February 6, 2023



Spring 2013               TR, 12:30-1:45 PM

http://2013hist325.umwblogs.org/ —Course management site (syllabus, assignments, readings)

http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/ — Course project site


Jeffrey McClurken

E-mail:  jmcclurk@umw.edu

Office Hours:  MW, 9:00-11; TR, 1:50-2:30, or by appt

Twitter (@wheresthechair), Facebook


Course Description

This course will examine the development of American technology, culture and history by studying the creation, context, and impact of about twenty pieces, or artifacts, of American technology, ranging from the axe to the railroad to the light bulb to the electric washer to the personal computer. Special emphasis will be placed on the evolution and transfer of technology; government and business involvement; technology as a product of American culture and society; technology as changing American culture & society; evaluating how culture and society deal with new technology through resistance, adaptation, and changes in work habits and lifestyles.


Departmental Course Goals and Objectives

This course will help students build upon a range of skills, including the ability to make discipline-specific oral presentations to groups; the ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation; and the ability to read critically primary sources and modern authorities.  As a course that counts for the Human Experience and Society General Education requirement, this course also has the following skill objectives: students will be able to explain human and social experiences and activities from multiple perspectives; students will be able to draw appropriate conclusions based on evidence; students will be able to transfer knowledge and skills learned to a novel situation.  This course counts in the History and American Studies majors.


Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend all lectures, read all assigned texts, participate in class, create a research proposal, prepare a research-based online project and a documentary short on an artifact of technology (and present it to the class), and take a midterm and a final examination. Late assignments will be severely penalized, or, after 24 hours, not accepted for credit. [All assignments must be completed to pass the class, however.]



Students are expected to attend all weekly class discussions (on Thursdays) having read the material and having prepared one question or comment based on that reading to be turned in at the start of class. The question or comment should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading. [Since part of the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]  Class participation includes contributing weekly questions/comments and actively participating in class discussions.


Research-Based Blog Project & Film

Each group of 3-4 students will create an online research-based project and a short (5-10 minutes) documentary-style video about the history of an artifact of American technology. [Topics cannot duplicate those of other groups, cannot duplicate those of previous HIST 325 projects at http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/ (unless you can make the case that they will improve on those projects in some substantive way), and cannot overlap with those covered in class lectures.]  Each group’s digital project, created in UMWBlogs, and video, posted with their digital project, will be linked to the class project site and will explain the background and invention or adoption of the piece of technology, as well as examining its impact on American society and culture. Advance deadlines have been set for topic approval, proposal with bibliography, project outlines/storyboards, the research-based digital project, and the documentary, as well as a chance to revise one of the projects; be sure to meet these deadlines. See http://2013hist325.umwblogs.org/project/ for more details about the projects.  Students will receive a group grade and an individual grade for the research-based site and for the documentary.

The Research Proposal & Project Outlines

The proposal and outlines are intended to get you started on your research project and documentary planning. First, the blogged research proposal (with annotated bibliography) due February 14 is also intended, like most proposals, to prove to me that you will have enough scholarly material to complete the larger research-based site and documentary film. Second, the project outlines due March 14 are intended to get you started on thinking about how that material will fit together on the site and in the documentary.  The research proposal with bibliography and the outlines for the site and documentary are collectively worth 5% of your final grade. See http://2013hist325.umwblogs.org/project/proposal-assignment/ for more details.



Final grades will be determined based on class participation (10%), the research proposal and project outlines (5%), performance on the research-based project site and documentary (20% each) and a presentation to the class on it (5%), and on the midterm and final exams (20% each). [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D+ or below on work completed at that time.]


Grading Scale

A Unusual Excellence 93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
B Distinctly Above Average 87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
C Average Quality 77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
D Below Average Quality 67-69=D+; 60-66=D
F Failure, No Credit 0-59=F




The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and need accommodations, I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability. The office’s phone number is 540-654-1266 and they can be found at http://academics.umw.edu/disability/.


Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience. You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will almost certainly fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council, so do not do it. On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours). If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.


Required Texts

Nye, David. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology.

Pursell, Caroll, ed. American Technology.

Assorted additional readings available online.



Class Schedule and Reading Assignments


Jan. 15    — Introduction

Jan. 17    — The Evolution of Technology

Discussion of reading   – What is “technology”? What is the “history of technology”?

—    Pursell, 1-10; http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/09/19/magazine/classroom-technology.html

—   Complete group selection form (see link on course site)


Jan. 22    — Colonial America: The Axe & America’s Wooden Age

Jan. 24    — Groups brainstorm ideas for sites/documentaries

Online discussion of reading

—    Pursell, 11-38; Smith and Clancey, 103-130.


By Tuesday, January 29, turn in technology research topics for approval via email (Note: you are encouraged to submit your ideas earlier.)


Jan. 29    — Eli Whitney, Catherine Green and the Cotton Gin: Textiles & Industrialization in America

Jan. 31    — John Hall & the American System: The Hall Rifle & Interchangeable Manufacturing

In-class WordPress/Video session – Bring your laptop to class

Discussion of reading

Pursell, 39-71; Smith and Clancey, 153-172.                   


Create a blog for the group at umwblogs.org with a logical name and URL; add your URL to the course site (http://2013hist325.umwblogs.org/) using the Add Link sidebar, & post test blog entry with a relevant picture (& citation) by class time on Tuesday, Feb. 5


Feb. 5     — Railroads & the Transportation Revolution

Feb. 7     — The Bessemer Steel Process: A Tale of Two Inventors & One Businessman

Discussion of reading

Pursell, 73-91, 102-105; Susan Danly, The Railroad in American Art, 1-50.


Project proposal with annotated bibliography posted to your blog by the beginning of class, Thursday, February 14.


Feb. 12   — McCormick’s Reaper & the Mechanization of American Agriculture

Feb. 14   — The Watch, Railroad Time, & Scientific Management

Discussion of reading  

—    Smith and Clancey, 151-152, 221-232, 267-289


Feb. 19   — Edison’s Electric Light:  The Light Bulb & the Birth of the Electrical System

Feb. 21   — The Brooklyn Bridge & American Urbanization

—    Discussion of reading  – LOTS OF READING, START EARLY

                        — Nye, 29-132, 138-142, 182-184, 287-291, 304-307, 314-317, 322-338


Feb. 26   — The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology

     Feb. 28   — MIDTERM – BRING BLUE BOOK(S)


SPRING BREAK! – Try not to freeze…


Skeleton outline, list of media, and key image (with citation) for the research site & storyboards/outline for the documentary due by the beginning of class, Thursday, March 14, posted to your project blog.  [Submit mid-semester group evaluation.]


Mar. 12   — Mass Production of Food & the Mechanization of Food Processing

     Mar. 14   — “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Need . . . a Dozen Eggs”:  Americans & the Telephone

—    Workshop on video filming/editing

—    Discussion of reading

Pursell, 169-188, 253-290



Mar. 19   — Image & Reality:  George Eastman & the Kodak Camera

Mar. 21   — Henry Ford & the Mass-Produced Model T

—    Discussion of reading

                             — Geoffrey Bennett, The Story of Popular Photography, 128-153; Nye, 133-137; Pursell, 144-168


Complete research site done by the beginning of class, Thursday, March 28

[Don’t make any changes to your Project Blog from class start on March 28 until I give you my evaluation so that I have a chance to comment on a stable site.]



Mar. 26  — The Manhattan Project:  The Development of America’s Atom Bomb

Mar. 28  — Movie:  Atomic Café

—    Discussion of reading

                             — Pursell, 208-252; “1945-1998,” http://www.ctbto.org/specials/1945-1998-by-isao-hashimoto/


Apr. 2     — Plastic & American Culture

—    Final Presentation schedule to be determined by lottery at April 2 class meeting.

Apr. 4     — Radio & Mass Culture

Discussion of reading

Smith and Clancey, 355-364; Ruth Cowan, A Social History of American Technology, 201-219.


Documentary due by start of class, Tuesday, April 9.


April 9    — “More Work for Mother”:  The Electric Washer & Industrializing the Household

April 11  — A Man on the Moon:  The Space Race & America’s Apollo Program

—    Discussion of reading

—    Nye, 238-86; Pursell, 116-143.


Apr. 16   — “Accidental Empires”:  The Rise of the Personal Computer

Apr. 18   — The Rise of the Internet

               — Work on revising the website project or the documentary

Online discussion of reading

—    Pursell, 324-348; “A Global Graveyard,” http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/08/04/magazine/20100815-dump.html.


Revised site/documentary due by the beginning of class with narrative of changes, Tuesday, April 23.



Apr. 23   — The “World Wide” Web?

Discussion and presentation of projects

     Apr. 25   — Discussion and presentation of projects



EXAM – Tuesday, April 30, Noon-2:30 p.m.

— Bring Blue Book(s)