[SIGCIS-Members] Seeking help -- if you could design your ideal Computer/Information History course, what would you include?

Andrew Meade McGee amm5ae at virginia.edu
Wed Sep 25 20:55:29 PDT 2013

Dear SIG-CIS friends,

I hope you might help me with a happy conundrum. This year I am visiting
faculty in the history department of Washington and Lee University, a small
but affluent liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia. One of the
school’s quirks is a mandatory four-week April term in which students
enroll in only one class and have 8-10 hours or more of weekly face-to-face
classroom interaction with the professor (and 20+ hours of readings,
assignments, labs), usually on a specialized topic. In recent years the
school has embraced “high-concept” classes with catchy thematic topics,
deep reading lists, and creative final assignments for this mini-mester –
last year, for instance, the Classics Department offered a course on the
Trojan War that featured students meticulously recreating Bronze Age
military formations and engaging in costumed battle on the front quad.
Other classes do digital humanities projects or create documentaries, etc.

 I have been instructed by Dean and Department Chair to develop a
“computer-related” history class for Spring 2014. I essentially have carte
blanche create my ideal computer history/information history/information
and society class from scratch, as long as I can cram it all into four
weeks and devise some clever final project. Ideally I would attract history
majors and liberal arts students as well as a few stray engineering and
business students intrigued by the topic.

 So I appeal to the SIG-CIS community for ideas – what would you teach if
you could design your ideal class on computer or information history? How
would you structure it? Any outlandish ideas you wish you had tried? Books
or topics or assignments you feel are must have? I might have
school-provided funds for a day trip or two, so I could take the kids
within a few hour radius (I’ve thought of DC and the Smithsonian, or the
supercomputers at Blacksburg or Oak Ridge).

I’ve gone through the excellent syllabus repository on the SIG-CIS webpage
and have plundered the university faculty page-posted syllabi of some of
the list’s more prominent members, but would appreciate any additional
ideas. I’m not sure if I’m going to go with straight “computer history” or
a broader “From Gutenberg to Google” type information history class. Given
my cultural and political history strengths, other options include a
“Computers and Society,” “Digital America,” or “Global Information Age”
approach, or even something focused more conceptually on "Data" or
"Systems." .

 So, again, any comments would be greatly appreciated. If you could
construct your ideal (but timeframe-compressed) computer/information
history class, what would you include?

 Thank you,

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Andrew Meade McGee
Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
PO Box 400180 - Nau Hall
Charlottesville, VA 22904
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