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 ( PDF)
    (Note: film review essays are no longer assigned for the course.)

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.
5 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.  
9 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.
18 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.

19 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.  
21 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.
24 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.
26 The Brave New World of Biotechnology

Guest Speaker: Victor McElheny (MIT Knight Fellows Program)

Cowan. pp. 301-26.  

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

notes Lecture Notes