HPS202 Technology in the Modern World Syllabus


The History of Modern Technology: From the Industrial Revolution to the Dot.Bomb.

The course will explore the important technologies of the last 250 years. It is sometimes known as "Rocks to Rockets", but think of "Coal to Computers". In this period we have come to use increasingly complex technologies in our daily lives. The August 14, 2003 electrical blackout across Ontario and New York cut off some 50 million people from the modern world, and demonstrated the connectedness and dependence to technology with which we live. The goal of this course is to improve your technological literacy, to understand the broad history of the things that we build to make our lives easier. But sometimes they make life worse, sometimes they don't work at all, and sometimes the changes they cause are so subtle it takes decades to realize what happened. Why? What do we know about technology, and what causes technological change? The lectures and readings cover two and half centuries of machines and mankind remarkably quickly, but will introduce you to the important themes and ideas put forward to understand these events. Just to bring things closer to home, the course will also integrate Canadian content when possible. A mechanical or technological background is not required.

Pre-Requisite? Is HPS201H Origins of Western Technology necessary?
No. Don't worry if you haven't taken the other course. For those who have, there will be a slight overlap of 17th century material, and I encourage HPS201 students to join this class and share your knowledge, but all are welcome.

At a Glance:

Grading & Evaluation

I'm not in favour of tests and long exams as an evaluation method, so there is no final exam. Instead, the marks have been balanced between two term tests, and one medium length essay for which you will have the entire term to complete. All assignments must be submitted electronically.

Term Test 1, 20% (Feb 12, Last Class before Feb break)
50 Minutes. In class. No aids. Includes all material up to and including Feb 10, format to be discussed in class.
Term Test 2, 20% (Apr 8, Last Class)
50 Minutes. In class. No aids. Includes all material up to end of course, but with emphasis on latter half; format to be discussed in class.
Term Paper, 40% (Due Apr 1, Noon)
The paper will based on the readings, no external research required; length 1500-2000 words.
Heritage Moments, 10% (Jan 30, Mar 5, Apr 2, at Noon)
Canadian content, short answer projects.
Participation, 10%
Classroom and online participation will be evaluated; more information below.
Grading Guidelines
Extensions should be requested at least 24 hours before the due date, and accompanied by a written request with justification, preferably a doctor's note on an official University of Toronto Medical form. Late penalties for all assignments are one full percent per day, including weekends, from your final, overall grade.
Academic Honesty
Cheating in any form will be dealt with as per the University of Toronto Academic Code. Penalties can be quite severe - see http://www.sa.utoronto.ca/details.php?wcid=129 for an outline of your responsibilities.
Students agree that by taking this course all required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers. The terms that apply to the University's use of the Turnitin.com service are described on the Turnitin.com web site.


The following two textbooks are mandatory; a non-trivial percentage of the term test questions, and most of your essay will be based on them. You should be able to locate both in the Victoria College Bookstore. Readings are approximately 60-75 pages per week, and with few exceptions, are non-technical in nature. They should take less than three hours to complete each week. As there are no required tutorials, this seems a fair trade-off. If you have trouble, probably somebody else does also, so bring it to my attention in class or via the course listserv.

Unfortunately, a good, well-rounded textbook does not exist that covers the entire time and field for this course, at least for less than what it cost to put this together, and probably half as many pages. Nor are there many that do not focus entirely on the development of American technology. Such is result living North of a country that brought technology kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The tradeoff, therefore, is this: a book by the well-respected Carroll Pursell, with some nice pictures and straightforward text, and a set of readings chosen by your instructor, that you can scribble on at your own convenience. These chapters and articles touch on the subjects left by Pursell, but also introduce you to other important authors, theories, or texts. Furthermore, your essay will require no reading beyond these two texts, so there should be no extra trips to the library -- everything will be right at your fingertips.

As things progress, I will also suggest websites with useful information, diagrams and images to provide additional insight.

Participation & Interaction

There are two tutorials scheduled (Wed 11-12 and 12-1) for this course, but no T.A. Attendance will be optional most weeks, but try not to add another course during that time slot; I may schedule supplementary material, such as a video or pre-test review session during these hours. By appointment, I will show up other weeks to discuss the readings, or answer technical questions not covered during the lectures.

I am creating an email list for this course, HPS202-L@listserv.utoronto.ca, as a kind of online tutorial space. It is intended to facilitate discussion of lecture and reading material. I will post course announcements and clarifications, and expect you, the students, to post your questions, concerns, thoughts and reactions to the course. Participation is mandatory: at least one comment or question per month should be minimal.

You are expected to join the list by the end of the second week. Instructions will be provided in class, and an overview of the listserv is available here: http://www.utoronto.ca/ic/listserv/listsubf.html.

Ultimately, there should be no excuses for not understanding the course material, at least on your part. You must take the initiative at all times when you are experiencing difficulty and speak up!

Schedule & Reading Assignments

The following table is the schedule of lecture topics, associated readings, and due dates for the course. Please observe these dates carefully.

Links to outlines of lecture notes will appear at least one day prior to the lecture. I encourage you to print them out at that time, read them, bring them to class, and record your own notes in and around the margins.

Week Date Lecture Topic Reading
1 Introduction
Jan 6 1. Introduction
Jan 8 2. Pre-Industrialization & Agriculture Pursell, "Intro" & Ch.1 (33p)
2 Industrial Revolution & Industrialization
Jan 13 3. Textiles: Wool & Cotton Pursell, Ch.2 (30p)
Jan 15 4. Power: Coal, Steam, and Iron Ferguson, "The Steam Engine Before 1830" (18p)
3 Jan 20 5. Transportation: Waterways and Trains Pursell, Ch.3 (18p)
Jan 22 6. Factories, Mass Production, and the American System Pursell, Ch 4 & 5 (44p)
4 Second Industrial Revolution
Jan 27 7. Rural to Urban Living; The Modern Corporation Pursell, Ch.6 (24p)
Jan 29 8. Engineering the Revolution Pursell, Ch. 7 (24p)
Jan 30 Heritage Moments 1 Due, Noon
5 Feb 3 9. Invention, Innovation, Diffusion & Patents Pursell, Ch. 8 (24p)
Feb 5 10. Electricity and Electrical System Israel, "Inventing a System" (24p)
6 Feb 10 11. Urban Living and Domestic Technology Pursell, Ch. 10. & Cowan, "The Industrial Revolution in the Home", (49p)
Feb 12 Term Test 1, 20%, In Class everything up to Feb 10
7 Feb 16 - 20 Reading Week
8 Feb 24 12. Systems and Control Pursell, Ch. 9 & 11 (46p)
Feb 26 13. Automotive Technology Cowan, "Automobiles and Automobility" (24p)
9 Communications
Mar 2 14. Telegraphs to Telephones Standage, "Codes, Hackers, and Cheats", & Hounshell, "Elisha Gray and the Telephone" (49p)
Mar 4 15. Wireless: Radio to Television Winston, "Wireless and Radio" (20p)
Mar 5 Heritage Moments 2 Due, Noon
Mar 7 Last day to withdraw without academic penalty
10 20th Century Technologies
Mar 9 16. Nuclear Weapons Pursell, Ch. 12, & MacKenzie, "Nuclear Missile Testing Accuracy and the Social Construction of Accuracy", (35p)
Mar 11 17. The Race to Space Wolfe, "Yeager", (34p)
11 Computers and Other Dangerous Things
Mar 16 18. Computing Before Computers Cortada, "Cash Registers" (14p)
Mar 18 19. ENIAC, IBM, and the Seven Dwarfs Campbell-Kelly & Aspray, "The Maturing of the Mainframe", (22p)
12 Mar 23 20. Fire in the Valley Forrester, "Personal Computing" (38p)
Mar 25 21. Internet and the Age of the Smart Machine Abbate, "The Most Neglected Element", (29p)
13 Mar 30 22. How Not to Use a Computer MacKenzie, "Computer-Related Accidental Death", (28p)
Apr 1 Term Paper Due, Noon, 40%
Apr 1 23. Why Things Bite Back / Risky Business Pursell, Ch. 13, & Tenner, "Ever Since Frankenstein", (68p)
Apr 2 Heritage Moments 3 Due, Noon
14 Apr 6 24. What is Technological Change?
Apr 8 Term Test 2, 20%, In Class