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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jentery F Sayers
BISSTS 397
Bothell Campus

Topics in Science, Technology, and Society

Examines a topic, theme, or problem at the intersection of science, technology, and society.

Class description

FOR SPRING 2011: COMPUTERS AREN'T CALCULATORS

Or to be more precise: Computers aren't JUST calculators. With this claim in mind, this course surveys the correspondences between the history of computers and representations of them in various media (e.g., print novels, film, radio, and television) from the 18th century to the present. Throughout the quarter, we will repeatedly ask: How is a computer something other than a means for translating input into output? For example, how is it depicted in fiction, personified in film, or fetishized in advertising? How is it embedded in discourse and introduced into everyday life? How do perceptions of it change over time? How do people learn to use it? And how does it enable certain ideologies? When asking such questions, we will explore the ever-changing ways in which, even as objects, computers shape and are shaped by culture. We will also examine how the arts and humanities contribute to technical problems and technological development, which are often rendered natural to fields in science and engineering.

We will read fiction by Jonathan Swift, Edgar Allan Poe, E. M. Forster, and Neal Stephenson, as well as work by Alan Turing, Wendy Chun, Lisa Nakamura, Bruno Latour, Paul Ceruzzi, Matthew Kirschenbaum, and David Golumbia. We will also study the following films and television or radio shows (in part or in their entirety): The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alphaville, Tron, The Desk Set, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hackers, Sleep Dealer, Electric Dreams, several Apple commercials, and the BBC's "In Our Time: Lovelace."

Student learning goals

Individually write critically about the cultural dimensions of computers by routinely responding to in-class discussions via a multi-authored class blog.

As a class, collectively compose a web-based exhibit of computer culture, with each student contributing at least two entries to the exhibit.

Blend theories of technology with an attention to historical context by highlighting how the perceptions, depictions, materials, and cultural conditions of computing all change over time.

Use multiple media (e.g., text, video, audio, and images) to collaboratively compose and present an argument about a specific historical aspect of computer culture.

General method of instruction

Instruction will combine workshops with lectures, film viewings, and class discussion.

Recommended preparation

There are no prerequisites for this course. It may especially appeal to those who are interested in technologies, media studies, science fiction, and cultural studies.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments will include frequent blogging, a group presentation, and a web-based exhibit. Aside from these assignments, student participation will also be assessed.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
For more on my pedagogy and previous courses
Last Update by Jentery F Sayers
Date: 02/05/2011