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 argument.


"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.