Spring 2019 - HIST 111 D900

Histories of Technology (3)

Class Number: 3933

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    SUR 3090, Surrey

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 13, 2019
    11:59 PM – 11:59 PM
    TAKE HOME-EXAM, Burnaby



An introduction to the social contexts and historical effects of major developments in technology such as industrialization and steam power; the construction of large techno-social systems like gas lighting and electrical grids; networks of scientific and enviro-technical experts; war industries; and cultures of "the bomb" during the nuclear age. Students with credit for HIST 363 cannot take HIST 111 for further credit. Breadth-Hum/Social Sci/Science.


This course examines the history of technology in the modern era, especially from the late-eighteenth century forward [i.e. from the age of industrial manufacturing].  The course does not trace a linear story of successive technical inventions.  Instead we focus on how societies dealt with rapid technological change and the political, social and cultural turbulence that came with it.  To do this, we venture into the mental landscapes and historical contexts of utopian thinkers and planners who believed they could fix human, social, and ecological problems by developing society with technology (or by thinking of society as a machine to be engineered with systems).  We also pay close attention to movements in politics and culture that presented a critical view of technology, exploring nightmarish dystopian visions of technological development careening toward catastrophe.

While many of the early course readings focus on Britain and Europe, the further we go in the course the more global the problems become, culminating in the final weeks in discussions of cyberspace and cyborgs, war industries, police/surveillance states, biotechnology, food security, and environmental disasters.  Along the way we will ask, what does it mean to be modern and to always live with technical abilities to build and to destroy?  And how have social structure and ideology steered the development and use of technology?


  • Book Response Essay (on Schivelbusch's Disenchanted Night, 4-5 pages) 17.5%
  • “How technology worked” paper and tutorial presentation 17.5%
  • Tutorial participation - 5% Attendance, 15% In-class discussion, 5% weekly pre-tutorial Canvas discussion questions 25%
  • Film Study Guides 10%
  • Take-home Final Exam 30%
  • One time in the term each student will demonstrate how a 19th to 21st century technology worked and in a short paper (two pages, double-spaced) and tutorial presentation will offer insightful commentary on the technology's social/political history.



Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the 19th Century

Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

All the required books should be available as inexpensive paperbacks.  Other required texts will be available on the Canvas course page.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html