Fall 2019                TR, 9:30-10:45           HCC 329­­

Jeffrey McClurken
Office:  GW105
Office Hours:  please make appt.

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.  As a course that counts for the Human Experience and Society General Education requirement, this course also has the following skill objectives: students will be able to explain human and social experiences and activities from multiple perspectives; students will be able to draw appropriate conclusions based on evidence; students will be able to transfer knowledge and skills learned to a novel situation.  This course counts in the History and American Studies majors, the Digital Studies Minor, and the Communication and Digital Studies Major.

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 and a documentary short on an artifact of technology (and present it to the class), and take a midterm and a final examination. All assignments must be completed to pass the class.


Students are expected to attend all weekly class discussions (typically on Thursdays) having read the material and having prepared one question or comment based on that reading to be posted to the class wiki (–history_of_american_tech_culture–fall_2019) by 7 AM. The question or comment should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading. [Since part of the goal is to prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]  Class participation includes contributing weekly questions/comments and actively participating in class discussions.

Research-Based Blog Project & Film

Each group of 3-4 students will create an online research-based project and a short (10-15 minute) documentary-style video about the history of an artifact of American technology. [Topics cannot duplicate those of other groups, cannot duplicate those of previous HIST 325 projects at (unless you can make the case that they will improve on those projects in some substantive way), and cannot overlap with those covered in class lectures.]  Each group’s digital project, created in WordPress, and video, posted with their digital project, will be linked to the class projects page 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, project outlines/storyboards, the research-based digital project, and the documentary, as well as a chance to revise one of the projects; be sure to meet these deadlines. See for more details about the projects.  Students will receive a group grade and an individual grade for the research-based site and for the documentary.

The Research Proposal & Project Outlines

The proposal and outlines are intended to get you and your group started on your research project and documentary planning. First, the blogged project proposal (with annotated bibliography) due September 26 is also intended, like most proposals, to prove to me that your group will have enough scholarly material to complete the larger research-based site and documentary film. Second, the project outlines due October 17 are intended to get you started on thinking about how that material will fit together on the site and in the documentary.  The research proposal with bibliography and the outlines for the site and documentary are collectively worth 5% of your final grade. See for more details.


Final grades will be determined based on class participation (10%), the research proposal and project outlines (5%), performance on the research-based project site and documentary (20% each) 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 and they can be found at

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.

Title IX 

I am committed to supporting students and upholding the University’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Under Title IX and this Policy, discrimination based upon sex or gender is prohibited. If you experience an incident of sex or gender based discrimination, I encourage you to report it. While you may talk to me, understand that as a “Responsible Employee” of the University, I MUST report to UMW’s Title IX Coordinator what you share. If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the below confidential resources. They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator. Please visit to view UMW’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence and to find further information on support and resources.

On-Campus Resources
Stefanie Lucas-Waverly, Title IX Coordinator, Office of Title IX, Fairfax House, 540-654-5656,

Crystal Rawls, Title IX Deputy for Students,  UC 303, 540-654-1801,

Confidential Resources 
Talley Center for Counselling Services, Lee Hall 106

Student Health Center,  Lee Hall 112

Off Campus
Empowerhouse, 540-373-9373
RCASA — 540-371-1666

Recording Policy Statement

In this class, students may not make audio or video recordings of any course activity unless the student has an approved accommodation from the Office of Disability Resources permitting the recording class meetings. In such cases, the accommodation letter must be presented to the instructor in advance of any recording being done and all students in the course will be notified whenever recording will be taking place. Students who are permitted to record classes are not permitted to redistribute audio or video recordings of statements or comments from the course to individuals who are not students in the course without the express permission of the faculty member and of any students who are recorded. Distribution without permission is a violation of educational privacy law. This policy is consistent with UMW’s Policy on Recording Class and Distribution of Course Materials.

Food and Housing

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Office of Student Life (540-654-1200) for support. Furthermore, please notify me (if you are comfortable in doing so). This will enable me to help connect you to those resources.

Digital Knowledge Centerparticularly relevant to students in HIST325

The Digital Knowledge Center (DKC) provides UMW students with peer tutoring on digital projects and assignments. Any student at the University can take advantage of the Center’s services by scheduling an appointment to work one-one-one or in a group with a student tutor; when a tutor is available, the Center also provides walk-in assistance. Tutorials can cover a wide-range of topics related to common digital systems, technologies, new media, and tools used in courses at UMW; the Center also provides training to students interested in learning how to use the Advanced Media Production Studio (HCC 115). DKC tutors adhere to the UMW Honor Code in all tutorials; they are available to provide guidance and advice, but they cannot create, produce, or edit work on a student’s behalf.

Writing Center

The UMW Writing Center offers assistance on all types of writing projects.

Speaking Center

UMW Libraries Librarians are available to assist you via phone, email, chat message, or face-to-face.

Help Desk The IT Help Desk provides support for technology-related problems or questions from the UMW Community. If you are having difficulties connecting to online University resources, seek assistance from the Help Desk:

Website (with operating hours):

Required Texts

Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.

Pursell, Carroll W., ed. American Technology. Blackwell Readers in American Social and Cultural History 7. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

Assorted additional readings available online.

Class Schedule and Reading Assignments
[Can’t find the reading? Have you checked the Readings page?]

Aug. 27    — Introduction

Aug. 29    — The Evolution of Technology

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

Sept. 3   — Colonial America: The Axe & America’s Wooden Age

Sept. 5  — Eli Whitney, Catherine Green and the Cotton Gin

Discussion of reading

  • Pursell, 11-38; Smith and Clancey, 103-130.
  • Groups brainstorm ideas for sites/documentaries

By Tuesday, September 10, turn in technology research topics for approval via email (Note: you are encouraged to submit your ideas earlier.)

Sept. 10 — Textiles & Industrialization in America

Sept. 12 — John Hall & the American System: The Hall Rifle & Interchangeable Manufacturing

In-class WordPress/Video session – Bring laptops to class

Discussion of reading

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

Submit URL slug suggestion for your project to Dr. McClurken on Thursday, Sept. 12; each group member should post test blog entry with a relevant picture (& citation) by class time on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Sept. 17     — Railroads & the Transportation Revolution

Sept. 19    — The Bessemer Steel Process: A Tale of Two Inventors & One Businessman

Discussion of reading

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 start of class on Thursday, Sept. 26.

Sept. 24   — McCormick’s Reaper & the Mechanization of American Agriculture

Sept. 26   — The Watch, Railroad Time, & Scientific Management

Discussion of reading  

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

Oct. 1   — Edison’s Electric Light:  The Light Bulb & the Birth of the Electrical System

Oct. 3   —  The Brooklyn Bridge & American Urbanization

  • Discussion of reading – LOTS OF READING, START EARLY

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

  Oct. 8 The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology  — In-class Group Work Day 


Fall Break

Skeleton outline, list of media, and key image (with citation) for the research site & storyboards/outline for the documentary due by the end of the day, Thursday, October 17, posted to your group’s project blog.  [And submit your mid-semester group evaluation.]

Oct. 17   — In-class Group Work Day — The Skyscraper & American Urban Technology

No reading this week.


Oct. 22  — Mass Production of Food & the Mechanization of Food Processing AND  “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Need . . . a Dozen Eggs”:  Americans & the Telephone

Oct. 24   — Image & Reality:  George Eastman & the Kodak Camera

  • Discussion of reading

                             — Geoffrey Bennett, The Story of Popular Photography, 128-153; Pursell, 144-168, 169-188. 253-290

Complete research digital project site by the beginning of class, Thursday, October 31 [Don’t make any changes to your project site from class start on October 31 until I give you my evaluation so that I have a chance to comment using on a stable site.]

Oct. 29— Henry Ford & the Mass-Produced Model T

Oct. 31   — Radio & Mass Culture

Discussion of reading

Smith and Clancey, 355-364; Ruth Cowan, A Social History of American Technology, 201-219; Nye, 133-137.

Nov. 5     — The Manhattan Project:  The Development of America’s Atom Bomb

  • Final Presentation schedule to be determined by lottery at November 5  November 7 class meeting

Nov. 7     — Movie:  Atomic Café

  • Discussion of reading

                   — Pursell, 208-252; “1945-1998,”

Documentary due by start of class, Tuesday, November 12 Nov. 19 [Posted to YouTube/Vimeo, etc. and embedded on Project Site, with full citations.]

Nov. 12    — “More Work for Mother”:  The Electric Washer & Industrializing the Household

Nov. 14    — Plastic & American Culture

  • Discussion of reading
  • Nye, 238-86; Pursell, 116-143.

Nov. 19    — A Man on the Moon:  The Space Race & America’s Apollo Program

Nov. 21   — “Accidental Empires”:  The Rise of the Personal Computer

               — Work on revising the website project or the documentary

Discussion of reading

Revised site/documentary due by the beginning of class with narrative of changes, Tuesday, November 26 December 3

Nov. 26   — The “World Wide” Web? : The Rise of the Internet 

Nov. 28 — Thanksgiving

Dec. 3   — Discussion and presentation of projects

Dec. 5 Discussion and presentation of projects


EXAM – Tuesday, December 10, 8:30-11 AM

  • Bring Blue Book(s)