I’m teaching my History of the Information Age course again this fall. This is the course where I send the students a skeleton syllabus and we fill it in together. We will work together to pick the topics to focus on, many of the readings to complete, and the digitally rich assignments by which we will explore the history of broadly defined Information Age (cave paintings to today).
We will also get to do so in the soon-to-be completed Information and Technology Convergence Center‘s Active-Learning Classroom. We also will be able to take advantage of the building’s green-screen-equipped recording studio, the audio booth, the editing computer stations, and the other cameras and recording equipment that can be checked out and used.
I’d welcome any suggestions of assignment ideas, discussion starters, readings/videos that I can bring to the class. Other comments, including smart remarks, are welcome as well.
HIST 471D7: History of the Information Age
This readings seminar will explore the history of communication, media, new media, and the digital age. We will begin with an investigation of the various definitions of the Information Age, then move into a discussion of the historical & technological foundations of information production, computing devices, and communication and networking tools. We will explore the social and cultural history of information production and consumption from cave paintings to the Internet, from analog computational machines to handheld computers. The course will generally be based in the history of the US, but, given the transfer of technology and the increasing ability of these technologies to transcend geographic regions, it will logically range more widely as appropriate.
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; the ability to communicate in a group setting; and the ability to read critically primary sources and modern authorities. This course also counts in the History Major and the Digital Studies Minor.
Honors Program Objectives
As part of the Honors Program, this course also will help students to formulate an academic argument with appropriate research documentation; articulate the value of the goals of the honors program as it relates to the liberal arts as an multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.
What should these be?
Non-negotiable parts include: Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to the individual blogs, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions. Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline/database of popular representations of the information age and add materials to it all semester.
However, negotiable is whether or not we should also do formal presentations of projects, what student contributions to the timeline/database might be, even other ideas for assignments we might come up with.
In my initial brainstorming, the timeline/database components, additions, projects potentially included:
Obligatory turn things in on time notice: Projects are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Projects are considered late if turned in anytime after the start of class on the day they are due. Late items will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.
In the Bookstore – 4 Core texts are in the bookstore
- Downey, Gregory John, American Historical Association, and Society for the History of Technology. Technology and Communication in American History. Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 2011.
- Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 2011.
- Rosenzweig, Roy. Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
- Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History From the Telegraph to the Internet. Re-issue. London: Routledge, 1998.
Other Readings as determined by class, at least some of which are online
Students are expected to attend all classes having read the material. Class participation includes actively participating in these daily discussions. Each of you will also be expected to co-lead group discussion with another person (or persons) during two weeks, including opening discussion activities. THAT MAY MEAN HELPING TO CHOOSE (ADDITIONAL) READINGS FOR THOSE WEEKS. I encourage those leaders to meet with me ahead of time to talk about how to choose readings and/or facilitate discussion for their particular week.
Create a new (or use a preexisting) UMWblog/Domain of One’s Own WordPress site by Sept. 1. Narrating your reactions to the reading, your experiences planning, researching, and implementing your projects as part of the class timeline/database via your blogs is a central part of the class and a way for me to measure your effort, your creativity, and your progress as digital scholars. Blog about your problems as well as your successes. Be sure to comment on each other’s blogs and help each other out. This is a community of people going through similar efforts that you can tap into, so do so. Weekly posts & comments are a minimum expectation of the class.
Final grades will be determined based on a combination of factors, some determined by me and some determined by the class as a whole at the start of the semester. The non-negotiable parts are class participation (including two weeks of co-leading discussion) worth 40% and on performance on blog posts worth (at least) 10%.
The other 50% of the grade will be divided (as decided by the class) between projects added to the timeline, formal presentations of projects, or other items as suggested by the class.
[Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D+ or below at that time.]
||93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
||Distinctly Above Average
||87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
||77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
||Below Average Quality
||Failure, No Credit
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 (540-654-1266) and need accommodations, I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.
Contact Downing Newcastle for more information.
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 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.
Topics & Readings
Week 1 — Introduction — Week of August 25
— What is the Information Age?
— Planning the semester – What topics will we focus on? What assignments will we complete?
By the weekend:
- — Set up a Twitter account (or use an existing one) and follow me (@jmcclurken) and/or your classmates and/or some of the scholars from the DH Compendium. When you tweet about our class use the hashtag #InfoAge14.
- — Install a WordPress blog on your Domain of One’s Own account or UMWblogs.
- — Add your blog to the class blogroll using the add link widget on this blog. [Use Twitter to ask Dr. McClurken or a classmate for the password.]
- — Write and publish first blog post on why you’re taking the class and what topics/assignments you want this semester.
Week 2 — Introducing New Media tools and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of September 1
Tuesday: DTLT visit and start of timeline/database project
Reading –Thursday: Downey, all; Winston, Intro
Part I – Print (and its predecessors)
Potential topics: Cave paintings, African Drums, art, written language, coffee houses and print culture, universities, printing press, newspapers, oral tradition, plagiarism/citation/rise of the footnote; photography
Week 3 — Week of September 8
— Topics: Newspapers, Magazine, Books
Reading — Tuesday: Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution, Chapter 4
Part II – Early Networked Communication
Potential topics: Postal Service, Telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism
Week 4 — Week of September 15
Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 19-66
PROPOSALS FOR TIMELINE/DATABASE PROJECTS DUE TO ME BY SEPTEMBER 22
Potential Topics: technological, cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV; advertising, rise of mass media; propaganda
Week 5 — Week of September 22
Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 67-146
Week 6 — Week of September 29
Reading — Tuesday:
Part IV – Information in the Digital Age
Potential topics: Early Computers (Human Computers, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace); Role of war/military in creation and spread of information/computing technology (WWII, Cold War, ARPANet); Rise of the mainframe and then personal computers; Doug Engelbert and the Mouse; the creation/expansion/commercialization of the Internet; Women and Computing; Pop Culture treatment of the digital age; Hackers and Hacking Culture; Video Games; cell phones/smart phones/tablets; the wiki phenomenon; Coding/Programming; images/video in era of access to creation tools; Information Theory; Information Overload; Satellites/cable/fiber optics; identity in the digital age
Week 7 — Week of October 6
— Topics: Early Computers
Reading — Tuesday: Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”; Winston, 147-242
Week 8 — Week of October 13
— Fall Break — No class Tuesday, October 14
— Topics: Networks and the Internet
Reading — Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202
Week 9 — Week of October 20
Reading — Tuesday:
Week 10 — Week of October 27
— Topics: Web 2.0/3.0/18.0
— Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, 85-91 (CD-ROMs and textbooks)
Week 11 — Week of November 3
— Topics: Trust, Citations, “truth” in the Digital Age
Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, 28-50 (Historical Knowledge online); 51-82 (Wikipedia & History); 155-178
Week 12 —Week of November 10
Reading — Tuesday:
Part V – Looking forward
Potential topics: Copyright/open source/intellectual property; History in the digital age; Infographics; social networks in the age of Facebook; search in the age of Google; Artificial Intelligence; Crowdsourcing; Digital divide;
Week 13 — Week of November 17
— Topics: History of Digital History and Its Future
Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, xxi-xxiv, 3-27, 92-153, 203-236
Thursday: Winston, 337-342
Week 14 — Week of November 24
— Topics: Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy
Reading – Tuesday:
— Thursday — Thanksgiving — No Class
ALL PROJECTS DUE BY DECEMBER 1
Week 15 — Week of December 1
Reading — Tuesday:
Exam Period – Discussion of the semester – what worked and what didn’t.
Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:
- Braunstein, Alex, and Tony Lincoln. “History of Information » Syllabus”, HIST C192, http://blogs.ischool.berkeley.edu/i103su10/course-information/syllabus/.
- Ensmenger, Nathan. “The Information Age”, University of Pennsylvania, http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~nathanen/files/STSC160syllabus-2009.pdf.
- Watrall, Ethan. “History of the Digital Age.” Syllabus, 2010, http://history.msu.edu/hst250-online/schedule/.
Questions for students [These will guide our initial discussion as we fill in the syllabus together.]
1) Which topics are you particularly interested in studying this semester?
2) What sources would you add to the class resource bibliography (http://www.zotero.org/groups/infoage/items )? [Note: we’re not going to read all of these. This bibliography is a resource to draw from and contribute to all semester.]
3) The central work of the class for the semester will be the creation of a digital timeline/database of popular representations of the Information Age and add materials to it all semester. We’ll generate the list of dates/items together and then you’ll be creating additional pieces (either as individuals or in groups) that will be added to the timeline database. So, what types of assignments/projects would you be interested in working on/doing? What alternative ways might we use to construct/present what we’ve learned in and out of the class about the history of information?
- I want to take advantage of the digital media resources on campus. In particular, there are two resource-rich locations we should be thinking about.
i. The Digital Media Lab in the History/American Studies department in Monroe. We’ll have 3 iMacs and two Windows computer, with scanners, digital cameras, as well as basic and advanced image, video, and audio editing software. What kinds of projects could we do with those tools?
ii. What projects relevant to our subject could we create with the full resources of the new IT Convergence Center? [At a minimum, cameras, audio booth, video recording and editing suites. What could we create for the digital signage in the building? For the digital library gallery? For the giant video wall?]
- What percentage of course grade should those assignments be valued at?
4) I want to take advantage of the classroom we’ll be in.
- The new active-learning classroom in the ITCC that we will be in is built around the idea of group work. In addition to the standard projector and screen, it will have LCD panels at small group tables around the room so students will be able to hook up their laptops and work collaboratively. I’ve been thinking about having some discussion days start by splitting up into groups with a small topic assignment, giving you 15-45 minutes to work in groups, then asking you to present your results to the rest of the class. What classroom small group projects would you like to try?
5) What do you think of the layout of the course schedule? Do you want to spend more or less time on certain broad topics?
 To that end, for each class students should also prepare some notes on the reading (parallels, problems, factual questions, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes or from “real life”) so that they have those points in front of them for the discussion. Although I have no current plan to collect these comments, I reserve the right to do so at some point during the semester.