Please read the guidelines for writing homework responses


Assignment 10: Due Weds. May 6 by 5pm via bSpace: Go over the course syllabus and pick out:
a. One class topic you found particularly interesting or relevant to the course, and
b. One class topic that might better be modified or replaced with some other topic if History of Information is taught again.

Then do the same for the readings -- name one you particularly liked and one that you think would be better left out of next year's syllabus.

Give a sentence or two to explain your opinions.

Note that we're not asking you to evaluate the teaching of the classes (you'll have a chance to do that anonymously in the course evaluations) but the course content. Imagine you're doing this for the benefit of some other faculty member who will be teaching the class next year.

We'd greatly appreciate it if you could do this assignment even if you've already got your quota, though it's not obligatory.


Assignment 8: Due Mon. April 20 by 5pm via bSpace: Watch the segments from Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" films and Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" linked to on the syllabus page (note that the Riefenstahl has a new url as of Thurs. 4/9). Would you describe both of these as "propaganda"? Which do you think would have been more effective at mobilizing popular support for the government and its policies? Justify your answers.

Exemplary responses


Assignment 7: due Monday, April 6, 2009 at 5pm via bSpace:

Use Klein and McKendrick to answer the question: Does adversising belong in a "History of Information" class?

Exemplary responses


Assignment 6: due Monday, March 9, 2009 at 5pm via bSpace:

Friedlander and Fischer tell the histories of new information technologies primarily in terms of business strategy.  What advantages are to this approach in trying to understand the history of information?  What disadvantages?  Give examples from one or both of the readings.

Exemplary responses


Assignment 5: Due 5pm on Weds. February, 25th.  Submit via bSpace

Thompson talks about the spread of the clock, the pocket watch, and timekeeping; Edwards about the spread of account books and double-entry bookkeeping. The historian Alfred Crosby, in his book The Measure of Reality, says of bookkeeping that it has "done more to shape the perceptions of more bright minds than any single innovation in philosophy or science."


To which of the two developments under discussion--timekeeping or double-entry bookkeeping--do you think Crosby's claim is better applied? Please write a response of about 200 words and give some evidence from the readings to support your claim.

Exemplary responses


Assignment 4: Due 5pm on Monday February, 16th.  Submit via bSpace

Background: The Royal Society was founded in England in 1660. It still exists today and claims to be the oldest scientific society. Thomas Sprat (1635-1713), the author of the principal work you have to read, was a student of one of the founders. He joined the Society in 1663 and was asked to write the Society's history. In this book, then, we have a contemporary, insider's account of the founding of a very influential

society, one that people argue was at the center of the "scientific revolution."

Henry Stubbe (or Stubbes, 1605-1678) was another contemporary, but embittered by the Royal Society's failure to take some of his "scientific observations" seriously he turned into one of its major opponents.  His Legends No Histories ..., from which you are to read a short section, was written as a direct response to Sprat's book.  (His opposition wasn't purely a result of his bitterness.  He had been a companion of the great philosopher Thomas Hobbes and Hobbes was a principled opponent of the Society and its methods.)

The texts are a challenge, but manageable with patience. Take them slowly--neither is very long. Note passages that don't make sense to discuss in class, but keep on reading. As you go on, what is at first

confusing may become clear (or irrelevant).

In the section of Sprat you are to read (beginning "I come now to the Second Period of my Narration" on p. 60), Sprat lays out a little of the underlying philosophy of the society, beginning with their "resolutions" and their "purpose"--this is the "Model" (or method) of scientific investigation which he thinks is better than any other that has come before (which he has spent a good deal of the earlier pages criticizing).

Question: As he explains this model, does Sprat seem to you to be talking about science as we think of it today? Provide some evidence from the text to support your view in roughly 200 words.

Professor Duguid included many of the excellent responses to this assignment in the slides for his lecture on February 17, 2009.


Assignment 3: Due 5pm on Monday, February 9, 2009.  Submit via bSpace.

Please select ONE of the two questions, pick a position and defend it in 200 words.

Option A: Does Eisenstein strike you as a determinist? Suggest what kind of evidence or argument would support or challenge her thesis that print culture has particular features.

Option B: Some scholars have accused Eisenstein of "trashing" scribal culture to make her case about print culture. Based on what you know of scribal culture, does that strike you as fair?

Exemplary responses


Assignment 2: Due 5pm on Monday, February 2, 2009.  Submit via bSpace.

In his 1987 study of the cognitive effects of word-processing systems, Electric Language, Michael Heim wrote:

    The accelerated automation of word-processing makes possible a new immediacy in the creation of public, typified text. Immediacy in the sense of there being no medium quod, no instrumental impediment to thinking in external symbols, but only a medium quo, or purely transparent element. As I write, I can put things directly into writing, My stream of consciousness can be paralled by the running flow of the electric element. Words dance on the screen. Sentences flow smoothly into place, make way for one another, while paragraphs ripple down the screen. Words become highlighted, vanish at the push of a button, then reappear instantly at will. Verbal life is fast-paced, easier, with something of the exhilaration of video games....

    Because this playful way of putting things is immediate, enjoyable, and less constrained by materials, it encourages on-screen thinking, that is, thinking in a typified, public element.... Digital writing is nearly frictionless. It invites the formulation of thought directly in the electric element....

Reading this passage, would you say that Heim's view of the effects of writing technology comes closer to that of Havelock or of Scribner and Cole? Why? Write a 200 word paragraph briefly defending and explaining your view.

Exemplary responses


Assignment 1: Due 5pm on Monday, January 26, 2009 

The papers by Heilbroner and Bijker take opposite sides of the argument about technological determinism. Decide which one wins the argument.Tell us, in 200 words or less, what in the paper clinched the argument for you. Be prepared to defend your decision in class. If you cannot decide who wins, say why and again be prepared to defend your judgment.

Exemplary responses