Nats 1780 – Technology and Civilization Course Description



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NATS 1780 – Technology and Civilization

Course Description


This course will consider the interaction between technology and civilization from ancient times to the present day, with approximately half the course focusing on the 20th century. We will look at the political, economic, military and social implications of technological developments, starting with international examples, and moving towards North American cases as we approach the 20th century. There will be major components on medieval technology, the industrial revolution, 19th century technology, and technology and war. Nuclear technology will be a major component of our 20th century discussion. Two themes will shape our analysis of technology throughout the course, the question of technological determinism, and the relationship between technology and the state.
Course Instructor: Ian Slater

Email: slater@yorku.ca

Lectures: Mon, 7-10pm, Centre for Fine Arts 312

Office Hours: By Appointment, 304 Bethune College



Lecture Format


The class meets from 7-10pm. There will be two 50 minute lectures, from 7-7:50, and from 8-8:50. From 9-9:50 there will be an open discussion period, where students can ask questions about the lectures or readings, and I will ask questions as well.

Mark Distribution


1st Assignment: 10% Oct 20

2nd Assignment: 15% January 12

Mid-Term: 30% Dec 1

3rd Assignment 15% March 8

Final Exam: 30%

Assignment 1 – Technology in Early Civilization – Due Oct 20


Compare the relationship between economics and technology in the hydraulic civilizations and in the Middle East in the 5th century. Be sure to state in which case the relationship between the two was the strongest, and why.

2 pages, 10%



Assignment 2 - Medieval Technology – Due Jan 12th


Compare the impact of any two of the following Medieval developments we discussed:

  • The impact of clocks on labor

  • The impact of the printing press on knowledge

  • The impact of gunpowder on conflict

Make sure to state which of the two had a greater overall impact, and why.

2-3 pages, 15%



Assignment 3 – Technology and Modern Warfare – Due March 8


Warfare has existed since the beginning of civilization, and technology has always been a part of it. Some historians have claimed that modern technology has fundamentally altered the nature of warfare in the 20th century. Argue for or against this claim, using examples from the course.

3 pages, 15%



Assignments, Late Penalties and Extensions


I will look at assignments and give feedback up to a week before they are due, no later

Late penalty is 2% of mark per day, e.g. Assignment 1, if 5 days late, would lose 10%

Extensions must be requested early.

Course Texts


1. Gary Cross and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society, Prentice-Hall, 1995

2. Course Reader, NATS 1780



Lecture Schedule


Sept 8 – Introductory Lecture
Sept 15 – Technology in Ancient Civilizations I

  • Reader, McClellan and Dorn, Science and Technology in World History, Chapter 3: Pharaohs and Engineers 23

  • Reader, Smith and Marx, Does Technology Drive History, Chapter 10, “Determinism and Pre-Industrial Technology” 16

Sept 22 – Medieval Technology and Society I



  • Reader, Rudi Volti, Society and Technological Change, Chapter 8, “Work in Non-industrial Societies” 13

  • Reader, Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Chapter 1, The Unacknowledged Revolution” 8

Sept 29 – Medieval Technology and Society II



  • Reader, Bert Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe, Chapter 4, “Firearms and Warfare (I): The Fifteenth Century” 28

Oct 20 – Technology in the Scientific Revolution - 1st Assignment Due



  • Reader, Arnold Pacey, The Maze of Ingenuity, Chapter 3, “Mathematics and the Arts: 1450-1600” 23

  • Reader, Lisa Jardine, Ingenious Pursuits, Building the Scientific Revolution, Chapter 4, “Running Like Clockwork” 43

Oct 27 – The Industrial Revolution, Part I



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 1, “Working the Land in Pre-Industrial Europe and America” 16

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 2, “Artisans in the Shop: European Traditions and American Changes in the Eighteenth Century”18

Nov 3 – The Industrial Revolution, Part II



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 3, “Women and Work Before the Factory” 14

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 4, “Origins of Industrialization” 14

Nov 10 – The Industrial Revolution, Part III -



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 5, “The Birth of the Factory” 14

  • Reader, Freeman and Soete, The Economics of Industrial Innovation, Chapter 2, “The Industrial Revolution” 19

Nov 17 – The Industrial Revolution, Part IV - 2nd Assignment Due



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 6, “Iron, Steam, Rails” 21

Nov 24 – 19th Century Technological Innovations



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 7, “Machines and their Mass Production” 15

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 8, “Machines on the Farm and in the Forest, 1800-1920”14

Dec 1 - Midterm


Jan 5 – 19th Century Technological Innovations II

  • Copp and Zanella, Chapter 2, “Telegraphy, the Beginnings” 22

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 9, “”Americans Confront a Mechanical World, 1800-1900” 13

Jan 12 – Millennial Developments – 2nd Assignment Due



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 10, “The Second Industrial Revolution” 13

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 11, “Technology and the Modern Corporation” 14

Jan 19 – Millennial Developments II



  • Reader, David Kirsch, The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History, Chapter 6, “The Burden of History” 13

  • Reader, David Noble, America By Design, “The Wedding of Science to the Useful Arts, Part 1”, Chapter 1, 17

Jan 26 – Experimental Achievements in Physics



  • Shamos, Great Experiments in Physics, “Natural Radioactivity”, by Henri Becquerel, Chapter 15

  • Reader, Shamos, Great Experiments in Physics, “Induced Transmutation”, by Ernest Rutherford, Chapter 19

Feb 2 - WWI



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 12, “Technology and the First Arms Race, 1800-1918” 16

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 13, “The Impact of Technology on Women’s Work” 15



Feb 9 – Technology Across the Wars


  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 14, “The New Factory” 13

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 15, “Innovation, The Great Depression, and the Automobile, 1918-1940” 15

Feb 23 – Technology Across the Wars II



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 16, “Mechanizing Sight and Sound” 13

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 17, “Technology and the Origins of Mass Culture”17

March 1– WWII



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 18, “Airplanes and Atoms in Peace and War” 16

  • Reader, Spencer Weart, Nuclear Fear, Chapter 5, “Where Heaven and Earth Meet” 35

March 8 – Post-War Technological Developments 3rd Assignment Due



  • Richard Wolfson, Nuclear Choices: A Citizen’s Guide to Nuclear Technology, Chapter 9, “Reactor Safety” 30

  • Reader, John Mitchell, The New Geopolitics of Energy, Chapter 7, “The Rise of Climate Change”25

March 15– Aspects of Modern Technology



  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 19, “The Postwar Advance of Technology” 17

  • Cross and Szostak, Chapter 20, “Modern Americans in A Technological World” 15

March 22 – Theoretical Issues in Technology



  • Reader, Robert Pool, Beyond Engineering, How Society Shapes Technology, Chapter 9, “Technical Fixes, Technological Solutions” 26

  • Cross and Szostak, Afterword, “Into the Future? Government Policy and Technological Innovation: Lessons from the Past” 5


March 29 – Final Lecture, exam review


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