DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
History 398 - Fall 1996
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
"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 Harpers Ferry Armory, 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 Sherry Turkle in The Second Self and by the
lectures on programming and software engineering?
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 Sherry Turkle's The Second Self?
Be sure to use specific examples taken from both books and from the lectures.
Although we have not dealt directly with the history of management, we have
repeatedly touched on the subject throughout our study of the formation of
industrial and "post-industrial" society. Using specific episodes and
examples from the readings and the lectures, trace the evolving role of the
manager in the systems of modern technology.
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?
The essay is due by 3:00 PM, 20 January 1996,
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.