Spring 2011              TR, 9:30-10:45 AM — Course management site (syllabus, assignments, readings) – Course discussion wiki — Course project site

Jeffrey McClurken

Office:  Mercer 305

Office Phone:  x1475

Twitter (@wheresthechair), 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.  This course also fulfills the Human Experience and Society General Education requirement and counts in the History and American Studies majors.

Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend all lectures, read all assigned texts, participate in class, create a research proposal, prepare a research-based online project on an artifact of technology (and present it to the class), review two classmates’ online projects, 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 two or three questions or comments.  The questions or comments should be posted on the appropriate week of the class wiki with your name by 6 AM on discussion days (; they should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading.  [Since the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]  Class participation includes contributing weekly questions, actively participating in class discussions, and reviewing two peers’ online projects.

Research-Based Blog Project

Each student will create an online research-based project about the history of an artifact of American technology that she or he finds interesting.  [Topics cannot duplicate those of classmates, cannot duplicate those of previous HIST 325 projects at, and cannot overlap with those covered in class lectures.]  Each individual project, created in UMWBlogs, will be linked to the class project site and will explain the background and invention or adoption of the piece of technology, as well as examining its impact on American society and culture.  Advance deadlines have been set for topic approval, proposal with bibliography, a project outline, an initial version to be reviewed by two of your peers, and a finished version of the project; be sure to meet these deadlines.  See for more details about the project and for more about getting a blog.

The Research Proposal

The proposal is intended to get you started on your research project and provide some experience in online publishing with UMWBlogs.  The blogged research proposal (with annotated bibliography) is also intended, like most proposals, to prove to me that you will have enough scholarly material to complete the larger research-based project.  The blog assignments and the proposal with bibliography are collectively worth 5% of your final grade.  See for more details.


Final grades will be determined based on class participation (20%), completion of the blog assignments and research proposal (5%), performance on the research-based project site (30%) and a presentation to the class on it (5%), and on the midterm and final exams (20% 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.

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 all readings

Jan. 11 — Introduction

Jan. 13 — The Evolution of Technology

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

—    Pursell, 1-10;

By Thursday, January 20, turn in technology research topics for approval via email (Note: you are encouraged to submit your ideas earlier.)

Jan. 18 — Colonial America: The Axe & America’s Wooden Age

Jan. 20 — Eli Whitney, Catherine Green and the Cotton Gin: Textiles & Industrialization in America

—    Discussion of reading & wiki entries

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

Jan. 25 — John Hall & the American System: The Hall Rifle & Interchangeable Manufacturing

Jan. 27 In-class WordPress/Project session – Bring your laptop to class

Discussion of reading & wiki entries

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

Create a blog at [Note: See for details about naming of this new blog]; add your URL to the course site ( using the Add Link sidebar, & post test blog post with a picture (& citation) by class time on Tuesday, Feb. 1

Feb. 1 — Railroads & the Transportation Revolution

Feb. 3 — The Bessemer Steel Process: A Tale of Two Inventors & One Businessman

Discussion of reading & wiki entries

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

Project proposal with annotated bibliography posted to your blog by the beginning of class, Thursday, February 10.

Feb. 8 — McCormick’s Reaper & the Mechanization of American Agriculture

Feb. 10 — The Watch, Railroad Time, & Scientific Management

Discussion of reading & wiki entries

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

Feb. 15 — Edison’s Electric Light:  The Light Bulb & the Birth of the Electrical System

Feb. 17 — The Brooklyn Bridge & American Urbanization

—    Discussion of reading & wiki entries – LOTS OF READING, START EARLY

Nye, 29-132, 138-142, 182-184, 287-291, 304-307, 314-317, 322-338

Feb. 22 — The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology


SPRING BREAK! – Try not to freeze…

Skeleton outline, list of media, and key image (with citation) for your research site due by the beginning of class, Thursday, March 10, posted to your blog.

Mar. 8 — Mass Production of Food & the Mechanization of Food Processing

Mar. 10 — “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Need . . . a Dozen Eggs”:  Americans & the Telephone

—    Discussion of reading & wiki entries

Pursell, 169-188, 253-290

Mar. 15 — Image & Reality:  George Eastman & the Kodak Camera

Mar. 17 — Henry Ford & the Mass-Produced Model T

—    Discussion of reading & wiki entries

Geoffrey Bennett, The Story of Popular Photography, 128-153; Nye, 133-137; Pursell, 144-168.

Mar. 22 — The Manhattan Project:  The Development of America’s Atom Bomb

Mar. 24 — Movie:  Atomic Cafe

Online discussion of reading

Pursell, 208-252; “1945-1998,”

Complete research project done by the beginning of class, Thursday, March 31 [Don’t make any changes to your Project Blog from class start on March 31 until after class on April 5 so that your reviewers have a chance to comment on a stable site.]

Mar. 29 — Plastic & American Culture

—    Final Presentation schedule to be determined by lottery at March 29 class meeting.

Mar. 31 — Radio & Mass Culture

Discussion of reading & wiki entries

Smith and Clancey, 355-364; Ruth Cowan, A Social History of American Technology, 201-219.

Peer reviews due via email by start of class, Tuesday, April 5.

April 5 — “More Work for Mother”:  The Electric Washer & Industrializing the Household

April 7 — A Man on the Moon:  The Space Race & America’s Apollo Program

—    Discussion of reading & wiki entries

—    Nye, 238-86; Pursell, 116-143.

Revised research project due by the beginning of class, Tuesday, April 12.

Apr. 12 — “Accidental Empires”:  The Rise of the Personal Computer

Apr. 14Discussion and presentation of projects

Discussion of reading & wiki entries

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

Apr. 19 — The “World Wide” Web?:  The Rise of the Internet

Apr. 21Discussion and presentation of projects


EXAM – Tuesday, April 26, 8:30-11 AMBring Blue Book(s)