This is a draft, posted for comment by the students in the course.


HIST 471D7: History of the Information Age

Course Description

This readings seminar will explore the history of 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 newspapers 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 also counts in the History major.

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:

n  literature reviews

n  Video creations

n  Infographics —

n  Research paper

n  Short essays

n  Oral History

n  Mini-Biographies

n  Image

n  Others you can think of

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 – 3 Core texts are 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.

Rosenzweig, Roy. Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History From the Telegraph to the Internet. Re-issue. London: Routledge, 1998.

I recommend also picking up a copy of James Gleick’s recently published book.  Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 2011.  [Because it was recently published it’s not in the bookstore.]

Other Readings as determined by class, at least some of which are online



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 MAY MEAN HELPING TO CHOOSE (ADDITIONAL) READINGS FOR THOSE WEEKS.  I will be happy to 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) UMWblog by Thursday, Sept. 1. 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 others’ 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


Unusual Excellence

93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-


Distinctly Above Average

87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-


Average Quality

77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-


Below Average Quality

67-69=D+; 60-66=D


Failure, No Credit




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, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter 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 (540-654-1266) and need accommodations, 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.

 Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of August 29

                        — What is the Information Age?


Week 2 — Introducing New Media tools and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of September 5


            Tuesday:  DTLT visit and start of timeline project

            Reading –Thursday:  Downey, all; Winston, Intro


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 September 12

Topics:  Newspapers, Magazine, Books

Reading — Tuesday:   Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution, Chapter 4???


Part II – Early Networked Communication 

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

Week 4 — Week of September 19


Reading — Tuesday:  Winston, 19-66





Part III—Broadcasting 

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


Week 5 — Week of September 26


Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 67-146


Week 6 — Week of October 3


Reading — 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 Theory; Information Overload; Satellites/cable/fiber optics; identity in the digital age

Week 7 — Week of October 10

—    Topics: Early Computers

Reading — Tuesday: Vannevar Bush, As We May Think”; Winston, 147-242



Week 8 — Week of October 17

Fall Break — No class Tuesday, October 18

Topics: Networks and the Internet

Reading — Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202

Week 9 — Week of October 24


Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday:  NO CLASS

Week 10 — Week of October 31

—    Topics: Web 2.0/3.0/18.0

—    Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, 85-91 (CD-ROMs and textbooks)




Week 11 — Week of November 7

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

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



Week 12 —Week of November 14


Reading — Tuesday:



Part V – Looking forward

Potential topics: Copyright/open source/intellectual property; History in the digital age; Infographics; social networks in the age of Facebook; search in the age of Google; Artificial Intelligence; Crowdsourcing; Digital divide;


Week 13  — Week of November 21

Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy

Reading – Tuesday:

— Thursday — Thanksgiving — No Class

Week 14  — Week of November 28

Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future

Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, xxi-xxiv, 3-27, 92-153, 203-236

            Thursday: Winston, 337-342


Week 15  — Week of December 5

— Presentations?

Reading — Tuesday:


Exam Period – Discussion of the semester – what worked and what didn’t.





Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:


Braunstein, Alex, and Tony Lincoln. “History of Information » Syllabus”, HIST C192,

Ensmenger, Nathan.  “The Information Age”, University of Pennsylvania,

Watrall, Ethan. “History of the Digital Age.” Syllabus, 2010,





Questions for students in the class


1)      Which topics are you particularly interested in studying this semester?

 2)     What sources would you add to the class resource bibliography ( or at )?  [Note: we’re not going to read all of these.  This bibliography is a resource to draw from and contribute to all semester.]

3)     The 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.     I want to take advantage of a new small Digital Media Lab in the department in Monroe.  We’ll have 3 new iMacs and a Microsoft computer, with scanners, digital cameras, as well as basic and advanced image, video, and audio editing software.  What kinds of projects could we do with those tools? 
  2.     What percentage of course grade should those assignments be valued at?

4)     I want to take advantage of the classroom we’ll be in.  Although the space used to be a standard lecture room, it’s now going to be a room with movable chairs and tables, able to be put in any variety of configurations.  In addition to the standard projector and screen on one wall, it will have 3 LCD panels on the other walls which students will be able to hook up their laptops to for small group work.  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?

5)     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.

14 Responses to “Syllabus”

  1. Team Facebook Official says:

    Charlie isn’t too pumped about videos but could live with it.
    Charlie really wants to make infographics
    Oral histories of people (either famous or that we know) on…
    experiences in changing technology
    adapting to tech.
    Lit review wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
    Projects throughout the semester should increase in percentage of grade

  2. Team Facebook Official says:

    We are all happy with the class distribution of time per section.

    We pick these topics:
    Part 1: coffee houses and print culture, newspapers, photography
    Part II: Po­tential topics: Postal Service, Telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism
    Part III: cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV, rise of mass media, propaganda
    Part IV: Role of war/military in creation and spread of information/computing technology (WWII, Cold War, ARPANet); Pop Culture treatment of the digital age; Hackers and Hacking Culture; identity in the digital age
    Part 5: Copyright/open source/intellectual property; History in the digital age; Infographics; Torrents/”illegal” downloading

  3. There are several topics I am particularly interested in, most specifically, infographics, film, and early computers. Also, the idea of truth in a modern, digital context fascinates me. As far as projects are concerned, I am a big fan of doing a video project. As Claire says, it will make good use of the digital lab. I also agree with Joe; oral history would be an interesting take on studying the history of technology.

    Small group projects in such a short period of time can be difficult, but I think we could research new technologies. Also, it would be interesting to research brands and offshoots of modern technology that never quite made it. A possibility for presenting our small group work would be to actually present them on twitter, under an #InfoAge hashtag and then a personalized small group hashtag. I’m not entirely sure if it would work or not, but it would make presenting quick and easy to look at and discuss.

  4. rileybaver says:

    A topic that interests me greatly is the role newspapers, magazines, and books hold in an increasingly paperless world. It would be interesting to understand and discuss what kind of importance magazines, newspapers, and book will hold in the future considering the ease one can find information, read books, or view magazines online. What are companies invested in paper and print doing to combat the shift towards paperless magazines and books? I am also very interested in the role media and television plays in society. The internet seems to take away power from television and radio because of the ease people can find the same shows, radio programs, and information online at anytime one would like. As for the assignments, any usage of the new technology at our disposal seems to be logical and I think would make for a more interesting/hands-on project fun for the presenters but the rest of the class as well.

  5. Patrick Kramer says:

    For me, the telephone, newspapers and computers are of course a must. I think that social media networks like myspace and facebook would be really cool, because its actually one of the things in this history course that we can talk about: recent history.

    I have no problem with the way the semester is set up per the outline. For grades, its a little tough to say since we don’t know what projects we exactly are going to be doing. I don’t care if it is making videos or something like that, as long as it is a new challenge. I think that would make this course much more interesting.

  6. Joe Calpin says:

    If we have anyone that is proficient with infographics, we can do a project that charts the spread of certain inventions related to the info age. I am thinking something along the lines of this video An interactive map demonstrating the spread of the internet would be awesome.

  7. Abbey Vinik says:

    All of the topics seem very interesting. These are the topics that I like the best.
    Part I – cave paintings, the printing pressing and oral traditions
    Part II – telegraph/telephone.
    Part III – cultural histories of film/radio/TV.
    Part IV – early computers, role of war/military in creation and spread of information/computing technology, cellphones/smart phones
    Part V – social networks in the age of Facebook, search in the age of Google
    I like the idea of doing a video creation as a group project. I think it would work out well especially since we have a small class. I also like the idea of researching current events in technology because it is important to understand what is going on in the present when we are studying history.

  8. Andrew Frisk says:

    Many of the topics look great to me and I do have a couple questions about possible topics. One topic is the automotive world. Has this advancing digital age changed the way people buy, research and look at cars and has it lead to a different type of car culture? How have the emerging social networks changed the way car companies advertise in magazines or online and is this better than how things used to be? Although this may be tough, I am very interested of what people thought of the advancing digital age and were some against these changing tides? For me, the emergence of google, facebook and other mediums is incredibly interesting and just comparing that to how people used to access information. Regarding the project, I like the timeline but also think there are so many ways to make this an interactive project. I think separating the topics into groups is a good way so the projects can be very focused and also like the idea of implementing some sort of technological element into it, since it is a class about the information age. Overall, I am very excited about the class!

  9. John McNair says:

    All of the topics look good to me. I’d have to say that I’m really interested in some of the older topics (cave paintings and African drums), as well as the creation/expansion/commercialization of the internet. I like the idea of using the small group projects to build up class participation, as Claire said. Her idea for using video creation projects in the group setting would be beneficial in preventing any individual person from getting hung up on the technological side of things. The course layout looks great, but as Joe pointed out, part IV is going to need some serious plotting. His idea for breaking up those topics through small groups seems like a good way to go about it, and could be used thoughout the course for any topics we need to look at but simply run out of time for.

  10. I personally like the topics being used and the course layout provides the ability to adjust on the fly. It sounds like we have some great tools at our disposal, which should make class projects even more fun. I am very excited at how hands on this class sounds. On par with Kyle, I think current events such as the rise of Apple to the largest technology company in the world, the resignation of Steve Jobs, or the meteoric rise of cell phones through the past two decades would make interesting topics for discussion or a project. Along with Claire, I believe that a 10-15% grade value would be fair and actually prefer projects because they give students the opportunity to work together, have fun, build relationships, and break from the basic mold generally found in a history class of writing copious amounts of essays.

  11. Joe Calpin says:

    I would love to take a hard look at written language and the creation of meaning. If nothing else, the topic is a critical building block for the information age. I think researching and discussing the issues of copyright (part v) in regards to a fairly open web. Claire Brooks mentioned projects involving video work, which I think is an excellent idea. We could use some of the tools in the Digital Media Lab to do some oral history work. What was so and so’s reaction to x technology? The timeline, filled with dates and events, would then gain voices and reactions. Kyle posed a good question of how we interpret tech developments as history, and to that end I think a current events project could serve as an excellent project. It seems to me that group projects (the true nature of crowdsourcing) is the way to go about this semester.

    I am having some trouble thinking of solid small group projects that could be done in that length of time. You know…maybe researching the patents for various technologies? In terms of course layout, I think that a discussion over how to manage part IV is in order. There is a vast sea of topics available, and we probably need to plot a chart to figure out what we can reasonably cover. When we reach part IV, it might be interesting to split everyone up into groups with a topic from the part IV pool. After thirty minutes, everyone would get back together for a short soundbite/presentation about x topic. The brevity of the presentation would give a twitter like feel (short yet containing a good amount of data).

  12. Ashley Lightburn says:

    I like a lot of these topics. From the list of topics in Print (and its predecessors), I am interested in cave paintings as well photography from the stand point of seeing how visual images influenced the gathering of information. As far as Early Network Communication I like the idea of studying the rise of modern journalism intriguing. I like the idea of studying how journalism in constantly changing with the increase of technology. Cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV as well as propaganda are both Broadcasting topics that I find interesting because of their influence of popular culture, but I am also interested to see there impact on the information age. Under Information of the Digital Age, I like pretty much all the topics, but having taken Professor Moon’s class on popular culture, Pop culture treatment of the digital age is the most interesting to me from that set of topics.
    I really like Kyle’s the idea of researching current events in technology. Another suggestion I would have would be to research technology, which has had an influence on the flow and way we interpret information. This could range from topics such the Gutenberg Press and the printing press, to something more current such as Facebook or Myspace and the rise of social networking over the computer.

  13. Claire Brooks says:

    I think the topics are really interesting. I’m really interested in the film/radio/tv cultural histories and advertising/propaganda. As far as projects, I really like the idea of doing a video creation as a project itself, rather than just for the timeline. I’m not sure whether or not you would want to do it as a group project or as an individual project, but group would probably work better to get more collaboration within the class, other than just discussion. Doing the videos would also really get us to use the new media lab in Monroe. As far as small group projects, I think that the mini-biographies would work for that. Maybe also, with what Kyle was talking about, researching a current event in technology for these small group projects. As far as grading percentage, I think it might depend on how many of these projects we do. If we do a lot of these little small group projects, then they could be worth like 10-15% because it would also affect participation. I think this would really promote people to come to class and also participate more in class.

  14. Kyle Allwine says:

    I like the topics. I think some of the questions being asked are pivotal to the understanding. For in class projects and research, I would like us to research a current event in technology. That way, we can practice writing history as it happens, while learning how to interpret articles, books, videos, and other media that are being used to disseminate the information to the public. Sites like,, and tech bloggers like Robert Scoble are constantly sharing articles of breaking technology news, but how can you interpret those as a historian? How will those changes shape the culture, society, and daily life of individuals?

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