Peter Sachs Collopy
Technology and Society
This is a syllabus for Technology and Society (STSC/HSOC 003), a course offered in fall 2014 at the University of Pennsylvania. Technology plays an increasing role in our understandings of ourselves, our communities, and our societies, in how we think about politics and war, science and religion, work and play. Humans have made and used technologies, though, for thousands if not millions of years. In this course, we will use this history as a resource to understand how technologies affect social relations, and conversely how the culture of a society shapes the technologies it produces. Do different technologies produce or result from different economic systems like feudalism, capitalism, and communism? Can specific technologies promote democratic or authoritarian politics? Do they suggest or enforce different patterns of race, class, or gender relations? Among the technologies we'll consider will be large objects like cathedrals, bridges, and airplanes; small ones like guns, clocks, and birth control pills; and networks like the electrical grid, the highway system, and the internet.
The course will meet on Tuesday evenings, 6:00 to 9:00, from September 2 to December 9 in Williams Hall room 219. It will be a discussion-based seminar, though I will punctuate it with occasional presentations. I will be available for office hours before class on Tuesdays from 5:00 to 6:00 in Claudia Cohen Hall room 332, and encourage you to come by and talk.
As a seminar, this course is primarily based on learning by discussing the required readings (listed below), so it’s essential that you read and think about them before each class meeting. Your engaged and insightful participation in discussions will account for 25% of your grade for the course.
The other assignments consist of three short papers, of approximately five pages each. I’ll provide more detailed prompts, but in short the first paper should present an argument about whether and how a particular technology “has politics,” the second should describe and analyze your observation of people using technology, and the third should present a brief history of a technology of your choice. You will have an opportunity to submit a draft, get my feedback, and revise your paper before I grade it. Each paper will account for 25% of your grade for the course.
The following four books, which we’ll be reading cover-to-cover or nearly so, are available for sale at the Penn Book Center and for borrowing at Van Pelt Library’s Rosengarten Reserve Room. Medieval Technology and Social Change is also available online, and other readings will be available through links below.
- Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962).
- Thomas J. Misa, Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present, second edition (2011, revised from 2004 original).
- Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (1983).
- David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007).
September 2: Introduction
September 9: Technologies of Feudalism
September 16: Roots of Capitalism
September 23: Print Culture
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), chapters 1, 16, and 18.
- Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, second edition (2005, abridged from The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 1979), introduction and chapters 2 and 3.
- Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, second edition (1986, revised from 1979 original), pages 43–53.
- Draft due on the politics of a technology.
September 30: The Industrialization of Manufacturing
- Misa, Leonardo to the Internet, chapter 3.
- Walter Licht, Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century (1995), introduction and chapters 2 and 3.
- Judith A. McGaw, “Gender and Papermaking” (1998, abridged from Most Wonderful Machine: Mechanization and Social Change in Berkshire Paper Making, 1801–1885, 1987).
October 7: The Industrialization of Time and Space
- Misa, Leonardo to the Internet, chapter 4.
- Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (1986), chapters 1–6.
- Paper due on the politics of a technology.
October 14: The Industrialization of Housework
- Cowan, More Work for Mother, chapters 1–5.
October 21: Technological Systems
October 28: Modern Cities
November 4: Modern Media
- Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1999, translated from 1986 German original), pages 1–37.
- Susan J. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899–1922 (1987), introduction and chapter 6.
- Claude S. Fischer, America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 (1992), chapters 2 and 3.
- Paper due on observing technology in use.
November 11: Alternative Modernities
- Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 5.
- Paul R. Josephson, Would Trotsky Wear a Bluetooth? Technological Utopianism under Socialism, 1917–1989 (2010), introduction and chapter 1.
November 18: The Industrialization of Violence
November 25: No class
December 2: Globalization
- Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, chapters 3, 4, 8 and conclusion.
- Carroll Pursell, The Machine in America: A Social History of Technology, second edition (2007, revised from 1994 original), chapter 13.
- Misa, Leonardo to the Internet, chapter 8.
December 9: Technological Systems Revisited