Mar Hicks
Historian & Author
Andrina Wood, an early British computer expert, at the console of a British Tablulating Machines computer. Andrina Wood, an early British computer expert, at the console of a British Tablulating Machines computer.
My classes are not only about "what happened" in the past, but how we know what we think we know. I often tell my students that history is the process of deciding which stories to tell and which stories to hide. I regularly ask them to reconstruct historical events using primary sources, which makes the study of history far more discombobulating for them, but also infinitely more rewarding, meaningful, and useful. I believe history is critical to becoming an active, engaged citizen, so I encourage students to deploy their knowledge outside the classroom as well. For examples of some of the public-facing projects my students have done, see the website of the Digital History Lab that I run. For students (and other interested parties): here is a short guide on how to read academic texts effectively that may be helpful when used in conjunction with the syllabi below.
Photo from my research in UK National Archives

History and Historiography
New Course: Illinois Institute of Technology, Spring 2020

This course introduces students to the field of historiography—the study of how history gets written. Readings in the course focus on recent, innovative historical works that reconfigure the way histories of certain topics have been written in the past. Students investigate what went into writing them, think about why certain stories haven't been written up until now, and look at how archivists decide which documents to preserve. This course invites students to think about history as a dynamic, changing set of narratives and ideas about the world, rather than simply a static, unchanging record of past events. Students read academic histories, popular news articles, and primary sources in the course, and look at how different mediums (written, oral, visual) can influence how histories are constructed, conveyed to an audience, and eventually become part of our shared cultural knowledge.
NASA Computer Scientist Annie Easley. Courtesy of NASA.

Diversity in the History of Technology
New course: Illinois Institute of Technology, Fall 2019

This history of technology course reorients students’ understanding by balancing the often triumphalist and technophiliac accounts of technology’s past with stories from the margins, and histories of technologies that center often-ignored voices and narratives. Over the course of the semester, students expand their understanding of what usually “counts” as history of technology, and who usually gets to count within it. The course asks students to think about how oppression and the power relationships inherent in powerful, centralized technological systems have shaped what we think about the best ways to implement technologies today, and how ignoring these factors often leads to problematic or myopic strategies for “diversifying” technological products and workforces.
Ann Moffatt designing the software for the Concorde's black box.

Women in Computing History (Current Syllabus)
First taught at Illinois Institute of Technology: Fall 2016, Spring 2021, and Fall 2022, also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Fall 2017

Perhaps the first of its kind in the U.S., this computer history course explicitly looks at computing's past through the experiences of women who worked in computing at all levels—from data input to programming to hardware design. It strives to be intersectional in its analysis, showing how gender is but one window into the historiography of computing and how it must be taken together with an analysis of class, race, sexuality, ability, and many other categories in order for us to truly understand how computing structures lives and whole economies. Students did projects in this class designed to engage the public on this still largely hidden history: In addition to a wiki-storming exercise, they also created public history projects, like video games, podcasts, and comic strips. See the news coverage of their projects in Chicago Inno or this post on their projects on the Digital History Lab.

Digital Labor
Illinois Institute of Technology: Spring 2017 & Fall 2015—part of the Digital Humanities requirement

I created this course as part of Illinois Tech's Digital Humanities undergraduate degree program, which I helped design. While designing the largely skills-based and technocentric program we realized that it would be very important for students to have a robust and critical understanding of how they themselves fit into the history of the digital tools they were deploying. The class looks at all forms of digital labor—from human to non-human—and takes students through the historical trajectory of digital labor from its early days as hardware programming to its more modern incarnations in the form of digital piece work. Along the way it asks students to grapple with questions about what gets privileged within the realm of digital labor, and why we should care.
Night Launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-8, 1983. Courtesy of NASA.

Illinois Institute of Technology: Spring 2020, Fall 2016, 2015, 2013 and 2012, and University of Wisconsin-Madison: Spring 2018

How does what's broken in society get fixed? One way is through disasters, which sometimes require that a problem be addressed. This course uses disasters around the world to talk about how cataclysmic events can produce regulatory and legislative change. It also teaches students that not all disasters produce positive change and highlights other elements that must be present in order for a disaster to be "productive." The class invites students to look at how social and political change occurs, underscoring the fact that historical change never just "happens" in an easy or straightforward way but is always the result of struggle. See examples of student essays from the course here and here (scroll down to the comments section to read their essays, based on research done in the Times of London historical newspaper database).

Filming the Past
Illinois Institute of Technology: Spring 2016, and 2014

How does historical knowledge make it from the archive into the mainstream? This course traces that process, showing students how primary and secondary sources get turned into books, news stories, popular media accounts, and sometimes into documentary films and Hollywood movies. Students explore what is gained and lost through each successive translation, and how documentary film can be a vehicle not just for telling histories but also for catalyzing social change. Students can also use the filmmaking tools available to them through the Digital History Lab and campus library (Sony videocameras, Roland R-05 audio recorders, and laptops with audio and video editing tools) to make their own historically-informed documentary film or podcast at the end of the semester, working in small groups that serve as makeshift production teams. Students who choose this option not only learn how to translate their insights into the medium of film or audio documentary, but also get an opportunity to disseminate their historical knowledge outside the classroom and get a glimpse of the potential intellectual contributions they can make using their humanities education.
Courtesy of NASA.

Science and Technology Studies Seminar
Illinois Institute of Technology: Spring 2017 & Spring 2013

Science and Technology Studies asks what sociology (the study of the social relationships that make up our world) would look like if we also included our relationships with machines in the equation. This course is an introduction to the tenets and major theories of the field. It gives students the opportunity to deploy their knowledge in hands-on ways in addition to studying theory. See here for examples of a previous class's attempts to "socially construct"—or rather reconstruct—bicycle technology.
Image of old computer.

History of Computing
Illinois Institute of Technology: Fall 2011

Why do we think that we've witnessed a computing "revolution" in the 20th and 21st centuries? This course contextualizes Silicon Valley's current obsession with change-for-its-own-sake by showing how the fiction of disruption has a long and well-established history. From World War II codebreaking, to intra-national spying initiatives, this course asks students to look behind industry hype and explore the interconnectedness of computer technologies with the aims and goals of strongly centralized technocratic governments.
NASA Scientist Melba Roy Mouton with a computer circa 1964. Courtesy of NASA.

Gender and Technological Change
Illinois Institute of Technology: Spring 2012

How do categories of difference structure technological design? This course is a laboratory for students to explore answers to that question, using gender as a guiding principle. To see the university-recognized class project on gendered infrastructure that students completed the last time this course was offered, read about the project on my blog here and here or read my article in Syllabus.

History of Technology
North Carolina State University, 2008-2011

From the Middle Ages to the present day, technology has enhanced, defined, and limited what people and societies can do. This course takes students through that history, providing a longue durée view to help them gain insight into current trends in technology.

20th Century European History
Duke University: Spring 2008

This course surveys the history of Europe in the 20th century paying special attention to the social movements that sought to bring European society into line with its oft-professed but unevenly enacted ideals of equality and civil rights for all.
all gender bathroom sign

Politics & Sexuality in the Modern West
Duke University: Fall 2008, 2006

This class explores at how movements for sexual equality have defined the political landscape of America and Europe from the 19th through the 21st century. The course won a university-wide fellowship award for innovation in teaching when it was first taught at Duke University.
Brake lights streaking over a multi-lane highway by Aleksandar Pasaric.

Ethical Dimensions of Progress
North Carolina State University: Fall 2008

This course looks at how technology and society often interact to produce thorny ethical conundrums. It teaches students to use and critically analyze the intellectual tools we have at our disposal to try to solve these difficult problems.
Photo of a grabage dump. Courtesy of NASA.

Science, Technology, and Human Values
North Carolina State University: Fall 2007, Fall 2004

An earlier variant of the course above, this class was offered at NC State University in order to help students fulfill their "science and human values" curriculum requirement.