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History of Technology: Tools of Toil

Have we invested more in our symbols of technology than they can promise us in satisfying our hunger for contentment, comfort and convenience?

Our authors suggest not.

The history of tool use and technological innovation is a global enterprise reflecting an expression of everything that is human.

Assignments | Calendar | Texts | Grades

August | September | October | November | Final

Required Reading:



readings by month

Late work is unacceptable & will be penalized.  Missing assignments count as a zero.

Calendar | Texts | Grades

Syllabus details


By month

August | September | October | November | Final

Readings by short titles of chapters & selections from Authors

Sept 19-23:      Global Peace Film Festival – select 3 films to promote as an alternate to interviews, prepare a promotion packet, describe the films to other classes, bring people to the films and panels [attend at least two panels and describe their content in writing].


Week One: the story of Thamus


Week Two:

Week # & Date       Focus & assignments               Readings by chapters or pages assigned



20             M              Who are you and how does your favorite tool work?

22             W              Postman Chapter 1, What did Thamus decide to do and how is that crucial to our story?

24             F                Postman Chapter 2, From Tools to the rule of technical constraints; how we got here.             


27             M              Pursell     1                How does technology alter, or express the essence of humane behavior?

29             W              Pursell     2                Myths about inventors, inventions and meeting human needs.

31             F                Pursell     3                Technical influences on our perception of the world around us.




August | September | October | November | Final


5                W              Interviews exercise 

7                F                Pursell     4,              The madness of any technical rat-race of planned obsolescence.

Interviews due: typed 3 to 5 interview responses and a four page summary of what they said.


10             M              Pacey      1-2            The Asian source of modern western technology

12             W              Pacey      3                How Asian techniques were carried west by war & trade

14             F                TJs            Writing about what is Technology using three authors analytically.


17             M              Pursell     3                focus on Eadward Muybridge and the bet that changed history

19             W              Film as a technology (visitor?) What films do you want to see Global Peace Film Festival?

21             F                attend a Panel at GPFF and no class


24             M              Postman 3               What is technopoly as opposed to technocracy?

26             W              Pursell 5                    How science and technology are hopelessly confused.                   

28             F                Pacey 5                     Gunpowder and the acceleration of destructive creation



August | September | October | November | Final


1                M              Pacey 6                     Concepts in tectonic and organizational changes

3                W              Pacey 7                     The importance of sociotechnical parallel changes

5                F                Postman 4               An Improbable world?


8                M     Mid-term break no class

10             W              Postman 5               How technological demands leave you defenseless?

12             F                Pursell, Pacey & Postman:  Essay due "What is Technology?"


15             M              Pacey 8                     How do metal, guns, and rails build & maintain empires?

17             W              Pacey 9                    Railroad as the prototype of automation

19             F                Pacey 10                  scientific revolutions and dreams


22             M              C.P Snow The Two Cultures: Science and the Arts forever at war or is this a truce?

24             W              Debate prep

26             F                Debate    teams affirm


29             M              Debate    teams negate

31             W              Debate    second teams affirm



August | September | October | November | Final


Week # & Date       Focus & assignments               Readings by chapters or pages assigned



2                F                Debate second teams negate


5                M              Debate review

7                W              Kaku 1, pp. 1-19. Welcome to the future as replaceable parts

9                F                Kaku 2, pp. 21-69. The Computer Revolution & Moore's law of efficiency

                  F                Analysis & Synthesis Essay due on Revolutions in technology & their importance


12             M              Kaku, pp. 70-135. The Computer as a keystone and synthetic exaptation

14             W              Pursell & Kaku, pp. 138-180. The Biomedical promise of genetic insights.

16             F                Postman & Kaku, pp. 181-261. Bio molecular medicine & gene therapies


19             M              Kaku, pp. 265-322. The Quantum world of nanotechnology and electronics.

21             Thanksgiving break


26             M              Kaku- pp. 322-337. Can we create a planetary civilization or are we doomed?

28             W              All the authors in perspective

30             F                Essay due on debatable importance of understanding Kranzberg's "Laws of Technology"



3                M     Final Exam 2-4 PM: Presentation on "What you learned," all authors and Snow's themes.


Please see me in my office any of the following days and times: listed here!

August | September | October | November | Final

At the final exam you verbally produce a presentation based on a complete rewrite of your last essay on how technology has the power to distort & reshape our cultural inheritance and social relations.


In this improved essay, you must refer to every author & incorporate the comments I have made on your previous papers.


The focus should be “What did you learn?” (Three facets of technology for example) supported with evidence from all of our readings, activities, films, my web site, & relevant discussions.


Improvement over the duration of the term is expected if your grade is to remain in the B or A ranges.

August | September | October | November | Final


The focus of this class is how technology, particularly the tools we use, help to identify who we are, what we believe, how well we live, and to what degree the entire world is created, maintained by, and infused by mechanical, technical, automated and manual systems of tools.

First week: stories about tools and technology. How tools do what?
Second week: defining what technology is doing to us all.
Third week: Despotic demands of hydraulic technology and fear.
Fourth week: How people use tools as systemic technical implements.
Fifth week: What allows tools to do what they do?
Sixth week: The synergy of mechanisms that converged as automation.
Seventh to tenth week debates: C. P. Snow's Two Cultures & your choices.
Eleventh week: New industrialism and the power of emergent properties.
Twelfth week: Three revolutions driving the present QED transformation.

My schedule

Technology Defined