoxically, machines could also make men and women feel free as never before.

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