December 3, 2016
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Post your comments/questions about our reading from Geoffrey Bennett, The Story of Popular Photography, 128-153; Nye, 133-137; Pursell, 144-168
I found the competition of the camera and photography in the Bennett reading interesting because it was competition that drove the production for a better camera. Kodak started out by trying to make the camera so simple that anyone could use it at the push of a button. Their marketing plan quickly fell through with the introduction of new companies that developed better cameras. Kodak quickly realized that having just a simple camera was no longer going to cut. I believe Dr. McClurken touched on the subject on Tuesday that when a company invest into its own product to make it better they tend to be the ones that survive. Without the introduction of competition we may still be using crappy cameras with poor resolution or at least not using the top dollar cameras we use today. It is also interesting to note that cameras seem to come in periods, sometimes people want easier used cameras, and then other times we see a strive for higher quality imaging. Today I think we see there is a drive for both, we want simpler cameras in our phones, but when it comes to the actual cameras themselves we want the best. It is going to be interesting what the camera of tomorrow is going to be like. Do you think we will be seeing handheld 3D cameras for the mainstream market?
I was surprised by Nye’s article. I did not know that people thought the street car would be so important, or that city planners would so vastly underestimate the impact of the automobile. I found it surprising that people thought the street car would be used more widely for commuting and transportation than the automobile, and that city infrastructure
was built around a means of transportation that would ultimately die out.
I liked Nye’s reading this week. Although it was brief I still think it hit on a few good points. The impact of the streetcar can not be overlooked. Much like he train, it gave the public a mass means of transportation. This would lead to urban culture moving into the rural areas of America. It gave the rural people a chance to visit city life, brought new consumer goods, a new means of rapid transportation, and brought new forms of entertainment to small towns. People even went as far as segregating the street cars too, which I found interesting yet not very surprising given the time period.
I think the Bennett article clearly demonstrates the need for reliable photographer, not just in American but though out the world. Photogrpaher started out small, but over time it grew to monster. The influence of Phtohraphy is one that is easily look over, but it s an important part of culture as well as identity. Phones today have cell phones in them, it is quite to image a little over a hundred years ago we were using such complicated technology, that now resides all phones todayl. the photograph is a compelling reminder that rome was buildt in a day, and neither is the technology we use in our day to day lives .
I liked the Nye reading a lot because I had no idea about the streetcar and that people thought it would be so important when if was first implemented in cities. I wonder why the city planners thought that the streetcar would be a main source of travel in cities. Also after the reading I was wondering how city planners could have been so wrong about the automobile because today it is almost a necessity.
I found the Bennett reading to be very insightful. Even today cameras are always in the process of improving. Everyone wants the better camera or the better camera on a phone because of how clear and bright it is. The attitude of Kodak in Bennett’s piece also describes this constant need for change even when it first came about. It also reflected the discussion we had on Tuesday about how privacy was cheapened and still continues today. I was reminded of the controversy that sparked recently about Princess Kate and how she was exposed topless on camera while at a private villa on a trip with her husband. The photographer was so far away and was still able to get that shot which shows the great advancement cameras have had these past years but also is scary in a way to think that a piece of technology can allow someone to do that.
In the Pursell reading I also enjoyed the piece of how engineering was so unappreciated yet it is one of the most important jobs needed for society, especially in America’s constantly growing society. Americans have always put so much emphasis on technology but never really appreciated the people behind it all.
I found the Nye reading interesting because it’s ironic to see that the ideas people had about transportation were completely inaccurate. Street cars had such fleeting popularity but the automobile has remained the dominant way of transportation which Nye notes that people did not think would happen. To me, the street car seems less practical than the automobile and would have never caught on but at the time, the street car seemed like the best option.
Pursell’s section on engineers was a bit odd. I found the use of poetry and a play to convey the importance of engineering unusual. He noted engineers as having poor social skills and being outside the norms of society. Either way, engineering is still a huge career in America.
I enjoyed Bennett’s article the best. Going off of our class lecture on Tuesday, it is interesting to see how early versions of photographs were taken and how each new innovation built upon previous ones. The discussion of color made me very curious because I had always assumed people were content with the first pictures being in black and white and didn’t try to add color to the picture. In a parallel to this article, I went to hear the keynote women’s history month speaker Camille Cooper on Tuesday night. A major portion of her talk discussed body image and how easily the media tinkers with pictures of women before publishing the photos. She talked about how airbrushing is a huge tool and often, they will take a celebrity’s head and place it on another head. Bennett’s article reminded me of Cooper’s talk which together show much photography has changed.
In the Pursell reading, I thought it was interesting to see an inside look at the culture of engineers. Its true that it is a subject which more often than not is ignored in history. To see that the went so far as to create a play to describe their career lives. In the Nye reading, it was also interesting to see the misconceptions the American people had about their modes of transportation. It is almost comical how they believed that automobiles would never become the standard mode of transportation when now, for ground travel, it is practically the only mode used aside from in big cities that have subway systems. Now streetcars are seen with nostalgia, and its hard to imagine a time when there was a shift away from them.
Prior to reading the Nye article, I would have assumed that the eventually disuse of the trolly was the result of the automobile. However, in reading I found that there were other factors, including the trolly itself. It shows that a form of technology and the business surrounding can be just at detrimental to its success as new technology can be.
Also, as someone who enjoys photography I found the reading from The Story Of Popular Photography really interesting. What I found fascinating is, as I was reading, I realized many of the “old” processes and cameras which one would assume would have been long since abandoned, have not been. For example hand coloring, darkroom developing, and the use of Japanese toy cameras are all still common practices. I think this has to do with nostalgia and a desire to have a more hands on approach to the art.
In Nye’s discussion of the streetcar/trolley, I was enlighten to the social implication of the streetcar. The streetcar was a mechanism for class divison in that it allowed for suburbanization, but it was also a mechanism for class intergration because anyone could ride the streetcar. I laughed at 1920s experts who believe that the streetcar would prevail even though the economy was going down and the price of a ride was impractical. I laughed even harder when they believe the individual car would not take off or cause congestion. Nye puts it well at the end of page 137, when he says the streetcar existance is full of contradictions, contradiction which I think make the history of this technology interesting.
I once read a book that talked about how the trolly systems were bought up by the car industry and then taken out, so the car would become a necessity. I am surprised to find this not mentioned in the article. GM, Firestone, Standard Oil and Phillips petroleum conspired to buy up all the trolleys systems and then set out to destroy them. In the end people went to jail, but they succeeded. He does not even elude to this in the article. Both my parents and grandparents said the trolleys were great.
There is only one engineer I can think of that everyone would know who he was and what he built., Gustave Eiffel. No one know about the engineer of the Panama Canal which was really one of the greatest engineering feats in history. This was done by John Frank Stevens. It is very true engineers are ignored and their work is not.
The most interesting part of of this week’s reading (in my opinion) was the Nye article on the replacement and downfall of the American streetcar. I found this story to be the most interesting, because it seems to me as though many people have a sort of nostalgic image when it comes to things such as the streetcar. Many also seem to think that it was entirely the car’s fault that the streetcar came into disuse. However, the Nye article pointed out the fact that the streetcar itself was to blame for some of the aspects of its own demise.
I thought that the Pursell article was interesting, because of the way we think of engineers in society today. I was kind of caught off guard when he mentioned that many of them were unqualified. They weren’t hired because they had formal qualifications, but rather because they had skills in the industry.
I really enjoyed the Pursell article on engineering. Some of my peers have already pointed out the fact that some engineers graduated with little or no qualifications. The part I enjoyed most about this section was the list of questions the potential employees got asked to access whether they were mentally fit for the job. I was a little caught off guard later on in the reading when Pursell discusses how the new employees had to find a mentor. The part that surprised me is when Pursell said they would choose a busy engineer over one with spare time, because busy engineers were more likely to take time out of their day for consultations. At first I was a little skeptical about this concept, but after reading on, the idea did make sense.
Not to copy what Caleb said, but what really fascinated me was the role that WWII had in the development of color photography. The government contracted Kodak to produce a color film that was easier to develop in the field for use in reconnaissance. However, my memories of learning about WWII consisted exclusively of black and white film. For many people this is how we picture WWII and how collective memory views the exploits of the “Greatest Generation.” An article in the New York Times published in 2003 highlights this notion. One of the profound effects of color photography is that it can have a deeper effect on people. The NYT article notes that the color really shows just how young some of the men were who fought in that war. It further enhanced the realism in a photograph or roll of film.
(Here’s the article I mentioned) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/12/arts/television-review-adding-an-extra-dimension-color-to-world-war-ii.html?src=pm
I found the Bennett article’s focus on color photography and easily developed color film interesting in that it put the innovation in historical perspective and attributed its success, in part, to World War II and the losses of other research laboratories in Europe caused by the war. The article also mentions how the government wanted efficient color photography for “reconaissance.” This causes me to wonder what other inventions were brought on, or expedited by warfare or more particularly World War II, as film is not something that we think of as something that was brought on or promoted by the government’s motives such as any products resulting from the space race. So what other inventions were the result of government desire or actions that we have yet to cover?
The Story of Popular Photography reading really showed some parallels between the telephone and the camera. The telephone was monopolized by the Bell Company during the years, in which a market for telephones was starting up, and Kodak monopolized the camera’s beginnings. The camera appears to have gone through the same “Eras” as the telephone: Monopoly, Competition, and Consolidation, although the reading stops at the Era of Competition. We seem the Era of Consolidation today with only a few well-known brands of cameras that are available at every electronics store or store that sells electronics.
I also really enjoyed this reading because now I know how complicated developing color film on your own is and that explains why we were only allowed to use black and white film in my high school photography class.
The one thing that really stood out to me, especially in light of our discussion yesterday on the development of the camera, was how the development of color film seemed to evolve somewhat slowly over its history. If we accept that color photography includes hand-tinting old daguerreotypes, then the concept of color photography stretches about 150 years up to the writing of Bennett’s article. The cameras themselves changed dozens of times, but the color prints were processed in similar styles over long periods of time, except for the period between the beginning of WWII and the end of the 1960s. The cameras themselves were what seemed to change the most, which I guess still holds true today, even after the advent of digital photography. It also made me pause when Bennett predicted that color film would be the dominant form of photography well into the 20th century, where I can look back in my lifetime and more or less watch the film camera die off; we used an old-school film camera into the 2000s and had trouble buying equipment and film for it towards the end. I also remember using my school’s digital camera in middle school which came with a huge floppy disk for a memory card and was a couple hundred dollars, while 10 years later, I have a camera in my backpack that is smaller than an index card and cost less than $100. It was interesting to look at the film cameras evolve and put it in context of what I remember
I like how the Nye article discusses how the automobile is an improvement on the public transportation system previously occupied by the subway and the train. It offers the alternative of private transportation which is quicker and easier in some cases.
Engineering is one of the most important professions in American history. The cultural impact it had can still be felt today, Pursell’s article interested me because she discussed the education levels of some engineers who had did some of the work and how they were not educated at all in some cases. The were hired because they had skills.
I found the Geoffrey Bennett article on popular photography to be very helpful in explaining and emphasizing some of the things we discussed about photography in Tuesday’s lecture. The article clearly explained the progess of cameras, color photography, and film from the early days of hand brushing the color onto photographs to the Instamatic cameras. I also enjoyed this article because it really showed how dedicated Kodak was in continually improving their products. They did not get stuck in the old ways, but instead were always looking forward to the next new thing.
The Pursell article about engineering was also interesting because it talked about the number of unqualified or unprepared engineers that were graduating from engineering schools and expecting fabulous high-paying jobs. This made me wonder what measures the government implemented in the future to make sure that the students who were graduating from these schools were qualified enough to work in the field of engineering?
Finally, I enjoyed the Nye article on the swift downfall of the streetcar in American cities. This article was interesting to be because I had always thought that it was just the invention and wide-spread adoption of cars and buses that killed the streetcar/trolley, but I after reading this article I realized that the streetcar/trolley bus played a large part in its own demise through fare issues, overextended lines, and declining investments.
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