2021 Syllabus version 0.99

Initial 2021 Syllabus Draft — Version 0.999 — 2-21-21

Syllabus 0.999 Draft

HIST 427: History of the Information Age (Honors)

 Spring 2021                   HCC 327            9:25-10:40 TR


Jeffrey McClurken                                                                              Office:  GW 105
E-mail:  jmcclurk@umw.edu                                                            Office Phone:  x1475
Office Hours: By appointment (phone, email or through Canvas message)
Twitter (@jmcclurken)

Course Description

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 counts in the History, American Studies, and Communication & Digital Studies majors and the Digital Studies Minor.  It also counts as a Digital Intensive class for General Education.


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 a multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.

Digital Intensive Objectives
All courses designated as Digitally Intensive should include assignments or other structured activities so that students will meet the following learning outcomes.

  • Students will successfully locate and critically evaluate information using the Internet, library databases, and/or other digital tools.
  • Students will use digital tools to safely, ethically, and effectively produce and exchange information and ideas.
  • Students will creatively adapt to emerging and evolving technology.


Course Requirements

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 three weeks of class discussions.  Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline of developments, events, people in 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 might be, even other ideas for assignments we might come up with.

In my initial brainstorming, the timeline components/additions/projects potentially included:

  • Literature reviews
  • Virtual tours (using tools like PlacePress)
  • Video creations
  • Infographics
  • Research paper
  • Short essays
  • Oral History
  • Mini-Biographies
  • Editing Wikipedia pages
  • Images
  • Tweets
  • GIFS
  • Memes
  • What else?


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.  However, this is also an unusual semester and year, so please reach out to me to discuss any issues or concerns.

A note about this semester and this class

This class is not the most important thing in your life. It’s not the most important thing in mine. Don’t get me wrong, there’s much to learn here and I love and have so much fun exploring these topics with you and your classmates. But take care of yourself. Reach out to me if there are things in your life that end up taking precedence over this class. Let’s talk about them.



In the Bookstore – 1 Core text is 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.

Other Readings, Videos, Images, or other resources as determined by class, at least some of which are online

Some good monograph options for readings:

  • Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 2011.
  • Noble, Safiya U. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press, 2018.
  • Rosenzweig, Roy. Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
  • Vaidhyanathan, Siva, The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) Updated Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
  • Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History From the Telegraph to the Internet. Re-issue. London: Routledge, 1998.

But there are many scholarly works in the library databases that we will no doubt tap into. In addition, you can make the case for using works of popular culture when you are leading discussion.




Students are expected to attend all classes having read the material.  Class participation includes actively participating in these daily discussions.[1]  Each of you will also be expected to co-lead group discussion with another person (or persons) during three weeks.  That will mean helping to choose readings, images, or videos for those weeks.  I will meet with these leaders 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) Domain of One’s Own WordPress site by January 27. Narrating your reactions to the reading, your experiences planning, researching, and implementing your projects as part of the class timeline 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. [These posts are due on Tuesday of each week unless otherwise specified.]

Final Grades

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.]

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


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 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.

COVID-specific Policies

All students are expected to adhere to the following policies and expectations to mitigate risk and support the health and safety of the UMW community: MMDC–Monitoring, Masking, Distancing, Cleaning.

Self- Monitoring: all UMW students, faculty, and staff must self-monitor their health status and attest daily in Eagle Health Survey. Students should refrain from attending class and other on-campus events if they feel ill and are encouraged to seek appropriate medical attention for treatment of illness. Should you need to be absent from class due to illness, please inform me so that a plan for making up missed work can be developed.

Face Coverings: face coverings which cover both the nose and mouth must be worn by all students, faculty, and staff and are required in all classrooms/lab/studios at all times, as well as inside buildings when in the company of others. If a student does not have a mask or appropriate face covering that student will not be permitted in class. Masks are available at the University Center Information Desk. See UMW’s Face Covering Policy for face covering guidelines. Students unable to wear a face covering for medical reasons should contact the Office of Disability Resources.

Physical distancing: all classrooms, labs, studios and any other instructional areas are configured to provide appropriate physical distancing and have established occupancy limits; students MUST adhere to the physical distancing configuration of the classroom/lab/studio and not exceed the occupancy limits of the space at any time.

Self-Cleaning: students and faculty are expected to wipe down their work/seating areas when entering the instructional space and upon leaving; cleaning and disinfecting products such as sanitizing wipes are present in all classroom and meeting spaces, and throughout UMW buildings to support self-cleaning. The time between classes has been increased to 20 minutes to permit self-cleaning of learning spaces.

No food is permitted in classrooms and other instructional areas; drinks permitted in closed containers only and not in areas where expressly prohibited.

Failure to comply with UMW policies and expectations for face coverings, physical distancing, self-cleaning, and monitoring requirements will result in disciplinary action consistent with the Student Code of Conduct.


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, please provide me a copy of your accommodation letter via email or during a meeting. I encourage you to follow-up with me about your accommodations and needs within this class. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, their office is located in Lee Hall, Room 401.  They can be reached at odr@umw.edu. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.

Title IX Statement

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, we 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 http://diversity.umw.edu/title-ix/ 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.

Stefanie Lucas-Waverly, M.S.
Title IX Coordinator
Fairfax House
1301 College Ave.
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-654-5656
E-mail: slucaswa@umw.edu
Website: http://diversity.umw.edu/title-ix/

Confidential Resources

Talley Center for Counseling Services
Lee Hall 106, 540-654-1053

Student Health Center
Lee Hall 112, 540-654-1040

24-hr hotline: 540-373-9373

Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA)
24-hr hotline: 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 (x1200) 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 Center

The Digital Knowledge Center (DKC), located in HCC 408, 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-on-one or in a group with a student tutor. You can schedule a tutorial through EAB and at http://dkc.umw.edu; while appointments are not required, they are recommended. Tutorials cover a wide range of topics related to common digital systems, technologies, new media, and tools used in courses at UMW. DKC tutors adhere to the UMW Honor Code during all appointments. They are available to provide guidance and advice, but they cannot create, produce, or edit work on a student’s behalf. You can find out more about what to expect from DKC tutorials at http://dkc.umw.edu/what-to-expect/.

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:

Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of January 26&28

— What is the Information Age?

— Planning the syllabus and the semester

— Discussing digital tools

— Discussing representation in communication

Week 2 — Discussing assignments and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of February 2&4

Tuesday:  More discussion of digital tools, brainstorming assignments and semester topics


Thursday: Refining assignments and topics in small groups

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; pamphleteering; mass-printed illustrations/ cartoons (17th – mid-19th centuries);

Week 3 — Week of February 9&11

— Topics:  Cave paintings, African drums, oral tradition, etc.

Reading/Video/Other Resources

— Tuesday:   Downey, all 

              Thursday: Start of timeline project;


Week 4 — Week of February 16&18

— Topics: Newspapers, Magazine, Books, written language


1) Review Downey, Ch. 1
2) History of the Book and the Digital World (video) (Links to an external site.);

3) Brown, Richard. “Information Diffusion in the British Colonies (Links to an external site.),” Chapter 2 in Chandler, Alfred D., and James W. Cortada. Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/umw/detail.action?docID=4702609 (Links to an external site.) (You may need to log in to UMW Libraries and search for the book.)



1) Mellen, Roger. “The Press, Paper Shortages, and Revolution in Early America (Links to an external site.).” Media History 21, no. 1 (January 2, 2015): 23–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/13688804.2014.983058



Part II – Early Networked Communication 

Potential topics:  Postal Service, Telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism


Week 5 — Week of February 23&25

— Topics: Social Networks, Pony Express, committees of correspondence; Postal Service, Telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism; Morse code, telegraph, telephone, journalism, photography

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: Chapters I (intro) and II of this book, Bates, David Homer. Lincoln in the Telegraph Office: Recollections of the United States Military Telegraph Corps during the Civil War. 1995.https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=44434&site=ehost-live (Links to an external site.)


              Thursday: Work on Colorizing Old Photographs Project 

The Telegraph and the Control of Material Movements A Micro-Study about the Detachment of Communication from Transport by: Wenzlhuemer, Roland https://umw.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/telegraph-control-material-movements-micro-study/docview/1950410270/se-2?accountid=12299


Part III—Broadcasting 

Potential Topics: technological, cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV; advertising, rise of mass media; propaganda;


Week 6 — Week of March 2&4

— Topics: Development of the Radio and Television; Expansion of access to media; Technological, Cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:

Readings for Tuesday

*History of Commercial Radio

*Review Downey Chapter 3



As you read, please post on the jamboard: (!if that link doesn’t work, try this one)

  1. your questions
  2. key points of the readings and video
  3. what you found interesting

              Thursday: Present on Colorizing Old Photographs Project & form groups for Propaganda Campaign Assignment (II)

Reading and Watching for Thursday

*Buster Keaton – The Art of the Gag

*Gomery and Pafort-Overduin, “The Invention and Innovation of Motion Pictures,” in Movie History: A Survey. (see Canvas for more details)


As you watch these, think about whether cinema (movies) were evolutionary or revolutionary:




Week 7 — Week of March 9&11

— Topics: advertising, rise of mass media; propaganda

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: by Joseph H. Boyett, “Rhetoric, Propaganda, and Damn Lies” of Won’t Get Fooled Again, 163-187. (see Canvas)

Two videos about propaganda



Brainstorming for Propaganda Campaign


              Thursday: A video and an article about advertising



Questions for Propaganda Campaign


Propaganda Campaign due by Friday, March 12, 11:59 pm


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 Overload; Satellites/cable/fiber optics; identity in the digital age; social media; trolling/harassment; memes; others


Week 8 — Week of March 16&18

No Class Tuesday, March 16

  • Topics: Early Computers (human and technological)

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Thursday: A Demo of Charles Babbage’s Difference EngineAda Lovelace’s Obituary; Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think

Youtube videos

ENIAC: The First Computer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4oGI_dNaPc (Links to an external site.)

Alan Turing: Celebrating the life of a Genius

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtRLmL70TH0 (Links to an external site.)

Charles Babbage Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlbQsKpq3Ak (Links to an external site.)


https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/ (Links to an external site.)


Pick topics for Live Tweeting Historical event Assignment


Week 9 — Week of March 23&25

— Topics: Networks and the Internet; Personal computers; rise of social media

Reading/Video/Other Resources— Tuesday:

— Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202; Live Tweeting Historical Event Due


Week 10 — Week of March 30 & April 1

  • Topics: Programming/Coding/Hacking culture; Obsolete tech; video games
  • Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: Choose individual people AND class platform for Social Media Profile Assignment


Week 11 — Week of April 6&8

— Topics:  Trust, “truth” in the Digital Age; Identity in the digital age

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:  Rosenzweig, 28-50 (Historical Knowledge online); 51-82 (Wikipedia & History); 155-178

              Thursday: Complete Social Media Profile Assignment



Week 12 —Week of April 13&15

— Topics: rise of phones; Information overload

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:


Part V – Looking forward

Potential topics: Copyright/open source/intellectual property; History in the digital age; Infographics; Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression; search in the age of Google; Artificial Intelligence; Siri/Google/Alexa; Cybersecurity; Crowdsourcing; Digital Divide; Fake News; Twitterbots


Week 13  — Week of April 20&22

— Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future; Cybersecurity; AI/bots; planned obsolescence

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:

              Thursday: End of the Semester TIMELINE PROJECTS DUE


Week 14  — Week of April 27&29

— Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy; Memes; Fake News; Implications of technology of communication (for education, government, society, culture)

Reading/Video/Other Resources – Tuesday:





Exam Period – Reflection on the semester – what you did and learned.

Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:

Questions for the class [These will guide our initial discussion as we fill in the syllabus together.]

  • Which topics are you particularly interested in studying this semester?
  • 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.]
  • What do you think of the layout of the course schedule? Do you want to spend more or less time on certain broad topics? Are there potential topics that aren’t listed at all that you think should be part of the history of the Information Age?
  • Assignment generation
    • One central work of the class for the semester will be adding to a digital timeline of the events/people/trends in the History of the Information age. 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 link in to the timeline from previous semesters.  So, what types of assignments/projects would you be interested in working on/doing related to the timeline?  
    • What alternative ways might we use to construct/present what we’ve learned in and out of the class about the history of information? 
    • Once we are back in the classroom, what projects relevant to our subject could we create with the full resources of the HCC? [At a minimum, cameras, audio booth, video recording and editing suites.  What could we create for the digital signage in the building?  For the giant video wall?]
    • What percentage of course grade should those assignments be valued at?
    • Previous semesters assignment (for inspiration, not just replicating) can be found here (2014) and here (2019).
  • Options for modalities.  This is a hybrid class, which means some of the work will take place in the classroom and some will take place on line.  What assignments and scheduling can we develop to take advantage of the best of both the physical and digital spaces we will inhabit?
    1. The active learning classroom that we will be in has LCD panels at small group tables around the room so students will be able to hook up their laptops and work collaboratively (& safely). Pairs with a mini research topic assignment and with 30-45 minutes to work, can then present their results to the rest of the class. What in the classroom paired projects would you like to try?
    2. What discussions or projects would work as well or better done in online breakout rooms or small group sessions?  Because of physical distancing requirements, some group projects or discussions of 3 or 4 or 5 might work better in Zoom calls than face to face. What virtual group class projects would you like to try?

[1] 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.