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"Engineering Americans"

a course that analyzes a variety of literatures—including fictions, as well as histories, philosophies, technical papers, and dramas—to explore the changing relationships among technology, literature, and history.

Jen Lieberman

on 29 April 2010

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Transcript of "Engineering Americans"

Technology Literature & science America(n) 3 concepts
we can take for granted: & "Engineering Americans" it will analyze a variety of literatures—including fictions, as well as histories, philosophies, technical papers, and dramas—to explore the changing relationships among technology, literature, and American national identities. The term “technology” gained popularity at the end of the nineteenth century—a moment that also corresponds with the rise of the American realist/modern novel, as well as an array of social, political, and economic upheavals (the implementation of Jim Crow laws and the expansion of the Land-grant College Act, to name a few).
the meanings of these terms are dynamic For Example: Consequently, many of these terms were used to define one another here are two examples that associate a specific technology with new definitions of citizenship to understand some of these interdependencies, I propose a course
And while probing across these ‘disciplinary boundaries,’ this course will encourage students to reexamine the complexities and contingencies of ‘knowledge production.’ Specifically, we will discuss how literary forms such as realism and utopianism were deployed by those who produced, used, and/or tinkered with emergent technological networks; reciprocally, we will analyze how these networks might offer a productive analogy for understanding the richness and dynamism of literary genres.
here are some of the texts and questions we will explore: In class: “The Digital Declaration of Independence” (2008)
In class: Louis C.W., “Everything is awesome, but nobody is happy” (You Tube, 2009)
Henry Adams, “The Dynamo and the Virgin” (1900) and “Vis Nova” (1903-4)
Booker T. Washington, “Industrial Education: Will It Solve the Negro Problem” (1904)
discussion questions: How do the contemporary examples define the relationship between (certain) technologies and society? What other perspectives or definitions might you add to these contemporary examples? How does Adams use mechanical imagery in Democracy? How does this contrast the image of the “dynamo” in his Education? What differences do you notice between the World’s Fair in “The Dynamo and the Virgin” and in “Vis Nova”? How do these differences complicate our definition of technology? Do you think Adams’ definition of “history” is consistent across these two chapters? How does Washington conceive of technology? How does this contrast with (any of) Adams’ descriptions? Compare the historical and more-recent depictions—what differences and similarities do you notice, and why might they be important?
Week 4
Leo Marx, “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept” (1997)
Lewis Mumford, “In Inventions We Trust” (1924)
James Carey and John Quirk, “The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution” (1970)
Edward Bellamy, summary and excerpts from Looking Backward (1888)
discussion questions: What do you think Mumford means when he says “Even our Utopias have been inventions rather than dreams”? Do you find this to be the case in your reading of Looking Backward? What do you think Mumford’s reading of “our Utopias” (or your reading of Bellamy’s utopia) might tell us about the relationship between literature and technology in early twentieth-century America? How does “Mythos” complicate Mumford’s reading of Utopia? Carey and Quirk often discuss narrative in their history of electronic technology (e.g., “the grand eloquence of electrical nomenclature” and the “pastoral idiom” [223])—what can we make of this emphasis on figurative language? Week 9
Ruth Oldenziel, introduction to Making Technology Masculine (1999)
María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, excerpt from The Squatter and the Don (1885)
“Corsets Not in the Way Women Indulge in Practical Electrical Experiments.” Chicago Daily Tribune. Apr 27, 1896, p. 3.
Mrs. M.E. Randolph and John B. Taltavall, “Women’s Chances as Bread-Winners: XIII - Women as Telegraphers” Ladies’ Home Journal. Jul 1892.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Bee Wise and Her Ways” (1913)
Mary Hallock Foote, The Harshaw Bride (1896)
discussion questions: In each of the primary sources, which technologies are ‘feminized’ or ‘masculinized,’ and how does this gendering affect their represented social value? What role does joking play in limiting the definitions of “technology”? How does Ruiz de Burton’s depiction of the telephone as equalizing differ from Randolph and Taltavall’s? How do Gilman and Foote’s depictions of technological development in the West depict women’s roles?
I have a ton of ideas, but I could use your suggestions my current draft explores the 1880s - 1930s (with a few exceptions). do you think it might be better for a teaching portfolio to cover a longer timespan? Q: I might include things like:
Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Military Industrial Complex Farewell Address” (1961)
Robert S. McNamara, on the ‘electronic barrier’ in “The Essence of Security: Reflections in Office” (1968)
alongside something like Slaughterhouse Five
Ron Eglash, “Appropriating Technology: An Introduction” (2004)
~or~ discussions of more contemporary literatures and technologies like computers and spaceships
other topics include: the origins of the word 'technology' in Thorstein Veblen's Engineers and the Price System
clarifying terms, "machine" vs. "technology"
technology, literature, and defining "America" after Reconstruction, depression, and new waves of immigration
and much, much more!!

Q: for assignments, I plan to have students compose a wiki that defines key terms ('technology,' 'literature,' and 'American,' and whatever other terms seem important) while tracing ideas across texts. I also think a creative project, like having students research some interactions across literature and technology today, or staging a conversation between figures like Samuel Insull and Mark Twain might be useful. Would you have any other suggestions for encouraging students to engage such a wide array of literatures?
and of course, I'd love any other suggestions!
thank you! notice the literature quote! This course aims to explore these convergences, while providing students with a working knowledge and appreciation of key moments in United States cultural and literary history. Week 1 Week 7
Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers [on literature education]
Charles Steinmetz, Introduction to Romance of a Great Factory (1919)
Excerpts from the Electrical World (selections from 1887 – 1915)

discussion questions: Why do you think the AIEE thought it was important to teach engineers literature? Why does Steinmetz think American literature out to engage new technologies more? What do you make of the Electrical World’s repeated mention of science fiction novels and of editions of literary magazines such as Atlantic Monthly and Scribner’s? Do you notice a change of tone when these technologists mention literature? Let’s analyze Insull’s essays in the same way that we analyzed literary texts earlier. When and to what effect does he use figurative language? What similarities and differences do you notice between the form of his texts and the literary forms we’ve discussed in class?
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