Fall 2021 - CMNS 210 D100

Media History (3)

Class Number: 6123

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 12:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    AQ 3005, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    CMNS 110 with a minimum grade of C-.



An assessment of the social implications of developments in information technology from prehistory to the middle of the 20th century. Topics include: the origins of symbolic representation; the oral tradition; the significance of different systems of writing and numeration; the consequences of print; and the initial changes brought about by electronic media.


Our goal in this course is to develop a cultural framework for thinking about media historically, and for thinking about history through media. The course takes a focus on media in their moments of newness, when their meanings and uses are not yet fixed, and are up for negotiation, debate, and experimentation by the people and cultures who use them. We will begin by introducing the concepts of “mediation” and “technology” and then spend the rest of the course exploring these concepts through specific transformations—technologies such as the printing press, telegraph, and computing will be considered alongside less obvious forms such as electric light, surveillance technologies, and basic infrastructures like cables. We will situate media in specific geographies and communities of use, for example, by studying the role of print in settler colonialism in Canada, and by looking at undersea telecommunications cables in relation to globalization. Throughout the course, we will explore how media have been constitutive of hierarchies related to race, gender, ability, and other forms of social difference. By taking this perspective, we will be able to situate media technologies within larger social, political, and economic histories, and relations of power.


  1. Describe how changes in technological mediation have shaped human communication
  2. Develop an approach to understanding communication problems through a historical lens
  3. Practice doing historical research using secondary sources


  • Paper Proposal 15%
  • Paper 30%
  • Mid-term Exam (Take Home, Open Book) 20%
  • Final Exam (Take Home, Open Book) 20%
  • Contributions to Canvas Discussions/Activities and/or Zoom Seminar 15%



Course readings will be made available as PDFs through the course CANVAS site.


Course readings will be made available as PDFs through the course CANVAS site.

Registrar Notes:


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Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.