History 398 - Spring 2001

Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspectives

Third Essay - Final Exercise

Write an essay of about 2000 words on ONE of the following questions. Your answer should reflect your knowledge of the readings and lectures through the choice of appropriate examples to document and illustrate your argument. The essay is due by 3:00 PM, 21 May, in your preceptor's box in the History Office, 129 Dickinson Hall. Extensions may be granted only by an appropriate Dean or Director of Studies.


In "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", Langdon Winner proposes several models of the ways in which technologies shape or reflect the politics of their societies.  How do those models help to analyze the politics of the automobile in Helen and Robert Lynds's Middletown and the politics of the computer in Albert Borgmann's Holding On to Reality?  Be sure to use specific examples taken from both books.


The modern consumer society took definitive shape when in the later 19th century systems of mass production and mass consumption began to offer customers such "consumer durables" as sewing machines, typewriters, bicycles, and automobiles.  One may say that technology itself then became a commodity, as machines of production became vehicles of leisure.   In light of that historical development, discuss how information has become a commodity, objectified in that most recent of consumer durables, the personal computer.   How has information fit into systems of mass production and mass distribution, both as technological component and as end product? In addition to specific examples taken from the readings, lectures, and precept discussions, your answer should take into account the themes explored by Albert Borgmann in Holding On to Reality.


Karl Marx's analysis of industrial society singles out three factors of production: labor, land, and capital. Yet, in the twentieth century industrial development has increasingly depended on management, which one may perhaps consider a fourth factor of production, at least equally as important as the others. Discuss the emergence and development of management with specific reference to Charles Babbage, Frederick W. Taylor and Henry Ford. In what ways and to what effect has that history been reflected in recent efforts to manage the production of large-scale software systems?


"The unifying characteristic of the factories of the American system was the pervasiveness of technologically defined social relations.  Specialized machinery and sophisticated machine processes were the basis of the American system; they were likewise the basis of the social system that developed within such plants.  They decisively affected the character of the work and, less often, the physical setting in which the work was undertaken." (Daniel Nelson, "The American System and the American Worker")
Discuss Nelson's proposition with respect to the 19th-century textile mill, Ford's Highland Park Plant, and Data General's Westborough facility.  Looking beyond the production of computers themselves to their use as means both of production and of recreation,  what light does Nelson shed on some of the issues raised by Albert Borgmann in Holding On to Reality?


"This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations."