Syllabus: The Computerized Society—US Digital Culture Since World War II, Winter 2018

Winter Quarter 2018

The Computerized Society: US Digital Culture Since World War II

Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies

The scenario of the computerization of the most highly developed societies allows us to spotlight…certain aspects of the transformation of knowledge and its effects on public power and civil institutions—effects it would be difficult to perceive from other points of view. — Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, 1979


The history of what French theorist Jean-Francois Lyotard called “the computerized society” is only beginning to emerge. It turns out to be about far more than just machines: technological developments in the modern United States are inextricably linked to other factors: politics, economics, culture, race, class, gender, region, and more. This course allows you to make connections between technology and culture by approaching the history of the digital from multiple angles: political, legal, ideologically, and in terms of questions of social position and identity (gender, race, ethnicity, class, region), among other themes. Students will attend lectures, read, view, and learn broadly and deeply, participate in biweekly discussion sections, and write three analytic essays that begin with creative prompts. Qualifies for Historical Studies Area Distro.

Course Info

HISTORY  300-0 – 34

University Hall 122

Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30-1:50pm

Discussion Sections, mostly every other Friday at various times (see Caesar)

Required Material

  • Blum, Andrew. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0061994951
  • Ceruzzi, Paul E. Computing: A Concise History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0262517676
  • Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0465031467
  • Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0520272897
  • Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0262232272
  • Additional articles, films, and websites on course website and/or on reserve at NU Library, see our Canvas course page.


Attendance: Students are expected to attend all lectures and discussion sections. If a student misses more than three meetings, the instructor reserves the right to issue a failing grade.

Reading/Viewing: This course features roughly 150 required pages of reading a week. A number of documentary and fictional are also part of the required materials.

Assignments: Students must complete all assignments to pass the course. These are designed to be fun, but they are also demanding—and perhaps for some, frustrating. Historical analysis is not a science in the strict sense of the term; there is no purely objective, machine-like way to develop interpretation within the traditions of historical meaning-making (especially in a course that focuses on the social and cultural dimensions of the digital machine!). This means there is not some perfectly standardized way to evaluate your work. There is, however, a craft to this mode of thinking, writing, and reasoning. It is that craft that assignments will help you access and upon which evaluations are based. Historical writing asks you to apply your evaluative judgment to evidence, with the capacity to characterize what other interpreters have contended about the evidence and its significance, and how one’s own interpretation adds something new to the historiographical conversation. You must consider and assess how things connect or contrast to each other as well as how or why they do so or not. Rather than test, on the one hand, the breadth of your absorption of course materials and spit back information or, on the other, your ability to express an opinion, the assignments test your ability to wield knowledge of materials in the course (lectures, readings, viewings) in order to mount effective, creative, accurate, and compelling evidence-based arguments informed by historical awareness and thinking.

To that end, your assignments must communicate a convincing, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by description and analysis of meaning in materials drawn from the course (and other sources if needed).

Evaluations are based on the following rubric:

  • the presence of an articulated and compelling argument (a thesis statement, see number 4 below for more)
  • the presence of evidence
  • the compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance to the argument of the essay
  • an effective opening introduction that uses (a) a “hook” to (b) frame a precise and compelling question in order to (c) articulate a thesis statement that addresses the question and characterizes how and why it matters to our understanding of the historical topic at hand
  • logical flow and grace of prose: the presence of an introduction that ends with a thesis statement (see number 4), clear topic sentences for each paragraph of the essay, the presence of effective transitions from one part of the essay to the next, and a snappy conclusion that restates the thesis in new language and closes with a memorable sense of why the thesis matters to our historical understanding
  • with some exceptions, it is strongly recommended to organize your essay by a thesis followed by subthemes rather than organizing your essay by piece of evidence per paragraph. This will allow you to develop your argument out of pieces of evidence more effectively by bringing them into relation to each other in service of a subtheme of your making. In other words, rather than spend a paragraph on one document at a time, develop a topic sentence focused on a subtheme; then explain how multiple examples of evidence relate to that subtheme. Additionally, it is strongly recommended to avoid “reflection” arguments in which evidence merely substantiates a preexisting point; instead consider how knowledge and meaning arises from the details of evidence: what is the evidence doing, not what does it reflect? How does evidence produce historical meaning and knowledge?
  • When applicable, an effective use of multimedia elements (embedded images, video, or audio; relevant links; explorations of design such as size and look of type or relationship of text to other media forms) to deepen and advance an evidence based argument online
  • Proper citations in footnote or endnote form (your choice) as per Chicago Manual of Style guidelines.

Assignments that students hand in after the due date without explicit plans for an extension arranged with the instructor and teaching assistant prior to the deadline are deducted three (3) points per day.

History Department Writing Center: The History Department Writing Center is available for students working on your assignments. It is not merely for students having difficulty with their writing (we all have difficulty with our writing, for it is difficult to write well), it is also for students at any level or stage of the writing process: reading evidence, “brainstorming,” generating an argument, connecting argument to evidence, structuring paragraphs and transitions, and improving style and tone. Students wishing to contact the History Department Writing Center should email

Academic Integrity: All Weinberg College and Northwestern policies concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty are strictly enforced in this course. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated college or university policy concerning academic integrity.

Special Needs: Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations.


Class attendance and participation: 40%

Assignment 1: 15%

Assignment 2: 20%

Assignment 3: 25%


Tu 01/09 Introduction: The Computerized Society

Required Material:

·      Roy Rosenzweig, “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet,” American Historical Review 103, 5 (December 1998), 1530-1552

·      Raymond Williams, “The Technology and the Society” (1974), in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds., The New Media Reader (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003), 289-300

·      James W. Cortada, “Studying History As It Unfolds, Part 1: Creating the History of Information Technologies,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 37, 3 (July-September 2015), 20-31

·      James W. Cortada, “Studying History As It Unfolds, Part 2: Tooling Up the Historians,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 38, 1 (January-March 2016), 48-59

Th 01/11 Introduction 2: Early Adventures in Programmability

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 1-21

·      Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950), in The New Media Reader, 49-64

·      The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 1, “Giant Brains”

Tu 01/16 Digital Trajectories: The Computer and World War II

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 23-53

·      Paul N. Edwards, “Why Build Computers? The Military Role in Computer Research,” in The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 42-73

·      Norbert Wiener, “Men, Machines, and the World About” (1954), in The New Media Reader, 65-72

Th 01/18 Gender and the Early Computer

Required Material:

·      Jennifer Light, “When Computers Were Women,” Technology and Culture 40, 3 (1999): 455-483

·      W. Barkley Fritz, “The Women of ENIAC,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 18, 3 (1996), 13-28

·      Nathan Ensmenger, “The Black Art of Programming,” in The Computer Boys Take Over, 27-49

·      William F. Vogel, “‘The Spitting Image of a Woman Programmer’: Changing Portrayals of Women in the American Computing Industry, 1958-1985,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 39, 1 (July 2017), 49-64

·      Rhaina Cohen, “What Programming’s Past Reveals About Today’s Gender-Pay Gap,” The Atlantic, 7 September 2016,

Fr 01/19 Discussion Sections
Tu 01/23 The Cold War’s Electronic Battlefield

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 54-80

·      Edwards, “‘We Defend Every Place’: Building the Cold War World,” and “Sage” in The Closed World, 1-41, 74-111

·      JCR Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” The Transaction of Human Factors in Electronics (March, 1960), 4-11, in The New Media Reader, 73-82

·      Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Bomb, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1964)

Th 01/25 The Cold War and the Democratic Personality

Required Material:

·      Fred Turner, “The Cold War and the Democratic Personality,” in The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 151-180

·      Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message” (1964, from Understanding Media) and “The Galaxy Reconfigured or the Plight of Mass Man in an Individualist Society (1969, from The Gutenberg Galaxy), 193-210

·      The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 2, “Inventing the Future”

Fr 01/26 Discussion Sections
Mo 01/29 Assignment 01 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

·      You have been asked by Wired magazine to develop an analytic essay about the history of gender and the early development of the computer. Select 1-3 items from our required materials thus far in the course to use as your source material. Using specific evidence, precisely referenced and described from those items, develop an article of approximately 1000 words that explains a particular dimension of how gender shapes our understanding of the early history of computation and the computerized society. Rather than creating a static definition of what gender means, consider how our materials suggest the historical ways in which gender played out in and through the development of the modern computer and digital culture. How does the full story of the computer’s development reveal historical assumptions about the role of men and women? Did it alter these assumptions in some way? How did the ongoing state of war that the United States was in from World War II into the Cold War shape understandings and practices of gender? Did gender shape the nature of these wars as well in some way? You might even probe a seemingly strange questions such as: do computers themselves possess a gender? Why or why not? How or how not? You need not address all these questions; they are merely prompts. Pick a particular question that has arisen from your reading and viewing and use it to frame a specific aspect of gender and the history of the early computer. Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.

Tu 01/30 Automation and Its Discontents

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 81-103

·      Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic (July 1945), in The New Media Reader, 35-48

·      Andrew Utterson, “Computers in the Workplace: IBM and the ‘Electronic Brain’ of Desk Set,” in From IBM to MGM: Cinema At the Dawn of the Digital Age (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 16-32

·      Desk Set, dir. Walter Lang (1957)

Th 02/01 Knowledge Workers: Identity and Power in the Emerging “Information Economy”

Required Material:

·      Steven Lubar, “Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate: A Cultural History of the Punch Card,” Journal of American Culture 15, 4 (Winter 1992), 43-55

·      Alex Sayf Cummings, “Of Sorcerers and Thought Leaders: Marketing the Information Revolution in the 1960s,” The Sixties 9, 1 (Spring 2016), 1-25

·      Lisa Nakamura, “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture,” American Quarterly 66, 4 (December 2014): 919-941

·      Lisa Nakamura, “Indigenous Circuits,” Computer History Museum Website, 2 January 2014,

·      Tara McPherson, “U.S. Operating Systems at Mid-Century: The Intertwining of Race and UNIX,” in Race After the Internet, eds. Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White (New York: Routledge, 2012), 21-37

·      Silicon Valley, dir. Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain (2013)

Tu 02/06 Beanbag Capitalism: From Computing to Communication at Xerox PARC

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 103-119

·      Michael A. Hiltzik, “Utopia,” in Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 52-67

·      Douglas Engelbart, From Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (1962), in The New Media Reader, 93-108

·      Ivan Sutherland, “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System” (1963), in The New Media Reader, 109-126

·      Douglas Engelbart and William English, “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect” (1968), in The New Media Reader, 231-246.

·      Roy Ascott, “The Construction of Change” (1964), in The New Media Reader, 127-132

·      The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 3, “The Paperback Computer”

Th 02/08 Countercultural Computing

Required Material:

·      Fred Turner, “The Shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor” and “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture,” in From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 11-39, 41-68

·      Stewart Brand, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone 7 December 1972,

·      Theodor H. Nelson, “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate” (1965), in The New Media Reader, 133-146

·      Theodor H. Nelson, From Computer Lib / Dream Machines (1970-1974), in The New Media Reader, 301-338

·      Theodor H. Nelson, Nicholas Negroponte and Les Levine, From Software–Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art (1970), in The New Media Reader, 247-276

·      Triumph of the Nerds, dir. John Gau (1996)

Fr 02/09 Discussion Sections
WEEK 6  
Tu 02/13 Care For a Nice Game of Chess? The Rise of the “Personal” Computer

Required Material:

·      Paul Ceruzzi, “Inventing Personal Computing” in The Social Shaping of Technology, eds. Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (Philadelphia: 
Open University Press, 1999), 64-86

·      Meryl Alper, “‘Can Our Kids Hack It With Computers?’ Constructing Youth Hackers in Family Computing Magazines (1983–1987),” International Journal of Communication 8 (2014), 673–698

·      Nicholas Negroponte, From Soft Architecture Machines (1975), in The New Media Reader, 353-366

·      Joseph Weizenbaum, From Computer Power and Human Reason (1976), in The New Media Reader, 367-376

·      Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, “Personal Dynamic Media” (1977), in The New Media Reader, 391-404

·      Seymour A. Papert, From Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas (1980), in The New Media Reader, 413-432

·      Richard A. Bolt, “‘Put-That-There’: Voice and Gesture at the Graphics Interface” (1980), in The New Media Reader, 433-440

·      WarGames, film (1983)

·      8 Bit Generation: The Commodore Computer Wars, dir. Tomaso Walliser (2016)

Th 02/15 Cyborgs and Cyberpunk

Required Material:

·      William Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” the Omni (1982), reprinted in Burning Chrome (New York: Harper Voyager, 2003)

·      Sherry Turkle, “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” (1984, from The Second Self), in The New Media Reader, 499-514

·      Tron, dir. Steven Lisberger (1982)

·      The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 4, “The Thinking Machine”

Fr 02/16 Discussion Sections
WEEK 7  
Mo 02/19 Assignment #2 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

·      You have been asked by Apple Computer to design a new personal computing device. Your job is to draw a sketch or diagram of this machine (either by hand and then scanned or born-digital). Then, in 1000 words, develop an analytic essay in which you contextualize *what is significant* about your design in the context of the history of the personal computer (from its prehistory at places such as Xerox PARC to the emergence of the personal computer in the countercultural context of the 1960s and 1970s. You will not be evaluated for the excellence of your design (or your drawing skills!), but rather by how you are able to develop an evidence-based argument that connects *specific aspects* of the materials from class (lectures, readings, viewings) to an articulated and compelling position about the details of your new personal computing device design. How and why does your device build upon and/or extend the history of the concept of “personal” computing? Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.

Tu 02/20 The Rise of the Internet

Required material:

·      Ceruzzi, 121-154

·      Andrew Blum, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 1-103

·      John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996),

·      Bradley Fidler and Morgan Currie, “The Production and Interpretation of ARPANET Maps,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 37, 1 (January-March 2015), 44-55

·      Bradley Fidler and Morgan Currie, “Infrastructure, Representation, and Historiography in BBN’s Arpanet Map,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 38, 3 (July-September 2016), 44-57

·      Janet Abbate, “Privatizing the Internet: Competing Visions and Chaotic Events, 1987-1995,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 32, 1 (January- March 2010), 10-22

·      “Internet History from ARPANET to Broadband,” 2007 Congressional Digest

·      Jan L. Bordewijk and Ben van Kaam, “Towards a New Classification of the Tele-Information Services” (1986), in The New Media Reader, 575-586

·      The Machine That Changed the World documentary film, dir. Nancy Linde (1992), Part 5, “The World at Your Fingertips”

Th 02/22 Tubes: A Material History of the Internet

Required Material:

·      Andrew Blum, Tubes, 105-271

·      Christine Smallwood, “What Does the Internet Look Like,” The Baffler 18 (December 2009), 8-12, republished at

·      The Matrix, dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly the Wachowski Brothers) (1999)

Tu 02/27 Life In the Search Engine: The Power and Ethics of the Algorithmic Society

Required Material:

·      Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), xi-148

·      Bill Nichols, “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems” (1988), in The New Media Reader, 625-642

·      Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Ari Loutonen, Henrik Frystyk Nielsen and Arthur Secret, “The World Wide Web” (1994), in The New Media Reader, 791-798

·      Sue Halpern, “Are We Puppets Yet in a Wired World?,” New York Review of Books, 7 November 2013, 24-28,

·      The Matrix Reloaded, dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly the Wachowski Brothers)  (2003)

Th 03/01 Who Owns the Future? The Matrix

Required Material:

·      Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything, 149-217

·      Rusty Foster, “When Programmers Scrape By,” The New Yorker, 11 February 2014,

·      Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “The Great AI Awakening,” New York Times, 14 December 2016,

·      The Matrix Revolutions, dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly the Wachowski Brothers)  (2003)

Fr 03/02 Discussion Sections


Tu 03/06


Crisis of Computerized Democracy: Cyberwars and Hacked Elections

Required Material:

·      Ceruzzi, 155-159

·      Electric Frontier Foundation, “NSA Spying On Americans,”

·      Philip E. Agre, “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy” (1994), in The New Media Reader, 737-760

·      Fred Kaplan, “We’re Wandering in Dark Territory,” in Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 265-286

·      Richard Brautigan, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, ;

·      All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, dir/ Adam Curtis (2011), Parts 1, Love and Power: The Influence of Ayn Rand; Part 2, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts: Ecology, Technology, and Society

Th 03/08 Crisis of Computerized Democracy: Alone Together in the Digital Era

Required Material:

·      Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 1-34, 127-149, 241-306

·      Evgeny Morozov, “Solutionism and Its Discontents,” in To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York: PublicAffairs, 2013), 1-16

·      All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, dir. Adam Curtis (2011), Part 3, The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey: The Selfish Gene

Fr 03/09 Discussion Sections

Tu 03/20

Assignment #3 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

·      You have been asked by a major motion picture company to pitch a sequel to The Matrix Trilogy that specifically addresses the development of the Internet. Your pitch should be no more than 200 words and specifically imagine a film that speaks to the material nature of the Internet as a network and/or its changing nature in the context of the rise of the Internet, Google, and social media platforms. Then, in 1000 words, develop an analytic essay in which you contextualize *what is significant* about your pitch to what you take to be the most relevant details, arguments, and analysis from our readings, viewings, and lectures about the phenomenon of the Internet, Google, and social media. You will not be evaluated for the aesthetic excellence of your cinematic vision (though aesthetic excellence is welcome!) nor for the probability that you have imagined a Hollywood blockbuster (though more power to you if you have!), but rather by how you are able to develop an evidence-based argument that connects *specific aspects* of the materials from class (lectures, readings, viewings) to an articulated and compelling position about the details of your pitch and how and why they speak interpretively to the stakes of social life in an “Internet” and “Googlized” and “Alone Together” society. Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.


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