STS.007 | Fall 2010 | Undergraduate

Technology in History


Writing assignments consist of several brief “checkoff” pieces and four longer papers.

Checkoff Writing

SES #2 Checkoff

After a careful reading of Leo Marx, “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept,” write out a question you would like Prof. Marx to respond to when he joins our class. You will almost certainly come across a word, sentence, or passage that you have trouble understanding (this is a difficult essay), so in most cases you will be asking him to clarify the word, sentence, or passage. Some of you may wish to relate the reading to other things you have read or to other experiences you have had that make you think about the concept of *technology.*

Your question may be as short as one sentence, but in most cases you will need several sentences or more to pose the question with precision and clarity.

Turn in this assignment the night before so Prof. Marx and I can review your questions before class.

SES #4 Checkoff

Write a page on chapter 7 of The Clan of the Cave Bear that considers these questions:

  • What are the tools used by the people of the clan?
  • What are the skills they need to use the tools?
  • What are the social organizations they need to make the tools and skills effective?
  • Does your summary suggest any generalizations about “technology in history” in what is often called “prehistory”?

You should also be ready to discuss your reaction to this novel as an effort to put “flesh on the bones” of prehistory.

SES #7 Checkoff

Propose three possible topics for your third paper, on MIT history.

Paper Assignments

Paper 1: A Recent Discovery in “Prehistory”

Scientific research on prehistory (or “paleohistory,” a more accurate term) is regularly being published in the earth sciences (especially geology), genetics, physical anthropology, archaeology, and evolutionary biology, among other fields. The purpose of this assignment is to report on a recent scientific finding relating to paleohistory (for purposes of this assignment, defined as events involving hominids between 5 million and 15000 years BP).

If you are working from a report in secondary literature (a book or article intended for the general public), try to find the primary source also. If you are able to do this, you may want to comment on the completeness and precision of the popular account. (If you are not familiar with the specialized field, you may have difficulty interpreting the primary source, but give it a try.) In your own report, make sure it is clear when you are referring to the primary source and when you are referring to the secondary source. Use numbered endnotes or footnotes in standard format to present your sources.

You should use about a third (up to a half, but no more) of your paper to describe the essence of the finding. Use direct quotes when this helps convey information with precision and clarity; use paraphrases to convey more general ideas. In either case, cite source/s.

The rest of your paper (half to two-thirds) should interpret the significance of this finding or set of findings for current understanding of paleohistory. Does it shed light on some of the large questions or puzzles about very early human history? If so, what are they? Do you agree with the interpretation of the finding that is presented in the account(s) that you have read? What questions or problems are raised by the finding that can be answered by further scientific research? What questions or problems are raised that are not likely to be, or are inherently incapable of being, answered by further scientific research? You can refer to the Christian text or other reading for the class if you wish. You can also refer to other sources outside of this class if they are relevant.

Your account should be 3 ½ - 4 ½ pages long (400-700 words). If it is not too long, attach a copy of the primary or secondary source of information (or both, if you have both) that you are describing and analyzing. Give your paper a title and date as well as putting your name and assignment number on it.

Paper 2: Environmental Change as Part of History

In this paper, you should explore two aspects of a current environmental challenge:

  • How it is an envirotechnical challenge; that is, how it demonstrates the inseparability of human activities and the non-human physical world;
  • How responding—or not responding—to this challenge could affect human history in its more familiar manifestations (such as economic, social, political, cultural, and/or military history).

The second part of your paper will be speculative, but your speculations should be grounded in evidence you present in the first part of the paper, and also in historical analogies we discuss in class.

If you want to do another topic on “envirotech in history,” that is acceptable—but you need to write a brief proposal and get my approval first.

As with all your papers in this class, you should write 3-5 pages for this draft. If you decide to make this your “official” revision paper, you will want to expand it. Remember that you need at least 20 pages of writing (three papers plus one “official” revised paper) by the end of the term.

Also remember that you can revise any paper at least once, and possibly more times in special cases. Let our class writing advisor and me know if you plan to do this and also let us know when you turn it in. Normally you have two weeks (no more) from the time you get the paper back to prepare and submit a revision. Only the grade of the revision counts towards your grade.

Paper 3: MIT and You and History

One dimension of this class is to understand how MIT as an institution fits into the story of “technology in history.” This understanding is especially relevant since MIT will be celebrating its 150th anniversary during Spring 2011.

Your third paper will be on some aspect of MIT history that interests you. Since this paper, like all your first drafts, is 4-5 pp. long, you will not have time for a detailed research project. What you can do in this relatively brief paper is to dig into some topic that intrigues you about MIT and tell your readers how this topic helps you understand MIT as one of the first institutions in the world to proclaim itself an “institute of technology.” Think of your classmates as your primary readers for this assignment.

There are many possibilities for topics:

  • Individuals
  • Groups (categorized by research fields, or by ethnicity, or gender, or nationality, etc. etc.)
  • Research fields
  • Disciplines
  • Student life/living/activities/athletics
  • Institute role in local, regional, national, international history
  • Non-faculty staff/employees
  • Specific events
  • Educational programs and methods
  • Community relations
  • Conflicts on campus
  • Corporate governance

Many many more are possible. For most topics, you should include some material from the first 50 years of MIT history; in other words, try to enlarge your historical vision so you are not dealing only with late 20th century MIT. For some topics (e.g. individuals) this might mean a brief look at the larger context, but make the effort to extend your research back in MIT’s history.

Your trip to the MIT Archives during Class 7 should help you define a topic and may help you determine how to research it. We will also visit the MIT Museum shortly before the paper is due: this may also help you with your research. You should visit the Museum on your own earlier in the term if you have reason to think it will be helpful to your research.

Paper 4: Responses to Hersey’s Hiroshima (or other topic w/ permission)

Your final paper for the class can be a response to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, or another topic of personal choice that we’ve discussed and agreed will qualify for this assignment.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2010
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments