Syllabus 0.9 Draft — 1/11/19

HIST 427: History of the Information Age (Honors)

 Spring 2019                   HCC 327            9:30-10:45 TR

Jeffrey McClurken                                                                              Office:  GW 105

E-mail:                                                            Office Phone:  x1475

Office Hours:  By appt                                                                       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 Comm & Digital Studies majors 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 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.


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 two 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
  • 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.  Late items will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.


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 two 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 16. 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.

[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




The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the college 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, along with a copy of our class syllabus 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 have reasonable accommodation needs, (note taking assistance, extended time for tests, etc.), I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.

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.

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
Marissa Miller, Interim Title IX Coordinator, Office of Title IX, Fairfax House, 540-654-1193,

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 (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) 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:


Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of January 15

— 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 January 22

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

Reading for Tuesday: Downey, all (Or should this be spread out over the semester?)

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


Week 3 — Week of January 29

Topics:  Newspapers, Magazine, Books

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:   Start of timeline project



Part II – Early Networked Communication 

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


Week 4 — Week of February 5


Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday: 





Part III—Broadcasting 

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


Week 5 — Week of February 12


Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:



Week 6 — Week of February 19


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); 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 7 — Week of February 26

  • Topics: Early Computers

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



Spring Break


Week 8 — Week of March 12

Topics: Networks and the Internet

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202


Week 9 — Week of March 19


Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:



Week 10 — Week of March 26

  • Topics:
  • Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:



Week 11 — Week of April 2

Topics:  Trust, Citations, “truth” in the Digital Age

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



Week 12 —Week of April 9


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 16

Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future

Reading/Video/Other Resources — Tuesday:



Week 14  — Week of April 23

Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy

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 ( )? [Note: we’re not going to read all of these.  This bibliography is a resource to draw from and contribute to all semester.]
  • One central work of the class for the semester will be the creation of 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.  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? 
    1. 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?]
    2. What percentage of course grade should those assignments be valued at?
  • I want to take advantage of the classroom we’ll be in.
    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. I’ve been thinking about splitting up into groups with a small research topic assignment, giving you 30-45 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?
  • What do you think of the layout of the course schedule? Do you want to spend more or less time on certain broad topics?

[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.