Syllabus 1.1


HIST 471D7: History of the Information Age
Fall 2014
ITCC 237
11-12:15 TR

Jeffrey McClurken
Twitter (@wheresthechair/@jmcclurken)

Course Description

This readings seminar will explore the history of communication, media, 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 cave paintings 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 and the Digital Studies Minor.

Honors Program Objectives

As part of the Honors Program, this course also will help students to formulate an academic argument with appropriate research documentation; articulate the value of the goals of the honors program as it relates to the liberal arts as an multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.

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/database of popular representations of the information age and add materials to it all semester.

Narrowed list of potential assignments

1)       Non-negotiable — Timeline/Database of representations of communication tech in popular media.

2)      Recreating Cave paintings (7)

  1. Or conveying a message through other form of early communication: cuneiform, hieroglyphics, old Norse runes, smoke signals, Chinese calligraphy, etc.
  2. Compiling class collection electronically

3)      Develop a radio broadcast or news anchor interview about a real or made-up event, present or past (5)

4)      Live Tweeting Past Historical Events (5)

  1. Then chart the tweets on a timeline/MapStory? (4)
  2. Measuring impact of twitter and other forms of communication

5)      Propaganda campaign (5)

  1. Develop a propaganda campaign, create a false dictatorship (more here) (5)
  2. Media wall?

6)      End of the semester projects – Choose 1

  1. Making an infographic or video to display in the ITCC on ethics in the Digital Age (2)
  2. Documentary/video — video representation of the timeline of the entire class
  3. Infographic or other representation of research about the digital divide (2)
  4. Late in the semester, something with the greenscreen.
  5. Final post — Timeline of your work this semester (with evlauations)


Other potential assignment ideas….

7)      SNL style Skit – Interviewing historical figures

8)      Commercial for the history department

9)      A project featuring a traditional form of story/history/creation myth-telling that could be filmed, recorded, or acted out at the ITCC and then posted to the UMW media hub and Known.

10) Re-creating an old film using new technology

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 – 4 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.
  • Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 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.

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 activelyparticipating 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, including opening discussion activities.  THAT MAY MEAN HELPING TO CHOOSE (ADDITIONAL) READINGS FOR THOSE WEEKS.  I encourage those leaders to meet with me 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/Domain of One’s Own WordPress site by Sept. 1. Narrating your reactions to the reading, your experiences planning, researching, and implementing your projects as part of the class timeline/database 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 other’s 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

A Unusual Excellence 93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
B Distinctly Above Average 87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
C Average Quality 77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
D Below Average Quality 67-69=D+; 60-66=D
F Failure, No Credit 0-59=F



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 25

– What is the Information Age?

– Planning the semester – What topics will we focus on? What assignments will we complete?

By the weekend:

  • – Set up a Twitter account (or use an existing one) and follow me (@jmcclurken) and/or your classmates and/or some of the scholars from the DH Compendium.  When you tweet about our class use the hashtag #InfoAge14.
  • – Install a WordPress blog on your Domain of One’s Own account or UMWblogs.
  • – Add your blog to the class blogroll using the add link widget on this blog.  [Use Twitter to ask Dr. McClurken or a classmate for the password.]
  • – Write and publish first blog post on why you’re taking the class and what topics/assignments you want this semester.
  • Comment on the class Google Doc topic choices and Assignment ideas — use comment to identify top two topics in each part of the class, top 3 assignments you’d like to do.


Week 2 — Introducing New Media tools and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of September 1

Tuesday:  DTLT visit and start of timeline/database 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 8

— Topics: Cave Paintings, Art—Medieval/Renaissance, Printing Press, Photographs

Reading — Tuesday:  Skim back over Downey Chapter 1; Read Gleick Prologue, Ch. 1, Ch. 2

Thursday: Read Gleick Chapter 3; Read about the rise of  Coffee Houses; Read this article about Neanderthal carvings


Part II – Early Networked Communication 

Week 4 — Week of September 15

— Topics: Potential topics:  Origins of Postal Service, Telegraph (Morse Code)/telephone, rise of modern journalism (Newspapers, Magazine)


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 22

— Topics: Propaganda

Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 67-146



Week 6 — Week of September 29

— Topics: Rise of Film (and TV? –up to discussion leaders)

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 6

—    Topics: Early Computers

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



Week 8 — Week of October 13

— Fall Break — No class Tuesday, October 14

— Topics: Networks and the Internet

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


Week 9 — Week of October 20

— Topics: Web 2.0/3.0/18.0;

Reading — Tuesday: 

1. Web 2.0: compact definition(will automatically download) by Tim O’Reilly [2005]

2. Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On By Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle [2009]

3. Why We Must Resist the Temptation of Web 2.0 by Andrew Keen pgs. 51-56 in The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet By Berin Szoka & Adam Marcus [2011]

4. Comparative Study of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 [2008]



1. Rosenzweig, 85-91 (CD-ROMs and textbooks) [late 1990s]

2. Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies by Bryan Alexander [2008]

3. Research on Learning and Teaching WIth Web 2.0: Bridging Conversations by: Christine Greenhow, Beth Robelia, and Joan E. Hughes [2009]


Week 10 — Week of October 27

—    Topics: Rise of social media

—    Reading — 

For Tuesday,


For Thursday,


Week 11 — Week of November 3

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

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


Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age – Mike Godwin (it’s an ebook): — Just chapter 2



Week 12 —Week of November 10

— Topics: Identity in the Digital Age

Reading — 


“The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by: Jeffrey Rosen (2010)

“The Digital Soul” by: Patrick Stokes (2013)


“Professionalism in the Digital Age” by: Arash Mostaghimi, MD, MPA & Bradley H. Crotty, MD (2011)–



“Not Just Data: Privacy in the Digital Age” by: Yvonne de Souza (2014)–

“Social Media Privacy: A Dozen Myths and Facts” by Lothar Determann (2012)–

“The Challenge and Potential of the Digital Age: Young People and the Internet” by Sally Evans (2014)–


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 17

— Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future, Crowd sourcing.

Reading —

Tuesday: Rosenzweig 124-151; 203-235

 Thursday:​ Winston 337-342; and


Week 14  — Week of November 24

— Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy

Reading – Tuesday:

Zuk, Ryan. “Invasion of the Infographics.” Public Relations Tactics 18, no. 10 (October 2011): 7, (accessed November 20, 2014).


Griffin, Michael. “Visual Competence and Media Literacy: Can One Exist without the Other?” Visual Studies 23, no. 2 (September 2008): 113-129, (accessed November 20, 2014).


Jones-Kavalier, Barbara R., and Suzanne L. Flannigan. “Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century.” Teacher Librarian 35, no. 3 (February 2008),​ (accessed November 20, 2014).


— Thursday — Thanksgiving — No Class



Week 15  — Week of December 1

— Digital Divide and Presentations

Reading — Tuesday:


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


Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:



[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.


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