Category: courses

This is an adventure.

So the spring term is in full swing and I’m excited to be teaching a new course called “Filming the Past” in addition to my usual STS offerings. Here’s the syllabus, if you’re interested. Filming the Past is a history and digital humanities course that tries to help students understand the process by which history is written and then disseminated to wider, “popular” audiences. In addition to talking about traditional historiography, the course asks how certain historical accounts become popularized as the truth or “common knowledge?” What role do visual media, particularly films and documentaries, play in the process of creating and understanding the past? How can film be a force for uncovering and popularizing “hidden” histories that upset our assumptions about the past?

The class podcast rss feed

This course tries to change things up a bit by focusing on less well-known chapters in history, looking at how films and documentaries can be tools for disseminating historical knowledge and how they can also be activist interventions in how we understand the past and its relationship to the society we live in today. Students will learn how to write a short history from primary documents, conduct interviews, and create their own podcasts and short video documentaries on a historical topic.

In today’s class we’re going to be talking about the Magdalene Laundries, and the unusual ways in which their history was kept hidden, and later, the unusual ways in which it started to become common knowledge. We’re going to try to do an in-class audio recording exercise that will hopefully become a class-wide collaborative podcast episode. You can listen to our introductory episode here. It explains why our podcast is called “20/40 vision.” I’m still getting the hang of how to make these audio files–if anyone knows clever ways to amplify Audacity-generated mp3s, I’d love to hear.

If you’re interested in following along with what the class does in real time (or almost real time), check out the class twitter hashtag: #filmpast. We’re using twitter to talk about history since engaging in public conversations about history is part and parcel of this course. Students are setting up their accounts tomorrow and should be tweeting soon thereafter. We also have a list of useful twitter feeds for documentary studies to which we’ll be adding over the course of the semester.




Disasters Course: Choose Your Own Disaster

In a comment of no more than 750-1000 words, discuss the disaster you chose to research and make an argument about its root cause.

Be sure to include  answers to the following somewhere within your essay: What type of a disaster is the disaster you chose (i.e. what was its root cause)? What does studying this particular disaster tell us that we wouldn’t have known from simply hearing about the disaster in the news as it was happening? How did your disaster look different when viewed through contemporaneous news sources, versus academic sources that studied the disaster after the fact?  How does the disaster you chose fit with in with, or differ from, other disasters that we’ve looked at in class? Why is it (or why isn’t it) important?

Be specific in supporting your argument with evidence—cite your sources using parenthetical citations in the text of your essay, or–if you prefer–by using endnotes. Due by 10pm on Nov 24th. Please leave an extra line of whitespace between each of your papragraphs for formatting (otherwise the paragraphs run together).

History of Computing: Final Essays

Post your final project essays in the comments here by Tuesday, Nov. 19th at 9pm. Prepare the 6 minute oral portion of your project for Thursday’s class. (If you chose to use visuals, remember to include a link to your prezi in your comment–and make sure that your prezi is set to “public” so everyone can see it.) Please leave an extra line of whitespace between each of your papragraphs for formatting (otherwise they run together).

Disasters Class: Nader, Carson, Bhopal, and the Dalkon Shield

As discussed in class, this phase of the course asks you to start to think critically about multiple historical events in relation to each other. For this blog comment, think about the “disasters” we’ve studied since the midterm–namely the ones we discussed through Nader’s and Carson’s writings, the responses to Bhopal, and the article on the Dalkon Shield.

Write a 600-800 word essay that identifies one similarity shared by all of these disasters, and one difference that emerges. The difference you identify may separate out one disaster from the rest, or it may help you group the disasters into 2 or 3 groups that have salient congruences within each group, and salient differences between the groups. As usual, go for the points of similarity and difference that are less obvious, and therefore more revealing, as you construct your argument. What new insights do your comparisons reveal? Discuss them and how you came to them. Post your essay in a comment by November 3, at 10pm.

Themes in the history of computing

Last class we discussed some of the larger themes and trends that we’ve encountered so far in our study of computing history. Using those insights, do the following essay assignment which is due by 9pm on Saturday October 5th (a small extension from the due date listed on your syllabus). Your comment will not show up immediately, as I have to review and approve them.

Pick 2 themes we’ve discussed in class and encountered in the readings so far. Write an essay that shows how these themes align, or how they may seem to contradict each other, making sure you have a clear argument which teaches us something new and shows change over time. Length: 450-650 words. (This question will be a good review for the midterm exam on October 10th, so it’s worth putting in a bit of time and effort to ensure you have a good argument well-supported by evidence.)

Disasters Class: Windscale

We’ve spent a fair amount of time in this class talking about how perception plays a major role in defining a disaster. For the unit on Windscale, the class did an experiment: initially, you found historical, contemporaneous news stories on this nuclear accident in the Times of London , without knowing any details of the event. At that point, I asked you to come up with an argument about what happened based on the 5 most interesting articles you found, which also formed a coherent narrative or had a similar theme. The idea was for you to put yourselves in the shoes of someone in Britain encountering the event as it unfolded and see what impression you got.

Next, you will read recent articles and watch a documentary about Windscale to see how only recently has the historical narrative of what happened started to solidify. For many years, what the public knew about the event was partial, incomplete, and inaccurate. At this juncture I want you to think big: what kind of a disaster was this? What caused it? And, would you have gotten this impression if you hadn’t watched the documentary or a similar historical narrative, but only seen the event unfold in news media at the time? What do your answers to these questions tell us about disasters that we might not already have understood?

These are all questions I want you to keep in mind as you write your next essay in the blog comments. For that essay I want you to focus on the following: How did your impression of the incident at Windscale change between the time you did your article search in the London Times and after seeing the documentary? Use specific evidence from your news articles (cite the article title and date of publication using parenthetical citations) and specific details from the film to support your argument. (500-600 words, due Monday, October 7th by 10AM.) Be mindful of the advice and comments I gave you with your grade on the first essay post.

Disasters Class: Sweatshops, Then and Now

Today in class you watched a documentary about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. You also read articles about the much more recent sweatshop tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Using specifics from the film and the articles you read, discuss some of the similarities between the Triangle fire and the Dhaka building collapse. Your essay should be 350 to 500 words and should have a clear argument. In other words, in comparing these two events, your essay should tell us something new and non-obvious that leads us to a better understanding of the history of labor.

Gender and Infrastructure: Part II

Last spring my Gender and Technological Change class did a project on bathrooms and gender, using our campus as a laboratory.

You can read all about the rationale for the experiment here, but the short version is that we tried to look at how the built environment influences, and even enforces gender divisions, and how resources in the real world impact how people feel and express themselves in public spaces. This tied into larger class discussions about how seemingly neutral technologies create and enforce categories in society, rather than merely reflecting them.

The outcome of the project was a variety of visualizations of the data the class collected–including graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. Perhaps the most impressive and useful one was the google map that drew on the class’s research. For those who might not be familiar with the abbreviated names for each campus building, an IIT campus map is available here.

View Bathrooms by Gender at IIT – Gender and Technological Change in a larger map

(Note: Data is incomplete for the Life Sciences Building (LS). The men’s bathrooms for that building were unfortunately not counted. So although it appears on the map as *only* having women’s bathrooms, this is not the case. We hope to update that soon.)

Two students in particular took the lead in creating this resource: Carla Kundert, who did all the meticulous work of setting up the map and transferring information it, and Cruz Tovar, who created a unified spreadsheet of all the information collected by the class that allowed the data to be easily utilized for the map.

Campus Map of the main buildings at Illinois Institute of Technology:

By giving information about the relative sizes and locations of men’s and women’s bathrooms, the map tries to show the inadequacy of facilities on campus for women, as well as the paucity of bathrooms designated as gender-neutral. It tries to comment on which bathrooms are easily accessible for users with mobility concerns, and also indicates which bathrooms on campus might be good targets for future conversion to gender-neutral spaces, noting which facilities have a single stall configuration.

It was the class’s hope that this map could serve as a resource for current and future IIT students, and perhaps jump-start a public discussion about how IIT’s administration can meet the needs of students more effectively when it comes to this basic and essential resource.

As the chart to the left shows, there are significantly fewer facilities for women than there should be based on women’s numbers in the Illinois Tech population: Though IIT still struggles to attract and retain women students and faculty, overall we are 37% women, with our undergraduate student body currently 31% women, and roughly 21% of our full-time faculty. Critically, this chart also shows the woefully tiny resources devoted to safe, gender neutral restroom spaces on campus.



Applying STS Theories and Perspectives

For the final project in my STS class this semester, students were asked to make this class count towards their broader scientific and technical training by applying knowledge from the class to their major fields of study.

In addition to writing a paper that asked them to apply THREE different perspectives or theories that we studied this semester to a problem or issue from their major, they were asked to create a presentation that used a “digital humanities” tool of their choice to convey their argument, main ideas, and evidence to the class in a clear, concise way. These tools could be graphing tools, timeline software, etc.–anything that made it possible to convey the main points of the paper in a novel, compact way so that people could quickly and easily understand the goals and argument of the longer project.

Posted below, in the comments, are links to those presentations.

Due dates: Presentation needs to be posted in comments by May 1 at 6pm. The paper is due on May 2 in class (printout), as is the oral presentation. Remember, the presentation must be no longer than 10 minutes so that everyone has a chance to speak and ask questions.