Syllabus: The Computerized Society—US Digital Culture Since WWII, Fall 2015

 lecture course, fall 2015 @ northwestern university.

US Digital Culture Since World War II: The Computerized Society

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Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies

Co-Director, Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory, www.nudhl.net

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

Overview:

How have computers altered American life since World War II? In this course, we will treat technology not as deterministic, but rather as a powerful social phenomenon embedded in economic, political, and cultural struggles. We will examine the history of the computer from multiple perspectives to contextualize the relationship between people and computational machines during the last 70 years. We will look at factors of race, gender, class, and region; we will consider the relationship of the computer to militarism and the Cold War; we will investigate the computer in relation to issues of commerce and culture, politics and justice; we will consider both the national and transnational contexts for digital culture; and we will study the computer as both an industrially produced machine and the key material product underlying what has become known as the postindustrial “information society.” Students will attend lectures, read intensively, watch films, explore online materials, participate in discussion sections, and complete four writing assignments that emphasize the craft of evidence-based historical interpretation and analysis.

Course Info:

History 300-26 (14135)

University Hall 101

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

Course website:

NUCanvas, https://canvas.northwestern.edu/courses/23731.

Instructor:

Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies

Co-Director, Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory (www.nudhl.net)

Contact: <mjk@northwestern.edu>

Office hours: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 2­–3 pm, Harris Hall 212.

Required Material:

  • Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan Ensmenger, and Jeffrey R. Yost, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Third Edition (New York: Westview Press, 2014).
  • Michael A. Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox Parc and the Dawn of the Computer Age (New York: HarperCollins, 1999).
  • Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
  • Andrew Blum, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (New York: HarperCollins, 2012).
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
  • Additional articles, films, and websites on course website and/or on reserve at NU Library, see our Canvas course page.

Schedule:

WEEK 1
Tu 9/22 Introduction: The Computerized Society
Th 9/24 Introduction 2: Early Adventures in Programmability

Required Material:

  • Nathan Ensmenger, “Introduction: Computer Revolutionaries,” in The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), 1-26
  • Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan Ensmenger, and Jeffrey R. Yost, “Part I: Before the Computer,” Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Third Edition (New York: Westview Press, 2014), 3-61

Optional:

  • Evgeny Morozov, “Making It,” New Yorker, 13 January 2014
  • Anthony Grafton, “Jumping Through the Computer Screen,” New York Review of Books, 23 December 2010
WEEK 2
Tu 9/29 Digital Trajectories: The Machine That Changed the World or the World That Changed the Machine?

Required Material:

  • “Part II: Creating the Computer,” in Computer, 65-139
  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film (1992), Parts 1 and 2
Th 10/1 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

Optional:

  • Marie Hicks, “Only the Clothes Changed: Women Operators in British Computing and Advertising, 1950-1970,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 32, 2 (October-December 2010), 2-14
WEEK 3
Mo 10/05 Assignment #1 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

You have been asked by Wired magazine to develop an *analytic* essay about the most significant aspect of the early history of the computer and the “digital.” Using specific evidence, precisely referenced and described, develop a 750-1000 word article that explains how and why this significant aspect matters to our understanding of the early history of computation and the computerized society. What aspect of this history should we most care about and why? Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.

Tu 10/6 The Cold War’s Electronic Battlefield: Of Domes and Doomsday Machines

Required Material:

  • Paul N. Edwards, “‘We Defend Every Place’: Building the Cold War World,” in The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 1-41
  • “Part 3: Innovation and Expansion,” in Computer, 143-225
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1964)

Optional:

  • Fred Turner, “The Cold 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
Th 10/8 Automation, Knowledge, and the Postindustrial in the “Technetronic Society”

Required Material:

  • Daniel Bell, Ch. 2, “From Goods to Services: The Changing Shape of the Economy,” Ch. 3, “The Dimensions of Knowledge and Technology: The New Class Structure of Post-Industrial Society,” and Ch. 6, “Who Will Rule? Politicians and Technocrats in the Post-Industrial Society,” in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 121-165, 339-367

Optional:

  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 3-67
  • David Harvey, “Part II: The political-economic transformation of late twentieth-century capitalism,” in The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 121-197

*Note: Don’t worry if you don’t understand the readings for today. They are difficult. Try your best to make sense of them, particularly when the subject turns toward the larger stakes and implications of computers and digital technology.*

WEEK 4
Tu 10/13 Automation, Modularity, and Their Discontents in Cold War America

Required Material:

  • 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
  • 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
  • Desk Set, film (1957)

Optional:

  • Nathan Ensmenger, “The Black Art of Programming,” and “The Cosa Nostra of the Data Processing Industry,” in The Computer Boys Take Over, 27-49, 137-161
Th 10/15 Xerox Parc, IBM, and the Dawn of the Modern Computer Age

Required Material:

  • Michael A. Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox Parc and the Dawn of the Computer Age (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), xix-241 (don’t worry, this is a quick-moving journalistic account and is not as much reading as first appears by the page count)
  • Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic (July 1945)
  • The Machine That Changed the World documentary film (1992), Part 3
WEEK 5
Tu 10/20 Reboot – No Class
Th 10/22 Countercultural to Cybercultural Computing

Required Material:

  • Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 1-102
  • Stewart Brand, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone 7 December 1972, http://www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html
  • Campell, et. al., Ch. 10, “The Shaping of the Personal Computer,” Computer, 229-251

Optional:

  • Triumph of the Nerds, documentary film (1996)
WEEK 6  
Tu 10/27 Care For a Nice Game of Chess? The Rise of the “Personal” Computer

Required Material:

  • “Part 4: Broadening the Appeal” in Computer, 253-305
  • Turner, From Cyberculture to Counterculture, 103-174
  • WarGames, film (1983)

Optional:

  • Paul Ceruzzi, “Inventing Personal Computing” in The Social Shaping of Technology, eds. Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (Philadelphia: 
Open University Press, 1999), 64-86
Th 10/29 Cyborgs and Cyberpunk

Required Material:

  • William Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” the Omni (1982), reprinted in Burning Chrome (New York: Harper Voyager, 2003)
  • Dani Cavallaro, “Introduction: Science Fiction and Cyberpunk,” in 
Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction in the Work of William Gibson 
(Continuum, 2001), 1-25

Optional:

  • Tron, film (1982)
  • Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist- Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), 149-181
  • Bruce Sterling, “Preface,” Mirrorshades (1986), http://project.cyberpunk.ru/idb/mirrorshades_preface.html
  • Browse The CyberPunk Project, http://project.cyberpunk.ru
WEEK 7  
Mo 11/2 Assignment #2 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

You have been asked by Apple Computer to design a new personal computer. Your job is to draw a sketch or diagram of this machine (either by hand and then photographed or scanned into your computer, equipment available at NU Library for this if you do not possess it yourself, or by machine). 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 computer design and how and why they 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 11/3 The Rise of the Internet

Required material:

  • Andrew Blum, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 1-103
  • 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
  • John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996), https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

Optional:

  • “Internet History from ARPANET to Broadband,” 2007 Congressional Digest
Th 11/5 Tubes: A Material History of the Internet

Required Material:

Optional:

  • Jean-François Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, 6 (April 2011): 1042-1057
  • Eugene Thacker, “Foreword: Protocol Is as Protocol Does,” in Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), xi-xxii
WEEK 8
Tu 11/10 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
  • The Matrix Trilogy, films 1 and 2: The Matrix (1999), Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Optional:

Th 11/12 Who Owns the Future? The Matrix

Required Material:

  • Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything, 149-217
  • The Matrix Trilogy, film 3: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Optional:

WEEK 9  
 

Tu 11/17

TBA
Th 11/19

 

Conclusions and Horizons: Life In, Below, and Beyond the Cloud

Required Material:

Optional:

  • Anna Everett, “Have We Become Postracial Yet?: Race and Media Technologies in the Age of President Obama,” in Race After the Internet, 146-167
  • Carmen Hermosillo aka humdog,”Introducing Humdog: Pandora’s Vox Redux ” (1994),” http://folksonomy.co/?permalink=2299
  • Ensmenger, “Conclusions: Visible Technicians,” in Computer Boys, 223-243
Mon 11/30 Assignment #3 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

You have been asked 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 and symbolic nature of the Internet and/or Google.

Then, in 1000 words, develop an analytic essay in which you contextualize *what is significant* about your Matrix 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 and/or Google. The goal of the assignment is not breadth and coverage so much as a display of your capacities for precision and depth of analysis. This, as you may quickly realize, of course requires that you develop an overarching sense of our studies, then go deep in explaining what you take to be the key parts of one to four specific examples from our materials.

Also note: your thesis can pivot from your Matrix pitch to your analysis of materials we studied in class, but you need not knit your pitch into every aspect of your essay. In other words, use your pitch as a way to spark effective historical analysis, but do not be beholden to your pitch in structuring your essay.

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” or a “Googlized” society. Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.

FINAL

Thu 12/10

Assignment #4 due, upload to Canvas by 11:59pm.

In 1500-2000 words, develop an analytic essay about three related readings or viewings from the course. Your essay must articulate a compelling argument that addresses what we learn about “the computerized society” by bringing together these particular materials and the details within them. You may embed multimedia and digital design elements into your essay to enhance your argument and narrative (try to integrate them into the essay to push its argument forward effectively). You will be evaluated for depth and precision of analysis rather than breadth of coverage; which is to say, your task is to develop, sharpen, and crystallize a sub-theme from the course that your three items most vividly illuminate rather than convey your knowledge of everything in the class. Zoom in on and take us down one compelling stream of history that we have studied and that you have been most interested in from the course. Be sure to refer to the guidelines for assignments in the “Expectations” section of the syllabus.

Expectations:

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 films as well as websites 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 judgment to evidence and what other scholars and people have said about a topic. 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 the breadth of your absorption of course materials and spit back information or simply 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. If this mode of evaluation is not to your tastes, I recommend that you do not take the course.

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:

(1) the presence of an articulated and compelling argument (a thesis statement, see number 4 below for more)

(2) the presence of evidence

(3) the compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance to the argument of the essay

(4) 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

(5) 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

(6) 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

(7) proper citations in footnote or endnote form (your choice) as per Chicago Manual of Style guidelines (http://libguides.northwestern.edu/content.php?pid=67073&sid=495340).

If you have any questions about evaluation in the course geared at helping you access and develop the craft of historical analysis, please speak with the instructor or teaching assistants to discuss further. 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 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 historywriting@northwestern.edu.

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. See http://www.weinberg.northwestern.edu/handbook/integrity/ for more details.

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. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website: http://www.northwestern.edu/disability.

Evaluation:

Class and discussion section attendance and participation: 40%.

Assignment 1: 10%

Assignment 2: 15%

Assignment 3: 15%

Final: 20%

 

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