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The Invention of Spectacles - UCB

The Invention of Spectacles - UCB

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Published by sloesp
An essay on the invention of spectacles (glasses) and its impact on medieval society. I wrote this as part of the course 'Technology, culture and politics' at UC Berkeley.
An essay on the invention of spectacles (glasses) and its impact on medieval society. I wrote this as part of the course 'Technology, culture and politics' at UC Berkeley.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: sloesp on Dec 20, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The history and social, cultural and technical factors of its invention
Depiction of the so called “Netherlandish spectacles” from the mid 15
century by Herlin
Name: Chris JagerStudent number: 20761990University of California at Berkeley (UCB)
Spectacles, so entrenched in our lives that we rarely take the time to think about it. Where would we bewithout them? As our population keeps getting older and older, the relevance of spectacles increases.As people age, we all end up being farsighted. It’s a fact of life. A process that already starts at the age20 and is completed at around 45 to 50 (2). Think about it, what did those people do at the age of 45,before they invented spectacles? Had they become a burden to society? How where these peoplelooked upon back in the day? And when and why were glasses invented? More specifically what werethe technological, cultural and social preconditions that influenced its development? These questionswe will try to answer in this essay.First of all an overview of the history and development of spectacles is given. This shows how thistechnological innovation has been shaped through the centuries. It is the background that setsenvironment for the remainder of the essay. Secondly we will look at life in the early dark ages, andwhat life was like for farsighted, shortsighted and “normal” people. Thirdly we discuss theconsequences, intended and unintended, that the invention of spectacles had. Finally a short paragraphwith reflection and general discussion regarding spectacles is given.
Historical overview
The first mention of spectacles is by a man from ancient Rome by the name of Seneca. Seneca lived from4 BC till 65 AD and is said to have read "all the books in Rome" by peering through a glass globe of water(3). Taking a leap in time, it was the monks in the middle ages who developed the “reading stone”. Thiswas a segment of a polished sphere of rock crystal that was laid on top of the parchment to enlarge theprint. In 1267 a man by the name of Roger Bacon even sent one of these reading stones to the Popehimself to aid him in reading (1). In 1280 for the first time, the concept of combining two lenses was
executed. With this setup, you had a lens for each eye. These lenses where connected with a nail or rivet,hence the name “riveted spectacles” (1). In 1300 the next innovation in spectacles was introduced. Glassfrom the Venice glass industry replaced the rock crystal lenses. It has to be noted that all these previousaccounts of spectacles concern convex lenses. But around 1450, concave lenses where finally developed.This enabled nearsighted people to see clearly at a distance. Around 1720 the side arms wereintroduced (1). This prevented the spectacle from falling of ones nose. And in 1775 multifocal lenseswhere developed by Benjamin Franklin (1). Later he said the following: “I therefore had formerly twopairs of spectacles, which I shifted occasionally, as in traveling I sometimes read, and often wanted toregard the prospects. Finding this change troublesome, and not always sufficiently ready, I had theglasses cut and a half of each kind associated in the same circle. By this means, as I wear my ownspectacles constantly, I have only to move my eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near,the proper glasses being always ready” (4). Finally in 1887 the next incremental step in spectacledevelopment was made. Adolf E. Fick, Eugene Kalt and August Muller invented contact lenses. And alldeveloped them completely separately from each other. This is actually not as unusual as it sounds. Forinstance in the development of the television this also occurred. It is the response to a social demandthat needs to be filled. More recently there have also been techniques developed of replacing the actuallenses of the human eye. For instance for people with cataract disease this is a solution (5). This showsthat spectacle development is still an ongoing process. The two figures below show how glasses lookedlike around the year 1400.

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