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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Bruce W Hevly
HIST 217
Seattle Campus

The Space Age

Explores the history of ideas, events, and practices associated with the Space Age from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth. Emphasizes intellectual, cultural, and political/military history in the development of rockets and space technology in the United States, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

Class description

This course will draw upon the history of science, technology, politics and culture to examine the history of space technology and exploration in the twentieth century, beginning with early rocket theorists and their places in the respective cultural contexts of Russia, Germany, and the United States, and going on the the second half of the century with particular emphasis on the US program and its competitor in the Soviet Union. We will begin with ideas about space travel expressed in fiction and projective writings, and then go on to discuss the development of rocket technology and the accompanying rise of science fiction between the 1920s and the 1940s; the postwar development of plans for defense systems in space; early satellite programs; solar, stellar, and planetary explorations using space technology; struggles over the utility of human crews in space flight, and the question of who should be selected for space travel; the moon race; shuttle programs; prospects for future missions. The course draws upon science fiction -- in writing and in film -- as a source for understanding the meanings of space flight in context, including the perceived lack of support for certain aspects of space exploration since the 1970s.

Student learning goals

Students will have the opportunity to learn a basic narrative history of the space age, as developed in Germany, the Soviet Union and the US in particular.

Students should learn to think about how popular culture reflects and also helps to shape technological programs, particularly in areas assoiciated with futuristic developments. They will grapple with the problems of using fictions -- in print and in film -- as historical sources.

Students should develop an understanding of how politics helped to shape technology policy. They should understand some of the dynamics of science and technology policy as applied to questions such as manned space flight versus scientific research using satellites and robot probes.

Students should learn to draw upon relevant precedents in discussing future policy prospects,and the significance of economic and Congressional constraints, as well as the tension between public and private space efforts.

General method of instruction

Lectures and discussions; presentation of multi-media resources relevant to the course (documentary films, feature films and serials, radio broadcasts).

Recommended preparation

No prerequisites. This course assumes no background in science, engineering, or history of science and technology.

Class assignments and grading

Course meetings will be divided between lectures, in-class discussions, and films. There will be assigned readings in the works of historians who have written on relevant topics, as well as in primary sources produced by participants in the stories we will examine. Students will be asked to take essay and short answer exams, write in response to one of the books, and write periodic short response papers based upon the lectures. I will make supplemental materials available for those interested, but none of the writing assignments will involve independent library research.

In-class examinations and a final examination; weekly short essay assignments.


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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Bruce W Hevly
Date: 04/12/2013