Sample Syllabi: History of Communication Technologies

This course explores the histories of primarily (but not exclusively) electronic communication technologies. In studying this subject, we will also explore the nature of writing history or historiography as a story, like other narratives forms, that cultures tell themselves to make sense of their reality. This will involve looking at different ways the histories of communication technologies can be told: the traditional timeline of inventions, a cultural history of their lifeblood, electricity; histories that focus on a specific sensory mode of communication (listening or audio technologies), collective histories, and oppositional histories. In addition to learning about inventors and inventions, we will look at the social forces that went into the development, circulation, and rejection of technologies. We will address not only technologies that were widely adopted, but those that failed and those that were put to uses other than how they were originally intended. The goal for the course is to gain not only familiarity with the major developments that lead to our current globally networked media and communication environment, but an appreciation of technologies as socially embedded aspects of culture (rather than discrete machines) and a critical perspective on reading, telling, and writing of stories of the past and future.

• Carey, James W. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society
•Course Reader: Blackboard
• MLA, APA or Chicago style guide
•Optional readings: Blackboard

COURSE PREVIEW. All assignments will be turned in through Blackboard.
Short Assignments: These are informal thoughts, reactions, responses, and reflections NOT reviews or summaries. These will be based on readings AND cultural events and must be at minimum 500 words. All will be turned in and shared with the class via Blackboard. These count 15% of your final grade. You need to complete five. You must respond to:
Two cultural events: Choose from the list posted on Blackboard and announced throughout the semester. See instructor to approve other events of your own choosing.
Two readings Any required reading, including Carey chapters.
One reading OR event of your choosing.
First Paper: Two parts: A prospectus or rough outline (1-2 pages, 5 points) and the final paper (10 pages, 15 points). It will count 20% of your final grade. It is due by the start of the following class. The assignment will be to write a cultural history of a communication technology that was widely adopted before you were born.
Second Paper: Two parts: A prospectus or rough outline (1-2 pages) and the final paper (10 pages). It will count 30% of your final grade. The assignment will be to write a cultural history of a communication technology that was widely adopted after you were born.

Final Exam: The final is cumulative, in-class, and similar in format to the midterm. It is worth 25% of your final grade.

Participation: will count 10% of your final grade.



WEEK 1 History, Historiography, & Narrative
Handout on Foucault, de Certeau, White, and Ginzburg

WEEK 2 The Usual Story
• Roger Fidler, “Timelines of Interpersonal, Print, and Broadcast Media,” from Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media
• Brian Winston, “Introduction: A Storm from Paradise: Technological Innovation, Diffusion and Suppression,” from Media, Technology and Society: A History from the Telegraph to the Internet
• Carey, Ch. 1: “A Cultural Approach to Communication”

WEEK 3 Reconsidering the Usual Story
•Lisa Gitelman, “Introduction: Media as Historical Subjects” and “Epilogue: Doing Media History” from Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture
• Jennifer Slack & J. Macgregor Wise, “Introduction: From Culture and Technology to Technological Culture” and “Culture and Technology: The Received View,” from Culture & Technology: A Primer
• Rosalind Williams, “Afterword: An Historian’s View on the Network Society,” from The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective, Manuel Castells, Ed.

• Linda Simon, “Introduction,” from Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety from the Telegraph to the X-ray
• Joe Militus, “Paradigm Lost: Ether and the Metaphysics of Pop Science,” from Ether: The Nothing that Connects Everything
• T.H. Metzger, “The War of the Currents,” from Blood and Volts: Edison, Tesla, and the Electric Chair
• Carolyn Marvin, “Dazzling the Multitude: Original Media Spectacles” from When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century
• Carey, Ch. 5 “The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution,” with John J. Quirk

WEEK 5 Ideas of Sound, Recording, and Listening
• Walter Ong, “Some Psychodynamics of Orality,” from Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
• Michael Bull and L. Back, “Introduction,” from The Auditory Culture Reader
• Jonathan Sterne, “Machines to Hear for Them,” from The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction
• Theodor Adorno, “The Curves of the Needle” and “On Popular Music,” from Essays on Music
• Jacques Attali, “Repeating,” from Noise: The Political Economy of Music

WEEK 6 Reaching Out, Drawing In: Broadcasting & Mobility
• Carey, Ch. 6, “Space, Time, and Communications: A Tribute to Harold Innis”
• Michelle Hilmes, “How Far Can You Hear?” from Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952
• Susan Douglas, “The Social Construction of American Broadcasting, 1912-1922,” from Listening in: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos 'n' Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern
• Manuel Castells, M. Fernandez-Ardevol, J. Linchuan Qiu, and A. Sey, “Conclusion,” from Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective.
• Bill Bahng Boyer, “A Curious Circumstance of the iPod Shuffle or, Confessions of a Recovering Liberal Humanist”

WEEK 7 Listening, Culture, and Identity
• George Lipsitz, “Diasporic Noise: History, Hip Hop, and the Post-colonial Politics of Sound,” from Dangerous Crossroads
• Rayvon Fouché, “Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud: African Americans, American Artifactual Culture and Black Vernacular Technological Creativity”
• Simon Frith, “Technology and Authority,” from Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music
• Robert MacDougall, “The Wire Devils: Pulp Thrillers, the Telephone, and Action at a Distance in the Wiring of a Nation”

WEEK 8 Technostalgia, Repurposing, Anti-Progress
• Hillegonda C. Rietveld, “The Residual Soul Sonic Force of the 12-inch Dance Single,” from Residual Media
• John Shiga, “Copy-and-Persist: The Logic of Mash-Up Culture”
• Greg Hainge, “Of Glitch and Men: The Place of the Human in the Successful Integration of Failure and Noise in the Digital Realm”
• Carey with John J. Quick, Ch. 7 “The History of the Future”
• View: YouTube playlist of mashups and cover versions


WEEK 9 Audiences
• Daniel Lowe, “History of Perception,” from A History of Bourgeois Perception
• Jonathan Crary, “Techniques of the Observer,” from Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century
• Elizabeth Eisenstein, “The Unacknowledged Revolution,” from The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-modern Europe Media, History and the Data of Culture
• J. Lanza, “Ghosts in the Elevator,” from Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-listening, and Other Moodsong
• Carey, Ch. 3 “Reconceiving ‘Mass’ and ‘Media’”

WEEK 10 Businesses, Entrepreneurs
• Denise Schmandt-Besserat, “Tokens: The Socioeconomic Implications,” from How Writing Came About
• Tom Standage, “Wiring the World” from The Victorian Internet
• Carey, Ch. 8 “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph”
• Lawrence Lessig, “Property,” from Free Culture
• View: Startup.com

WEEK 11 Nations
• Cathy Davidson, “Introduction to the Expanded Edition,” “Introduction: Toward a History of Texts,” from Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America.
• D. Headrick, “The Imperial Telecommunications Networks,” from The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850-1940.
• Lincoln Dahlberg, “Rethinking the Fragmentation of the Cyberpublic: From Consensus to Contestation”
• Hess, Aaron “‘You Don’t Play, You Volunteer’: Narrative Public Memory Construction in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun”
• Jeffrey Sconce, “Alien Ether,” from Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television

WEEK 12 Journalism & the Media
• Michael Schudson, “The Revolution in American Journalism in the Age of Egalitarianism: The Penny Press,” from Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers
• Lance Bennett, “What's News? The Construction of Political Reality,” from News: The Politics of Illusion
• Brian Winston, “Epilogue: ‘Free Expression is in Very Deep Trouble’: Media from 1991 and Beyond,” from Messages: Free Expression, Media and the West from Gutenberg to Google


Week 13 Media Critique
• Steve Wurtzler, “Technological Innovation and the Consolidation of Corporate Power,” from Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media.
• Ben Bagdikian, “The Big Five,” from The New Media Monopoly
• Robert McChesney and Ben Scott, “Introduction” from Our Unfree Press
• Robert McChesney, “The Uprising of 2003,” from The Problem of the Media: U. S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century

WEEK 14 “The Machine Problem”
• Marx, from Capital v. 1
• Mary Shelley, from Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
• Jennifer Slack & J. Macgregor Wise, “Critical Responses to the Received View: Luddism, Appropriate Technology, the Unabomber,” from Culture & Technology: A Primer
• Steve Jones, “The Boom, the Bust, and Neo-Luddites in the 1990s,” from Against Technology
• View: YouTube playlist of electro-techno horror films

WEEK 15 Labor, Unions, Strikes
• Linda Simon, “Live Strikes,” from Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety from the Telegraph to the X-ray
• Tim Anderson, “Buried Under the Fecundity of his own Creations: The First Strike of the American Federation of Musicians” and “Counterreform and Resignation: The Second Strike of the American Federation of Musicians,” from Making Easy Listening: Material Culture and Postwar American Recording
• Hartman, Kraut, and Tilly, “Historical Patterns of Technological Change,” from Computer Chips and Paper Clips: Technology and Women's Employment, Volume I
• Andrew Ross “Technology & Below-the-Line Labor in Copyfight over Intellectual Property”

WEEK 16 Unintended Uses
• Charles Acland, “Introduction,” from Residual Media
• Siva Vaidhyanathan, “The Nation-state Versus Networks,” from The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the
• D. Travers Scott, “Tempests of the Blogosphere: Presidential Campaign Stories That Failed to Ignite Mainstream Media,” from Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
• Cooper et al, “Sexuality in Cyberspace: Update for the 21st Century”
• Kelli S. Burns: “A Historical Examination of the Development of Social Media and its Application to the Public Relations Industry”

Histories of Communication Technologies

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