STS.340J | Fall 2006 | Graduate

Introduction to the History of Technology


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

How does technology evolve over time? This course addresses this question by concentrating each week on a particular historical subject in the history of technology, and reading one or several important historical works. We shall try to build up a coherent narrative of technology and culture in the 19th and 20th centuries, though not necessarily in chronological order. The goal is to understand how authors have approached the subject of technology, and what questions and new approaches are on the table for the future.

For each class, read and write with the following questions in mind:

  • Who is the historian?
  • What is his/her background (education, training, teachers, schools, etc.)?
  • What other work has the author done?
  • What is the book arguing against?
  • What is the book’s thesis/argument?
  • What evidence does the author use to support the argument?
  • What is the relationship between narrative and analysis in the book?
  • What is the significance of the work?


Three times during the term, each student will write an in-depth book review, covering the book assigned for that week as well as one additional book. On those weeks when you write a review, present your work, 10-15 minutes, and then ask questions for class discussion. The actual written review should be 1,000 - 1,500 words (3-4 double spaced pages), and should be handed in the week following the presentation (so you can incorporate comments from the discussion).

The book reviews should each focus on one of the following themes: historiography, sources, argument. Each student, then, should write one review on each of these themes during the term (though in any order, and applied to whichever books the student chooses). We will discuss these more early in the term.

Grading Policy

You will be graded on: Attendance, class preparation and participation, organization, clarity and liveliness of presentation and writing. There is no final paper.


For each class session, a book is assigned as required reading for all students, and several other books are listed for weekly review papers and presentations.

This is a doctoral-level seminar, so it is expected that students will borrow, purchase, or order the materials they need to do their work.


1 Introduction: History and the Idea of Technology
2 Geography and Systems I: Manufacturing and Distribution
3 Geography and Systems II: Landscape and Technology
4 Manufacturing
5 Human and Machine I: War Machines
6 Human and Machine II: Modernist Cybernetics
7 Biography
8 Modernist Visions
9 Human and Machine IV: Gender, Sex and the Body
10 Technology and Representation I
11 Technology and Representation II: Computing
12 In-class Film Viewing: Architecture of Doom
13 Wrap-up Discussion

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples