STS.049J | Spring 2004 | Undergraduate

Technology and Gender in American History


Paper Assignments

Students will write two short (5 page) papers and one longer (10-12 page) paper. All the papers will explore a single topic from different methodological points of view, culminating in a final research paper on the history of the technology in a gendered framework. For the purposes of this assignment students are urged to select a consumer item for their topic, although any gendered systems (e.g. the military) that is promoted and sold through advertising would work.

Paper 1

Students should locate advertisements promoting the technology in the popular and trade press. A good set of materials would include at least five ads and no more than ten, ideally drawn from a variety of sources. Using our class readings and discussions so far, students should analyze the ads for the ways in which they use gendered images, expectations, and assumptions to appeal to certain consumers. Some questions students might consider include:

  • What, besides the product, is being “sold” in this ad?
  • To whom is the ad directed?
  • What does the ad suggest about what “real” men and “real” women are like?
  • What are the assumptions about American culture behind the ad?

Note that this paper is not a history of the technology in question, but rather an exploratory analysis of the way in which this technology is situated in social history.

Paper 2

This assignment is a book review. By this time in the term, students should have conducted a bibliographic search for their final paper. In consultation with the professor, students should select one of the historical treatments of the topic and write a review of the book. Students new to book reviewing should consult the journals Technology and Culture, Journal of American History, or Signs to see models of book review format and technique.

In the review, students should briefly walk the reader through the book by explaining what topics and arguments the author explores from the beginning to the end. This is primarily descriptive. Following this, students should briefly evaluate the book, asking one or more of the following questions:

  • What is the author’s main argument? Can you detect what the “bee in her bonnet” is that led her to write this book? Who or what is the author writing against?
  • Is the author’s main point or argument persuasive?
  • Does the author’s source material (in the footnotes) support the argument, or would some other sort of material have been better as evidence?
  • What did you think was the most successful, and the least successful, parts of the book? Why?
  • How could the book have been stronger?

Paper 3

This is a standard historical research paper. Using mostly primary source materials (e.g., newspapers, magazines, trade journals, archival materials, reports, etc.), students should either provide a narrative story of the development or demise of a technology, or should provide a more theoretical analysis of changing uses and understandings of both gender and technology in the technology’s history. With the insights into the topic gleaned from papers one and two, students should be able to explore the primary materials very closely to develop an argument about how gender and technology have been intertwined in American history.