Students are required to read the assigned materials in the following table before each class session. Most assigned readings are from the course textbooks:
Cowan, Ruth Schwarz. A Social History of American Technology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780195046052.
Smith, Merritt Roe, and Gregory Clancey, eds. Major Problems in the History of American Technology. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. ISBN: 9780669354720.
Students must also read a book selected from a list of acceptable titles, and write a review as described in the assignments section.
- List of acceptable books for review ( PDF)
For students who are not familiar with American history and need to familiarize themselves with the subject, a helpful introduction is: Maier, Pauline, et al. Inventing America: A History of the United States. 2nd ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005. ISBN: 9780393926750.
Films viewed in many class sessions are also listed in the table.
- Tips on how to evaluate films, from the 1999 version of this course (
(Note: film review essays are no longer assigned for the course.)
|Lec #||Topics||READINGS||FILM VIEWING|
|1||Introduction||A Man, A Plan, A Canal - Panama|
|2||What is Technology?||
Smith and Clancey. pp. xiii-xv (preface) and 2-15 (Marx, Winner, and MacKenzie essays.)
Cowan. pp. 1-4 and 201-18.
|3||Technologies of Colonization and Conquest||
Cowan. pp. 5-27.
Smith and Clancey. pp. 26-60.
|4||Crafts and Craftsmanship in Early America||Cowan. pp. 28-65.||The Gunsmith of Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 59 min. 1969.|
Paul Revere: Technologist?
Guest Speaker: Prof. Rob Martello (Olin College)
|6||Politics and Early American Industrialization||
Smith and Clancey. pp. 103-42.
Cowan. pp. 67-91.
|7||The Role of the State in Early American Industry|
|8||Social and Political Implications of the New Technology||Smith and Clancey. pp. 144-89.|
The Transportation and Communications Revolution
First Reading Quiz
Cowan. pp. 93-118.
Smith and Clancey. pp. 191-232.
|10||Art and Industrialization||
Cowan. pp. 208-18.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “ The Celestial Railroad.” (Download “The Celestial Railroad,” contained in a version of the text Mosses from an Old Manse and Other Stories, from Project Gutenberg.)
Notes on “The Celestial Railroad.” ( PDF)
|11||The Emerging Culture of Engineering in America||
Cowan. pp. 119-47.
Smith, Merritt Roe. “Becoming Engineers in Early Industrial America.” Working Paper 13, Program in Science, Technology and Society_,_ MIT, 1990.
|The Iron Road. 59 min.|
|12||Technology in the Civil War Era||
Cowan. pp. 149-99.
Smith and Clancey. pp. 234-55.
|13||Technology in the Civil War Era (cont.)||Foley, Brendan. “Naval Roots of American Mechanical Engineering.” Draft of thesis/paper in production.||Brooklyn Bridge. 58 min.|
|14||Human Machines? Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management||Smith and Clancey. pp. 267-311.||Clockwork. Produced and directed by Eric Breitbart. 28 min. 1982.|
|15||Automobility and Mass Production||
Cowan. pp. 221-48.
Smith and Clancey. pp. 312-54.
|16||Second Reading Quiz|
|17||Mass Production||Chaplin, Charles. Modern Times. 1936.|
Hobbyist Worlds and Technological Enthusiasm in Modern America
Guest Speaker: Kieran Downes (MIT)
Smith and Clancey. pp. 355-82 and 510-15.
Cowan. pp. 273-92.
Aeronautics and the Systems Approach
Guest Speaker: Dr. Deborah Douglas (MIT Museum)
|Cowan. pp. 249-56.|
|20||Technology and Art at the Apex of the Machine Age||Cowan. pp. 213-18.|
World War II: A Technological Turning Point?
Guest Speaker: Dr. Brendan Foley (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute)
|Cowan. pp. 256-70 and 310-18.||Clip from Twelve O’Clock High. Scene 13 - Strategic Bombing Campaign aerial combat footage - approx. 10 min.|
|22||World War II: A Technological Turning Point? (cont.)||The Day After Trinity|
|23||A New World: Technology in Cold War America||
Smith and Clancey. pp. 427-69.
Cowan. pp. 292-99.
Noble, David F. “Social Choice in Machine Design.” In Case Studies on the Labor Process. Edited by A. Zimbalist. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press, 1981. ISBN: 9780853455196.
|Automation. CBS documentary with Edward R. Murrow. c. 40 min. 1957.|
Computers and Control: The Apollo Program
Guest Speaker: Sandy Brown (MIT)
Smith and Clancey. pp. 471-96 and 516-18.
Cowan. pp. 292-99.
|25||Nature’s Revenge: Technology and the Environment||Smith and Clancey. pp. 383-426.||Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Produced for PBS’s The American Experience, 1993.|
The Brave New World of Biotechnology
Guest Speaker: Victor McElheny (MIT Knight Fellows Program)
|Cowan. pp. 301-26.|