Technology & society in american history

Download 48.93 Kb.
Size48.93 Kb.

Semester Syllabus for


Course Instructor: Professor Joy M. Giguere

Office: GIST 219

Office Phone: (717) 771-8449


Office Hours: Monday, Noon-1:30PM; Wednesday, Noon-1:30PM; Friday, Noon-1PM

Class Day & Time: MWF 2-2:50PM (Pullo 113)

COURSE DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES: This course will examine the technological development of the United States from the pre-colonial period through the present day. Emphasis will be given not only to the inventions themselves but the reasons why such technology was needed and what influence the technology has had on American society. By the end of the semester, students should have developed an understanding of the principle technological developments that shaped American civilization, effectively analyze various scholarly readings on the history of technology, as well as complete an original research paper on a topic dealing with the theme of the course.
REQUIRED COURSE READINGS: The following books will be required for the completion of reading and writing assignments. They may be purchased at the campus bookstore.
Patrick Malone, The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians (Madison Books, 2000); ISBN-13: 978-1-568-33165-2
Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx, eds., Does Technology Drive History?: The Dilemma of Technological Determinism (MIT Press, 1994); ISBN-13: 978-0-262-69167-3
Mark Essig, Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death (2003)
These books will also be available on reserve at the Penn State York library throughout the semester, so if you choose not to purchase the books, you can still keep up on assignments. As these books are available at the library, there is NO excuse for not completing reading/writing assignments!
ASSIGNMENTS & GRADING: There will be no examinations in the course. Your final grade will be determined according to the percentages in the following categories, NOT out of a running total of points. The semester grade will be based upon performance in the following categories:
Class Participation (10%): It is of the utmost importance that students attend every class meeting. However, class participation goes beyond simple attendance. This portion of the grade is based upon the student’s level of engagement in the class, including asking questions, discussing readings and sharing ideas.
Weekly Analysis Papers (15%): Students will be expected to hand in short (1-2 page) analysis papers based on their weekly article and essay readings. Each paper will need to include an explanation of the author’s argument(s) along with some commentary about the major issues presented in the reading. The purpose of these papers is to help students grapple with historical writing about technology in America and serve as aids in weekly discussion of the material.
Skulking Way of War Paper (10%): Upon completion of Malone’s book, students will be required to write a 2-4 page analysis on how Native American and European military tactics and technologies were altered by the colonial experience.
Technological Determinism Paper (20%): Throughout the course of the semester, students will read essays from Smith and Marx’s Does Technology Drive History?. Based upon their understanding of the arguments in this collection of essays, along with material from lectures and other readings, students will write a 3-5 page paper in which they explain the nature of technological determinism and whether it is an effective way to approach the history of technology and its impact on American society.
Edison Paper (20%): Starting in Week 4, students will begin reading Mark Essig’s Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death. Upon completion of the book, students will be required to write a 3-5 page essay dealing with Essig’s main arguments and sources, and placing the issues covered in the text within the broader context of American technology and its uses.
Research Paper (20%) & Presentation (5%): Students will be required to write an original 7-10 page research paper on a topic of their choosing. This will be a semester-long project during which time students will be expected, at various points in the semester, to hand in evidence of their progress (e.g. topic proposal, annotated bibliography, paper outline). In place of a final exam, the last week of the semester will be set aside for in-class student presentations of their work.

On any given writing-based assignment, content (that is, what you know) will be graded most heavily. However, poor writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation), will negatively affect your grade. Late assignments will be accepted within two weeks of the assignment’s due date, with 10 points taken off for each week late. If an assignment is more than two weeks late, it will NOT be accepted for credit.

If you must miss a class, you may e-mail me your weekly paper so that it is counted as on-time; however, you must hand a hardcopy in to me at the next class meeting for the assignment to receive full credit.
All late or extra credit work must be handed in to me, in hardcopy, NO LATER than the last week of lectures BEFORE finals week.
All grading will be done according to a 100-point scale. Numeric Grade Breakdown:

93-100 A

90-92 A-

87-89 B+

84-86 B

80-83 B-

77-79 C+

70-76 C

60-69 D

0-59 F

Being late or not attending class will negatively affect your grade. Missing 25% of the class may result in failure of the course due to missed instruction and missed work that cannot be made up. You are responsible for all missed material due to any absences, and there is no make-up for absence from class.

In case of a documentable emergency, the policies may be adjusted at the discretion of the instructor.


Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction.

It remains at the discretion of the instructor to alter assignments, exams and meeting agenda as outlined in this syllabus.


Cell phones MUST be turned off or put on vibrate mode. Text messaging is NOT allowed during class – it is rude. You must gain permission from the instructor if you wish to use your laptop or tablet to take notes during the class.


It is Penn State York's policy to not discriminate against qualified students with documented disabilities. If you have a disability-related need for accommodations in this course, please contact your instructor during the first week of class. You may also wish to contact Dr. Dzubak in the Nittany Success Center (771- 4013 and ) for assistance with testing accommodations that extend beyond the scope of the instructor.


In the event of a campus closure, course requirements, classes, deadlines and grading schemes are subject to changes that may include alternative delivery methods, alternative methods of interaction with the instructor, class materials, and/or classmates, a revised attendance policy, and a revised semester calendar and/or grading scheme. Information about course changes will be communicated through [ANGEL, e-mail, etc….]

For notification about campus closures, please refer to Penn State York’s website at , call the weather hotline at 717 771-4079, or sign up for live text messages at PSUAlert ( ). This is a service designed to alert the Penn State community via text messages to cell phones when situations arise on campus that affect the ability of the campus - students, faculty and staff - to function normally.

Week 1
Monday (8/25) – Introductions & Syllabus Overview
Wednesday (8/27) – What is Technology? (And how do Historians study it???)
Friday (8/29) – Discussion of Smith & Marx, Douglas, & Malone

Readings for Class: 1) Smith & Marx, Does Technology Drive History?, Introduction, ix-xv

2) Susan J. Douglas, “Some Thoughts on the Question “How Do New Things Happen?”,”Technology and Culture Vol. 51 (April 2010), 293-304.

3) Malone, The Skulking Way of War, pp.1-51

Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Douglas

Week 2
Monday (9/1) – NO CLASS (Labor Day Holiday)
Wednesday (9/3) – Lithics, Mounds & Pottery, Oh My!: Native American Technology
Friday (9/5) – Native American Technology, cont’d

Readings for Class: 1) Malone, The Skulking Way of War, pp.52-100

2) Smith & Marx, Does Technology Drive History?, Chapter 1 (Smith), pp.1-36
Assignment for Friday: Analysis Paper on Smith

Week 3
Monday (9/8) – Technologies of Contact & Accommodation: Medicine & Agriculture
Wednesday (9/10) – Technologies of Contact & Accommodation: Firearms
Friday (9/12) – Memento Mori: Gravestones & Their Evolution
Readings for Class: 1) Essig, Edison, Prologue-Chapter 2, pp.1-25

Assignment for Friday: Skulking Way of War Paper Due (2-4 pages)

Week 4
Monday (9/15) – Gravestones, cont’d
Wednesday (9/17) – Toward a Consumer Culture: Architecture, Crafts & Communications
Friday (9/19) – Discussion of Smith & Essig

Readings for Class: 1) Smith & Marx, Does Technology Drive History?, Chapter 2 (Smith), pp.37-52

3) Essig, Edison, Chapter 3-6, pp.26-73
Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Smith

Week 5
Monday (9/22) – Building the Early Republic: The First Industrial Revolution
Wednesday (9/24) – Industrial Revolution, cont’d
Friday (9/26) – How to Die, American Style: Caskets, Embalming & Rural Cemeteries

Readings for Class: 1) Essig, Edison, Chapter 7-9, pp.74-117

Week 6
Monday (9/29) – Westward, Ho! The Railroad in American Culture
Wednesday (10/1) – Capturing Souls in a Box: The Development of Photography
Friday (10/3) – Discussion of Ruuska
Readings for Class: 1) Alex Ruuska, “Ghost Dancing and the Iron Horse: Surviving through Tradition and Technology,” Technology and Culture Vol.52 (July 2011), 574- 597. (Library Reserves in Angel)
Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Ruuska
Week 7
Monday (10/6) – “Can you hear me now?”: The Communications Revolution
Wednesday (10/8) – Saving Lives(?): Medicine & Hospitals
Friday (10/10) – Discussion of Lipartito and Beauchamp

Readings for Class: 1) Kenneth Lipartito, “When Women Were Switches: Technology, Work, and Gender in the Telephone Industry, 1890-1920” The American Historical Review, Vol. 99, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp.1075-1111

2) Christopher Beauchamp, “Who Invented the Telephone? Lawyers, Patents, and the Judgments of History,” Technology and Culture Vol.51 (October 2010), 854-878. (Both in Library Reserves in Angel)

Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Lipartito or Beauchamp (but be prepared to discuss both!)

Week 8
Monday (10/13) – Medicine & Hospitals, cont’d
Wednesday (10/15) – American Technology on Display: The World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893
Friday (10/17) – Work, Scientific Management & the Creation of the Modern City

Reading for Class: 1) Essig, Edison, Chapter 10-15, pp.118-199

2) Merle Curti, “America at the World Fairs, 1851-1893” The American

Historical Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Jul., 1950), pp.833-856 (Read for Discussion on Wednesday)

3) Elyce J. Rotella, “Transformation of the American Office: Changes in

Employment and Technology” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 41, No.

1 (Mar., 1981), pp.51-57 (Both in Library Reserves in Angel)

Assignment for Friday: Research Topic Proposal Due in Class with Preliminary Bibliography (3-5 Sources)

Week 9
Monday (10/20) – Moving Americans, Americans on the Move
Wednesday (10/22) – The Birth of Film
Friday (10/24) – Cinema, Society & Culture


Week 10
Monday (10/27) – Solutions to Modern Problems
Wednesday (10/29) – War-Time Technologies
Friday (10-31) – Postwar (Ka)Boom
Assignment for Friday: Edison Paper (3-5 pages) Due in Class

Week 11
Monday (11/3) – Video: How William Shatner Changed the World
Wednesday (11/5) – Finish Video

Friday (11/7) – Discussion of Shatner, Bimber & Hughes

Readings for Class: 1) Smith & Marx, Does Technology Drive History?, Chapter 5 (Bruce Bimber), pp.79-100 and

2) Chapter 6 (Thomas Hughes), pp.101-114

3) Chapter 7 (Thomas Misa), pp.115-142
Assignments for Friday: 1) Analysis paper on Bimber or Hughes or Misa

2) Annotated Bibliography & Paper Outline
Week 12
Monday (11/10) – Technology & The Environment
Wednesday (11/12) – Chemical Technologies
Friday (11/14) – Discussion: Are Technological Utopias Possible?
Reading for Class: 1) Mulford Q. Sibley, “Utopian Thought and Technology” American Journal of

Political Science, Vol. 17, No. 2 (May, 1973), pp.255-281 (Library Reserves in Angel)
Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Sibley

Week 13
Monday (11/17) – Technology in a De-Industrialized Nation
Wednesday (11/19) – Biotechnology
Friday (11/21) – Discussion: The Ethics of Technological Development – Just Because We Can, Does it Mean We Should?
Readings for Class: 1) Smith & Marx, Does Technology Drive History?, Chapter 8 (Philip Scranton), pp.143-168

2) Chapter 11 (Williams), pp.217-236

3) Chapter 12 (Marx), pp.237-258
Assignment for Friday: Analysis paper on Scranton or Williams or Marx

Week 14
Monday (12/1) – The Development of the Computer
Wednesday (12/3) – The Internet

Friday (12/5) – Discussion: Technological Determinism – Where Do We Stand?

Assignment for Friday: Technological Determinism Paper (3-5 pages) Due in Class

Week 15
Monday (12/8) – Video: Digital Nation
Wednesday (12/10) – Finish Video
Friday (12/12) – Implants, Augmentations, Facebook & Bluetooth: Are we becoming the Borg?

Reading for Class: 1) Michael D. Bess, “Icarus 2.0: A Historian’s Perspective on Human Biological Enhancement,” Technology and Culture Vol.49 (January 2008), 114-126.

Assignment for Friday: Extra Credit Analysis of Bess

Week 16

Download 48.93 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page