Making Modern Technology (HSTM60272)
This unit aims to:
- introduce students to the history of technological development, and its relationship with political, economic and social change, across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
- promote appreciation of the influence of everyday, unglamorous and ‘invisible’ technologies alongside prestigious and deliberately striking ‘high technology’
- develop understanding of the infrastructural role of technology, including the power relations and value judgments embedded in ‘neutral’ or ‘inevitable’ developments
- characterise the changing relationship between technological manufacture, the physical sciences and informatics across the period in view
- enhance students’ research and essay-writing skills, and provide suitable grounding for dissertation research into the history of technology.
When people refer to “technology”, they often think of the newest and most striking artefacts: the latest tablet PC, superjumbo airliner or stem cell innovation. It’s similarly easy to think of showstopping material technologies from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: textile mills and steamships, radio telescopes and particle colliders. Yet there are many other, apparently “ordinary” technologies, which have equal and sometimes even greater influence on the way we live our lives. Some, like plug sockets or plastic bags, are material; others, like the metric system or credit scoring, are not.
This course addresses the international history of technological development from the nineteenth century to the present day. It focuses particularly on technology’s relationship to the physical sciences, as “Big Science” made ever greater organizational and material demands; on nationality, through attempts to portray Britain as intrinsically inventive; on warfare, both hot and cold; and on the steady expansion of concepts from information-processing science into all areas of human life and work.
As this is a team-taught course drawing on staff research interests, the exact content will vary. However, it will typically include the following:
- The invisibility of infrastructure
- The figure of the inventor: industrial heroism and the patent lobby
- Ships, dams and skyscrapers: the material culture of technological gigantism
- Manufacturing numbers: organised computation before electronics
- Technology and national identity: the Great Exhibition and the Festival of Britain
- Air-mindedness and the technologies of colonialism
- The growth of Big Science: is physics engineering now?
- Space technology: a passage to new worlds, or a weapon of Cold War?
- Meteorology, surveillance and environmental awareness
- Computers in use: modelling and networking
- The domestication of the computer
- Mills, telescopes and nuclear bunkers: the technological heritage industry
- Everything in bits? Technoscience, convergence and the birth of bioinformatics
This unit is assessed by two essays.