AK/sts 3700 00 a history of Technology

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AK/STS 3700 6.00 A - History of Technology

This course will look at technological development using selected readings from a wide range of primarily historical sources, with an emphasis on the period from the first Industrial Revolution to the present. As our focus is technological development, it is important to ensure that we do not exaggerate the influence of technology in our analysis. As a result, we will explicitly study and critique the concept of technological determinism throughout the term, the claim that certain technologies necessitate or determine social or political structures. For example, it has been argued that the safe operation of nuclear reactors requires the repression of civil liberties, and thus extensive use of nuclear technology contributes to the emergence of a police state. Social, cultural, political, economic and environmental issues connected to technology will be used to evaluate claims like these. After a brief survey of water management technologies, we will discuss the technological transformations that accompanied colonialism, modern industrialization and the mechanization of society. Finally, we will focus on two prominent 20th century technologies, the automobile and nuclear reactors. We will consider issues such as technological momentum, technological lock-in, the unintended consequences of technological development, the difference between social and technological fixes to societal problems, the politics of technology and technological mediation of culture.

Marking Structure

Review Paper – 15% (May 26)

Annotated Bibliography – 20% (June 28)

Term Essay – 35% (July 26)

Attendance – 10%

Final Exam – 20%

Course Instructor: Ian Slater

Email: slater@yorku.ca

Lectures: Monday / Wednesday, 11:00 am, ACW 303

Office Hours: After lecture or by appointment, Rm 304 Bethune College


1. Review Paper

- Each student will be expected to summarize and critique the readings from one lecture, in a 5 page paper

2. Selected Bibliography

- Each student will complete a short, annotated bibliography for their final essay, 10 pages

3. There will be a final essay, 20 pages in length, on a pre-approved topic.

Lecture and Discussion Period

There will be brief lectures for each topic, followed by an open format seminar. There will be a review session for the final exam and an essay workshop.

Course Texts

1. STS 3700 Course Reader

2. Gary Cross & Rick Szostak, Technology & American Society, Prentice-Hall, 2nd Edition, 2005

3. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900

Reading Schedule

Note on readings: There are heavy weeks and light weeks in the reading schedule, please check ahead and plan accordingly.


Introductory Lecture (May 3)
Part A – Starting Points

For many historians of technology technological determinism is one of the most significant unresolved issues in the discipline. We will start by categorizing different forms of technological determinism so we can recognize and critically evaluate them throughout the term.

Lecture 1 - Technological Determinism (May 5)

– Smith and Marx, Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism - Chapter 5, Three Faces of Technological Determinism, Bruce Bimber, Chapter 6 – Technological Momentum, Thomas Hughes

Part B - Water Management Technology - Technological Determinism in Action

Since the very earliest civilizations, water management technology has been central to human development and prosperity. As a “case study” of a potentially deterministic technology, we will look at water management from ancient civilization through the present day, noting how the problems faced in ancient water management persist to some degree even today.

Lecture 2 - The Hydrological Hypothesis – Agricultural Water Management and Early Government (May 10)

- James McClellan and Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, Chapter 3, Pharaohs and Engineers

- W TeBrake, “Taming the Waterwolf: Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management in the Netherlands during the Middle Ages”, Technology and Culture, Vol 43, N 3, July 2002
Lecture 3 - Water Management For Profit and Power (May 12)

- Rohan D’Souza, Drowned and Dammed, Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India, Oxford University Press, 2006, Chapter 4, Delta in the Commodity Form, pp 126-156.

- Sean McCutcheon, Electric Rivers, The Story of the James Bay Project, Black Rose Books, 1991, Chapter 6, Changing Nature, pp 96-115

Part C - Technologies of Colonialism

Colonialism, the great outward push of the European nations for resources, land and power, shaped hundreds of years of historical development. Technology played a key role in enabling, expanding and legitimating colonial power. We will pay particular attention to two primary issues while reviewing the technologies of colonialism, the role of capital control and the role of science in making nature legible and therefore commodifiable.

Lecture 4 - Capital and Steel (May 17)

- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Vintage Press, 1998, Chap 3

- Ronald, Naylor, Canada in the European Age: 1453-1919, McGill-Queens University Press, 2006, Chapters 11-12, pp 147-166

- Daniel Headrick, The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850-1940, Oxford, 1988, Chap 1,3

Lecture 5 - Science and Legibility (May 19)

- Bernal – Science in History Volume 2, Introduction to Chapter 4

- James C Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, 1998, Chapter 1, Nature and Space, pp11-52.
Part D: Mechanization Takes Command - The Industrial Revolution

There is no doubt that the Industrial Revolution marked a significant transformation in the economies of the European nations, and later the new world. Due to the central role of technology in these changes, there has been a significant amount of writing on this period. To narrow the focus, we will concentrate on the Industrial Revolution in America, looking at issues such as technology transfer, the role of skills and professionalization in technological development, changes to markets and labor, and the introduction of science to industrial production.

Lecture 6 - Beginnings (May 26)

- Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chap 1,2,3

Lecture 7 - Retooling Production: Labour, the Factory and Mass Production (May 31)

- Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chap 4,5,7,8

Lecture 8 - Transportation Technology: Expanding Markets, Increasing Specialization (June 2)

  • Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chap 6,9

  • Shane B Schreiber, The Shock Army of the British Empire, Chapter 3

  • Essay Workshop

Lecture 9 - Science Joins Industry : Galileo's Bargain (June 7)

Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chap 10-11

David F. Noble, America By Design: Science, Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 1977, Chapter 1, The Wedding of Science to the Useful Arts – 1 – The Rise of Science Based Industry, pp 3-19.
Part E: Full Throttle Capitalism: The Automobile in the 20th Century

There are many candidates for the most significant technology of the 20th century, but none exemplifies modern, mass-produced, industrial development and the Faustian bargain it entails more than the automobile. We will start with the precursor to the automobile, the horse, then move on to early variants of automobile technology, the dominance of the internal combustion engine, the impact of automobiles on urban development and road design, and the popular reaction against this ubiquitous modern technology.

Lecture 10 - Science and Capital Expansion: Capturing Economies of Scale (June 9)

- Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chaps 12,13, 14, 15, 18

Lecture 11 - Transportation Before the Automobile (June 14)

- Ann Norton Greene, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, Chapter 5

- Thomas A. Kinney, The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America – Chapter 2
Lecture 12 - Early Alternatiives (June 16)

- Kirsch, The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History, Chapter 6

- Newton H Copp and Andrew W Zanella, Discovery, Innovation and Risk, Case Studies in Science and Technology, MIT Press, 1993, Chapter 6, Gasoline: From Waste Product to Fuel, pp 146-191
Lecture 13 - The Dominance of an Established Technology (June 21)

- Mark H Rose, Bruce Seely and Paul Barrett, The Best Transportation System in the World: Railroads, Trucks, Airlines and American 20th Century – Chapter 2

- Paul R. Josephson, Motorized Obsessions: Life, Liberty, and the Small-Bore Engine – Chapter 2
Lecture 14 - Cultural Assimilation of the Automobile (June 23)

- Mauch and Zeller, The World Beyond the Windshield – Chapter 2

- Brian Ladd, Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age - Chapter 2

Part F: Genie in a Bottle: Nuclear Power

Science has made many utopian claims over the years, but none more compelling than the promise to turn swords into plowshares and transform the atomic bomb into a peaceful civilian power industry that would produce electricity “too cheap to meter”. The failure of nuclear technology on a global scale speaks to the inability of science to solve practical problems, and the disconnect between changing public attitudes to technocracy and scientific hubris. We will consider the economic dimension of nuclear power, the impact of utilities on nuclear design, the role of the public in shaping nuclear development, and the general problem of management of complex, science based technologies.

Lecture 15 - Tools of Industry (June 28)

Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Chap 19,20,Afterword

Lecture 16 - The Rise and Fall of a Science Based Technology (June 30)

Steven Michael Cohn, Too Cheap To Meter, An Economic and Philosophical Analysis of the Nuclear Dream, Chapter 2, The Nuclear Planning Context, Chapter 6, The Disestablishment of Nuclear Power as an Official Technology.

Lecture 17 - Too Cheap to Meter: Utilities and Nuclear Power (July 5)

Sharon Beder, Power Play, The Fight for Control of the World’s Electricity, Chapter 1 and Chapter 3

Lecture 18 - The Public Confronts the Atom (July 7)

Richard Wolfson, Nuclear Choices, A Citizen’s Guide to Nuclear Technology, Chapter 9

Dieter Rucht, Chapter 13 in Martin Bauer, Resistance to New Technology
Lecture 19 - Complex Technological Systems (July 12)
Robert Pool, Beyond Engineering, Chapter 9
Part G: Questioning the History of Technology

David Edgerton has challenged historians of technology with a powerful argument that a history of technologies in use, rather than a history of technological innovation, has yet to be written. We will consider Edgerton's arguments in light of the course readings and our understanding of technological development as it has unfolded through the term.

Lecture 20 - Technology and Innovation (July 14)

David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, Chapters 1,2

Lecture 21 - Technologies in Use (July 19)

David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, Chapters 3,4

Lecture 22 - Destabilizing History (July 21)

David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, Chapters 5,6

Review Lecture (July 26)
In-Class Exam (July 28)

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