Text:Burke, DAY THE UNIVERSE CHANGED
|Sep 4-6||Goals and Structure of the Course. |
Values and the University.
What are Science and Technology?
|Sep 11-13||Ancient Technology||1|
|Sep 18-20||Rome and After||2|
|Sep 25-27||Sept. 26: Writing Assignment 1 due |
Islam and Technology
|Oct. 2-4||East meets West I - the Crusades and Mongol conquests||3|
|Oct 9-11||Oct 11: EXAM I |
Medieval Science and Technology
|Oct 16-16||Information Revolutions: Perspective and Printing Press|
|Oct 23-25||Copernicus, Galileo and Newton||5|
|Oct. 30-Nov. 1||East Meets West II: The Age of Exploration||6|
|Nov. 6-8||Nov. 9: Exam II |
The Industrial Revolution
|Nov 13-15||Statistics: How we Became Numbers||7|
|Nov. 20||Nov 21: Writing Assignment 2 due |
Evolution and the Notion of Progress
|Nov. 27-29||The Technology of War|
|Dec 4-6||Birth of the Modern World|
|Dec 11-13||Why Us? What Accounts for the Success of the West?||10|
Final Exam: Tuesday, December 18, 10:30-12:30
|Exams I and II||15% each||A||90%+ of top grade|
|Writing Assignment 1||10%||AB||85-89|
|Writing Assignment 2||20%||B||80-84|
|Instructor Evaluation||10 %||C||70-74|
Instructor evaluation is used for situations like extended illness or other justifiedabsence, or for people who get off to a slow start but finish well. On the other hand, ifyou attend class irregularly and miss a grade breakpoint by a small margin, I will let theresults speak for themselves. Evaluation is never used to bring a grade down.
You have a spool of thread, a sewing machine fresh out of the packing carton, and atorn shirt. Describe in 3-4 pages how to thread the machine so you can fix theshirt, so that someone who has never done it before can do it.Explain why each step is necessary.
What is it about sailing ships, cathedrals, and suspension bridges that causes them tobe considered beautiful, while neon signs and strip mines are considered ugly? What otherkinds of technology are widely considered beautiful or ugly? Why? How do these perceptionschange with time and cultural setting? Length 4-6 pages. Cite at least one scholarlyjournal and one scholarly book. You must actually use thereference in your paper.
Stuck? Look up "esthetics" in the library.
Warning! Most students find writing about beauty difficult. It takes seriousthought. On the other hand, "useful" is easy. A lot of students, therefore, tryto equate beauty with utility. Now there are philosophers who take that position. Ifyou try to equate beauty and utility, you had better find out who they are and cite them!Death and destruction will rain upon you otherwise. Fair warning!
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or anything to this effect. Don'teven mention it! This is trivially obvious. Tell me why people perceive beautydifferently in different times, places and cultural settings.
Hypothetical examples. Do not write that one person "might" find neon signsugly while someone else "might" be entranced by the colors. Find a specificexample or reference for every value judgement you describe.
Modern information technology has empowered individuals, even rebels(militant groups using the Internet, software and media pirates, hackers andvirus creators, etc.) At the same time, information technology also empowersgroups who want to control others (the dominance of Microsoft, attempts tosuppress Napster, employers monitoring employee computer usage, etc.) . Whichforce do you think will prevail in the long run? Or will there be a balance?Explain in detail why you think so, with examples to support your viewpoint. Citeall information sources. Cite at least one scholarlyjournal and one scholarly book. You must actually use thereference in your paper.
Guidelines for referencing are available on the page Referencesfor College Papers. You are responsible for knowing and applying these guidelines.The following references are not to be used:
Standards I apply in grading writing are explained on the page
Papers with any of the following defects will not be graded but will be returned forrewriting:
If you had visited Earth in a spaceship in 1100 A.D. and tried to guess wheretechnology would develop in the future, what would you have guessed? China certainly wouldlook promising, so would Japan. India and the Middle East would stand out, possiblyMeso-America and the Andes. Jutting out from Eurasia would have been a largesemi-developed peninsula called Europe, not as primitive as many parts of the world butclearly not in the same league as China or the Middle East. Off the northwest coast ofEurope is a large island with real problems. Only a few decades before, they had beenoverrun by their more advanced mainland neighbors. Their language was becoming a creolelanguage with foreign words thickly layered onto native grammar and vocabulary.
You would not be likely to guess that this emerging language would be used in a fewcenturies by William Shakespeare to create some of the greatest literary works in theentire history of the planet, still less would you guess that in 900 years this languagewould be the dominant language of science and technology for the whole planet, or thatspeakers of this language would be the first to set foot on the moon.
My favorite example is the rainbow decorative film we find everywhere. In the 19thcentury, the only way to split light into its component colors was with a prism. Intheory, a grid of very finely-spaced grooves or bumps would also work. Light scatters offeach bump and successive wave fronts add up in certain directions to give a particularlystrong reflection. The colors of peacock feathers, butterfly wings and opals are producedthis way. In principle, this mechanism should split light into a spectrum much morecleanly and precisely than a prism. A few people had tried to make such a grid, called a diffractiongrating, but the results were not very good. Henry A. Rowland of Rensselaer Institutetook on the challenge. To make an effective diffraction grating, 20,000 lines per inchmust be scratched into glass or metal, perfectly straight and perfectly even. No machinecan be made so rigid it will not flex far more than 1/20,000 of an inch. Rowland realizedhe had to regard his machine as being made out of rubber. He could not hold the work inplace by brute force but had to devise various feedback devices to correct for the flexingof the machine. A typical grating three inches square has three miles of grooves and tookabout three weeks to make. During his career, Rowland and his assistants made a couple ofhundred gratings.
With Rowland's gratings, it became possible to measure the wavelengths of light emittedby atoms to unprecedented accuracy. The theory that explains these observations, quantumtheory, is widely regarded as the most successful theory in science in terms of the rangeof phenomena it describes and the accuracy it achieves. Almost every fundamental atomicproperty that enters into quantum mechanics traces back, in some way or another, to one ofRowland's gratings.
Later on, it was shown that you could pour liquid plastic onto a diffraction gratingand peel off a replica that was almost as good as the original. Nowadays we use laserholography or laser etching to make diffraction gratings for decoration. The play ofcolors on a compact disk arises because there are tiny pits on the disk that act as adiffraction grating. (A phonograph record, with much wider grooves, acts like a crudediffraction grating.) But lasers and solid-state electronics would not exist withoutquantum mechanics, and owe their existence to Rowland's original diffraction gratings.Nowadays rainbow film is so commonplace it costs pennies a square foot, and not one personin a thousand knows the story behind it.
It does not surprise me that millions of people go to bed hungry every night. Whatamazes me is that millions of people go to bed well-fed, even overweight. It does notsurprise me that there is oppression in the world. What amazes me is that millions ofpeople have enormous amounts of freedom, and have been able to establish and maintainsocieties that value freedom, even at the cost of great inconvenience and hardship. Noneof these is a given. There is no guarantee that the world must have evolved to createprosperous and free societies. Technology obviously plays a role in creating materialplenty, but I am convinced that there is also an intimate link between technology andWestern concepts of individuality. People invent when they see themselves as autonomousagents who can change the world; by empowering people, technology reinforces the beliefthat we are autonomous agents.
Millions of very intelligent people have devoted enormous effort to creating thecomfortable lives we take for granted. Their achievements deserve to be treated withrespect.
James Burke of the BBC has written two books, both based on video series, that havebeen used in this course.
Connections explores the often bizarre interconnections between technologicalinnovations. Each episode would begin with some innovation in the past and end withsomething completely unrelated in the present. For example, the opening episode ends withthe atomic bomb. Five minutes before the end of the program, Burke is still in the early20th century talking about weather research, and especially the efforts of one scientistto understand optical phenomena in clouds. The first time I saw the video, I wondered howin the world Burke was going to wrap things up in five minutes. The cloud researcherinvented a device that would make miniature clouds in the laboratory - the cloud chamber -one of the most important research tools in nuclear physics, and a device that led more orless directly to the atomic bomb.
Day the Universe Changed deals with several points where the Western worldexperienced a fundamental change in how it viewed some important aspect of the world, forexample, how the printing press changed our ideas about information and its reliability.It is a more "linear" treatment of history than Connections but thevideos are often a little too densely-packed with information for easy viewing. The finalchapter suffers from the flaw of confusing views of reality with reality itself.
Burke has a lot of fans and there are a number of Web pages devoted to him and hiswritings.
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Created 23 Dec 1996, Last Update 27 August 2000
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