History 398 - Fall 2004

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, 17 January, 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.  Be sure you sign the correct pledge as given below. Your signature affixed to this pledge attests that you have read and understand the provisions set forth in Academic Integrity at Princeton.  


(Part A) Both of the pictured artifacts may be said to embody "architectures" in the sense used by Lessig in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. What technological systems developed in the 19th century to make it possible for  Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York  profitably to provide insurance to masses of industrial workers? How are those systems reflected both in the architecture of  the company's headquarters pictured on the left and in the "architecture" behind the flyer pictured on the right?  Support your claims with references to the lectures and  assigned texts.

(Part B) Consider as artifacts now the digitized images which make up this question and which you are accessing via Princeton's server with your personal computer.  Again, what architectures are involved, and how is your experience contingent upon them? Again, support your claims with specific references to the lectures and assigned texts.

( Olivier Zunz, Making America Corporate: 1870-1920, plate 8; click on picture to enlarge)


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, and how does an emphasis on information alter our understanding of those systems? What light does Lawrence Lessig shed on the question in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace?


In "What Declan Doesn't Get," the final chapter of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig asks why 'Net libertarians like Declan McCullagh "are proud to leave things to the invisible hand." Indeed, Lessig, who calls for limited governance of cyberspace, posits that, contrary to libertarians' belief that freedom will flourish only in an unregulated cyberspace, "[t]he invisible hand, through commerce, is constructing an architecture that perfects control--an architecture that makes possible highly efficient regulation."

One could argue that both McCullagh (libertarian) and Lessig (interventionist/regulator) want to manipulate a technological system in such a way that it maximizes  liberty for the greatest number of people. The perspective of a historian of technology might help. Counsel each side of the internet regulation debate using themes and examples from Stephen Meyer's The Five Dollar Day, the Lynds' Middletown, and Langdon Winner's "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" Keep in mind that "architecture" is only one of four modes of regulation discussed by Lessig.


Ruth Schwartz Cowan observes in A Social History of American Technology (p. 150) that "Many Americans learned what it means to become embedded in a set of technological systems in the years between 1870 and 1920." Using course readings and lecture notes, discuss what Cowan means by her statement and how the notion of technological systems might be applied prior to 1870. Is the term "embedded" also an appropriate characterization of the relationships of Europeans and Americans with technology before 1870? What alternate characterizations might be useful? What help does Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace offer in thinking about this question?


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