Spring 2015
TR, 11-12:15  — Course management site (syllabus, assignments, readings)

Jeffrey McClurken
Office:  Monroe 219/ITCC 419
E-mail:  jmcclurk (at) umw (dot) edu
Office Phone:  540-654-1475
Office Hours:  WF, 9-11; TR, 10-11 (please make appt.)
Twitter (@jmcclurken), Facebook


Course Description

This course will examine the development of American technology, culture and history by studying the creation, context, and impact of about twenty pieces, or artifacts, of American technology, ranging from the axe to the railroad to the light bulb to the electric washer to the personal computer. Special emphasis will be placed on the evolution and transfer of technology; government and business involvement; technology as a product of American culture and society; technology as changing American culture & society; evaluating how culture and society deal with new technology through resistance, adaptation, and changes in work habits and lifestyles.


Departmental Course Goals and Objectives

This course will help students build upon a range of skills, including the ability to make discipline-specific oral presentations to groups; the ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation; and the ability to read critically primary sources and modern authorities.  As a course that counts for the Human Experience and Society General Education requirement, this course also has the following skill objectives: students will be able to explain human and social experiences and activities from multiple perspectives; students will be able to draw appropriate conclusions based on evidence; students will be able to transfer knowledge and skills learned to a novel situation.  This course counts in the History and American Studies majors, and the Digital Studies Minor.


Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend all lectures, read all assigned texts, participate in class, contribute to a database of popular representations of technology, and take a midterm and a final examination. Late assignments will be severely penalized, or, after 24 hours, not accepted for credit. [All assignments must be completed to pass the class, however.]



Students are expected to attend all weekly class discussions (on Thursdays) having read the material and having prepared one question or comment based on that reading to be posted to the appropriate place on the class blog by the start of class. The question or comment should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading. [Since part of the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]  Class participation includes contributing weekly questions/comments and actively participating in class discussions.


Contributing to a Database on Popular Representations of American Technology

Each student will make a number of specific contributions to a class-created database that will gather together various representations of the artifacts of technology that we discuss in class this week.  Each student will also write a brief reflection on the items and the process toward the end of the semester. More on this project and the specifics of the assignment will be available at soon.  [Update: One PopRepTech example was to be submitted by Spring Break.  Three more examples should be submitted before Thursday, April 23, through the site.  (Do not edit your entries after 11 AM on 4/23.) A 250-word reflection on 1) advice on improving the process of creating entries and 2) what use such a database might have for students and for the general public is due via email to me by the start of class on April 23.]



Final grades will be determined based on class participation (20%), contributions to the popular representations database (20%), reflection on the database contributions (10%), and on the midterm and final exams (25% each). [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D+ or below on work completed at that time.]


Grading Scale

A Unusual Excellence 93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
B Distinctly Above Average 87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
C Average Quality 77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
D Below Average Quality 67-69=D+; 60-66=D
F Failure, No Credit 0-59=F




The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and need accommodations, I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability. The office’s phone number is 540-654-1266 and they can be found at


Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience. You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will almost certainly fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council, so do not do it. On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours). If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.


Required Texts

Nye, David. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology.

Pursell, Caroll, ed. American Technology.

Assorted additional readings available online.



Class Schedule and Reading Assignments
[See Readings page for links.]

Jan. 13    — Introduction

Jan. 15    — The Evolution of Technology

Discussion of reading   – What is “technology”? What is the “history of technology”?

—    Pursell, 1-10;



Jan. 20    — Colonial America: The Axe & America’s Wooden Age

Jan. 22    — Eli Whitney, Catherine Green and the Cotton Gin

Discussion of reading

—    Pursell, 11-38; Smith and Clancey, 103-130.


Jan. 27    — Textiles & Industrialization in America

Jan. 29    — John Hall & the American System: The Hall Rifle & Interchangeable Manufacturing

In-class Database session – Bring your laptop to class

Discussion of reading

Pursell, 39-71; Smith and Clancey, 153-172.             


Feb. 3     — Railroads & the Transportation Revolution

Feb. 5     — The Bessemer Steel Process: A Tale of Two Inventors & One Businessman

Discussion of reading

Pursell, 73-91, 102-105; Susan Danly, The Railroad in American Art, 1-50.


Feb. 10   — McCormick’s Reaper & the Mechanization of American Agriculture

Feb. 12   — The Watch, Railroad Time, & Scientific Management

Discussion of reading  

—    Smith and Clancey, 151-152, 221-232, 267-289


Feb. 17   — Edison’s Electric Light:  The Light Bulb & the Birth of the Electrical System

Feb. 19   — The Brooklyn Bridge & American Urbanization

—    Discussion of reading  – LOTS OF READING, START EARLY
  — Nye, 29-132, 138-142, 182-184, 287-291, 304-307, 314-317, 322-338


Feb. 24   — The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology

     Feb. 26   — MIDTERM – BRING BLUE BOOK(S)




Mar. 10   — Edison’s Electric Light:  The Light Bulb & the Birth of the Electrical System// The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology  Mass Production of Food & the Mechanization of Food Processing

     Mar. 12   — MIDTERM “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Need . . . a Dozen Eggs”:  Americans & the Telephone


—    Discussion of reading

Pursell, 169-188, 253-290



Mar. 17   — Visit from creators of the open textbook project, American Yawp

Mar. 19   — Mass Production of Food & the Mechanization of Food Processing//“Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Need . . . a Dozen Eggs”:  Americans & the Telephone

—    Discussion of reading

—    Check-in session on Database Contributions

   — Pursell, 169-188, 253-290 Geoffrey Bennett, The Story of Popular Photography, 128-153;


Mar. 24  — Image & Reality:  George Eastman & the Kodak Camera//Henry Ford & the Mass-Produced Model T

Mar. 26  — Radio & Mass Culture//Plastic & American Culture

Discussion of reading

Nye, 133-137; Pursell, 144-168; Smith and Clancey, 355-364; Ruth Cowan, A Social History of American Technology, 201-219.


Mar. 31   — The Manhattan Project:  The Development of America’s Atom Bomb

Apr. 2     — Movie:  Atomic Café

—    Discussion of reading

  — Pursell, 208-252; “1945-1998,”


April 7    — “More Work for Mother”:  The Electric Washer & Industrializing the Household

April 9    — A Man on the Moon:  The Space Race & America’s Apollo Program

—    Discussion of reading

—    Nye, 238-86; Pursell, 116-143.


Apr. 14   — “Accidental Empires”:  The Rise of the Personal Computer

Apr. 16   — The Rise of the Internet

               — Work on PopRepTech postings and reflection paper

Online discussion of reading

—    Pursell, 324-348; “A Global Graveyard,”


Brief reflection narrative due by the beginning of class, Tuesday, April 21 Thursday, April 23.


Apr. 21   — The “World Wide” Web?

Apr. 23   — Discussion of reflections and of PopRepTech database 


EXAM – Tuesday, April 28, Noon-2:30 p.m. — Bring Blue Book(s)

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