(same as HISTORY 292)
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Prof. D. deB. Beaver Bronfman 117; ext. 2239 Office Hours: call or drop in
Aims and Methods
The purpose of this seminar is to acquire an understanding of the nature, development, role, and significance of technology as a dynamic element in human society. In other words, we will be studying the social history of technology, a vast subject area, both in time, and in conceptual approaches. To geve us a path through this area, we will use a few "texts" to provide focus, continuity, and a point of departure for looking at the subject in different ways.
For example, at a very basic level, one can approach the history of technology either as a study in the humanities, illuminating human nature, or as one in the social sciences, yielding causal relations and predictive power. In fact, we will want to try the social sciences viewpoint in considering technology assessment, but, at the same time, our focus on the "unexpected" consequences of technology will involve us in a study of human nature.
In recent years historians
of technology have stressed ideology, complexity, and system as important
factors in the development of technology and in the characterization
of its nature. They have also broadened their concerns to provide
context from the point of view of the environment, of "consumers," and
of women. These and similar factors are significant for understanding
and reconstructing the technological past. They are also important
for analysing and evaluating what are taken to be the salient features
of the interrelationships of technology and society.
Class discussion (30% of
The purpose of the term
project is to study specific areas of personal interest, and to apply
newly acquired knowledge critically where appropriate, while following
a method and narrative discipline relatively unusual for an academic
exercise. Conventional history of technology is rather linear straightforward
narrative, chronological, and causally relatively simple. Such histories
oversimplify the complex interrelations of humans and technologies,
which form a rich and interwoven historical tapestry. It is extraordinarily
difficult to try to write history unconventionally, but the attempt
to do so is well worth the effort it takes to acquire a novel comparative
George Basalla's The Evolution
of Technology presents an unusual and provocative theory of technology:
an evolutionary model for understanding technology's history and development.
Students are to read Basalla's book and write a critical evaluation
of it. Papers (6-10 pp) should be handed in by Thursday, Oct. 31.
SHOT (Society for the History of Technology) publishes a journal, Technology and Culture, that contains many excellent articles covering a variety of topics. One issue each year contains a bibliographical update.
The list above may prove useful in forming ideas about how to start your Connections episode, and what events you might like to include in it. As you move to refine and expand the structure and character of your episode, you will find there are many fine and interesting books on more specific topics, such as on industry (electrical, chemical, automotive, computer), on engineering, on categories (power, communications, transport, military, textiles, metallurgy, materials, domestic technologies), etc.
If you start early enough, you may be able to identify useful articles you would like to have, which, if not held at Williams, could be ordered on inter-library loan. If you haven't ordered such articles before Fall Reading Period, however, you can't count on their arriving in time for your presentation.
Under the Resources section of the History of Science website are helpful materials for the history of technology, including some useful links to sources and other reputable links. There are many other potentially useful Internet sites which may help you, but beware the time sink factor.