2023 Syllabus Draft — Version 0.98

Syllabus 0.98 Draft

HIST 427: History of the Information Age (Honors)

 Spring 2023                   HCC 327            9:30-10:45 TR


Jeffrey McClurken                                                                               Office:  GW 105
E-mail:  jmcclurk@umw.edu                                                            Office Phone:  540-654-1475
Office Hours: By appointment (phone, email or through Canvas message)
Twitter (@jmcclurken)/Mastodon (@jmcclurken@mastodon.social)


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, as well as the Honors Program.  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, other assignments we might come up with.

In my initial brainstorming, the timeline components/additions and other assignments potentially included:

  • Maps or Virtual tours (using tools like PlacePress, Google Maps, or StoryMapJS)
  • Video creations
  • Infographics
  • Research paper
  • Short essays
  • Oral Histories
  • Literature reviews
  • Mini-Biographies
  • Editing Wikipedia pages
  • Images
  • Tweets
  • GIFS
  • Memes
  • Even, if you are game, a digital project to highlight and contextualize alumni on campus
  • 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 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 (let me know if you have trouble getting this).

  • 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 (films, video clips, podcasts, images, memes, etc.) 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 (or create one of the new Sites@UMW) by January 11. 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.

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.  See Assignments page for this breakdown.

[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

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.

Masks: Masking is optional in classes this semester, though, as the University COVID Guide indicates, “the wearing of a well-fitting mask is highly effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, including its variants. Masks are recommended when in close proximity of others for a prolonged period of time, particularly indoors. We especially recommend KN95 masks, double masking, or equivalent masks.”   Regardless, given the size of the room and the time that we will be spending here, anyone who wants to wear a mask for whatever reason should do so.  I strongly recommend as well that everyone follow the CDC local guidance and mask when local community levels are high (orange).


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 Seacobeck 005, phone number is (540) 654-1266 and email is odr@umw.edu.  The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.”

Title IX Statement

University of Mary Washington faculty are 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, 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 confidential resources found below. They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator, their contact information can be found below. 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.

Ruth Davison, Ph.D.
Title IX Coordinator
Lee Hall, Room 401
1301 College Avenue Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-654-5656
E-mail: rdavison@umw.edu
Website: http://diversity.umw.edu/title-ix/

Confidential Resources
Talley Center for Counseling Services Lee Hall, Room 106, 540-654-1053 Student Health Center Lee Hall, Room 112, 540-654-1040

Empowerhouse 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.

Basic Needs Security

Learning effectively and engaging wholly in class is dependent upon our basic security and having our fundamental needs met: having a safe place to sleep at night, regular access to nutritious food, and some assurance of safety. If you have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or if you lack a safe and stable place to live, please contact Chris Porter, Assistant Dean of Students, at cjporter@umw.edu.  Additionally, the Gwen Hale Resource Center is a free resource on campus, providing food, toiletries and clothing to any member of our community. It is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 1pm to 6pm, on the 5th floor (floor A for Attic) of Lee Hall, or resource@umw.edu. Finally, you are always welcome to talk with me about needs, if you are comfortable doing so. This will enable me to provide any resources I may possess.

Digital Knowledge Center

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. 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:

Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of January 10&12

— What is the Information Age?

— Planning the syllabus and the semester

— Discussing digital tools

— Discussing representation in communication

— DKC visit, January 12 (20 minute overview of digital tools & projects supported.


Week 2 — Discussing assignments and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of January 17&19

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

Reading for Tuesday: Two of four introductions for Info Age related histories (Gleick, Evans, Winston, Kline).

Zoom Thursday:  Refining assignments and topics in small (virtual) 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


Week 3 — Week of January 24&26

Topics:  Cave Paintings and Oral Traditions

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: Downey, All (1-61)

              Thursday: Continue Downey discussion, and Gleick, Chapter 2.

Also Thursday: Start of timeline project and/or first assignment


Week 4 — Week of January 31 & February 2

Topics:  Coffee Houses and Book/Print Culture

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: 





Part II – Early Networked Communication 

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

Week 5 — Week of February 7&9

Topics:  Postal Service, telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism

Assignment 1 — Cave Painting assignment due Thursday

Reading/Video/Other Resources —

Tuesday: Telephone, Telegraph, and Post Age 

Telephone Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ8Kkgf4J3Y.

Telephone Reading  S. H. Aronson, “The Sociology of the Telephone,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology12 (1971), 153-167.

Telegraph Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HOLzShLPoQ 

The Postal Age Introduction: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/umw/reader.action?docID=408572&ppg=18Links to an external site.


Thursday: Modern Journalism

Viral Texts – https://viraltexts.org/visualizations/

Rise of Journalism in New York – https://www.jstor.org/stable/42890074?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.



Part III—Broadcasting 

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


Week 6 — Week of February 14&16

Topics: Rise of Radio/Film/TV

Assignment 2 — Infographic assignment due Thursday

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:

              Thursday: American Archive of Public Broadcasting — https://americanarchive.org/


Week 7 — Week of February 21&23

Topics: Advertising and Propaganda

— Start Assignment 3 — Propaganda — Work on in class Tuesday and Thursday — due after spring break

Reading/Video/Other Resources — 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, post-9/11); 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 (including critiques of technology — e.g., Black Mirror and many others); 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, including impact on mental health; trolling/harassment; memes; misinformation/”truth” in the Digital Age; Internet subcultures


Spring Break! In late February and early March!


Week 8 — Week of March 7&9

  • Topics: Early Computers (Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Human Computers, Woman in Early Computing), Rise of personal computers (desktops and laptops)

Assignment 3 — Propaganda assignment due Thursday, 3/9

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



Week 9 — Week of March 14&16

Topics: Role of Technology in War; Networks and the Internet, including its commercialization

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:

Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202 (See Professor McClurken for sources)



Week 10 — Week of March 21&23

  • Topics: Rise of Mobile devices/smartphones/smart devices and social media

Assignment 4 — Due Thursday, 3/23

  • Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:



Week 11 — Week of March 28&30

Topics: Misinformation/“truth” in the Digital Age; Digital identity, information overload, mental health concerns, and digital harassment.

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



Week 12 —Week of April 4&6

Topics: Pop Culture treatment of the Digital Age; Memes and internet subcultures

— Start Assignment 5 — Choice of assignment — projects due 4/18

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/Machine Learning/ChatGPT; Siri/Google/Alexa; Cybersecurity; Crowdsourcing; Digital Divide; Fake News; Twitterbots;


Week 13  — Week of April 11&13

Topics:  History in the Digital Age; Cybersecurity and Privacy; Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: Introduction to Adam Crymble’s Technology & the Historian?



Week 14  — Week of April 18&20

Topics: AI/Machine Learning/ChatGPT; smart interfaces (Siri/Google/Alexa)

Assignment 5 — Projects due Tuesday, 4/18

Reading/Video/Other Resources – Tuesday:





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

Thursday, April 27, 9:30 AM 

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? 
    • 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 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) and here (2021).
  • Options for modalities.  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?  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.