Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology: Volume 8 Technology and Change in History
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Watermills and windmills continue to enjoy an iconic status in the popular imagination; their elemental regularity often being used to symbolise the restful natural rhythms of a pastoral idyll. In countries where there has been a long milling tradition, their scattered ruins provide glimpses of an almost forgotten way of life, when households took their grain to the local miller to be ground. While they are now generally regarded as quaint landmarks with some heritage interest, it was not so long ago that the town or village mill was a centre of social and economic activity that not infrequently represented one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the locality.
Mills for grinding grain were one of the first kinds of machine to employ non-human and renewable forms of energy as their motive power. They were, therefore, amongst the first machines to be automated, and some of the first to be used in factory-scale production. For these and other reasons that will be explored in the pages to follow, the history of mills and milling has attracted the attention of significant numbers of amateur and professional scholars for at least a hundred and fifty years. This attention has ensured that the development of milling technology has become part of the standard vocabulary of modernist narratives of invention and progress. Engineers and professional soldiers, industrialists and artisans, poets and journalists have all written eloquently on the subject, if not always accurately, as have professional historians, geographers, philologists and archaeologists.