This course uses the theme of communications “revolutions” to explore the changing processes of communication and information circulation in the West from ancient times to the present. The course follows an historical trajectory to help students make greater sense of the contemporary blur of innovation and change in communication technologies. Stress on novelty and “new” media can obscure historical patterns, tensions, and connections, which exist at macro- and micro-levels of society. "Revolutions" is suspended in quotes to signal that while we seek to understand change over time and the effects of new communications technologies, we will also continually interrogate the "revolutionary" claims attached to communication technologies. We will analyze the context and conditions of communication and technological innovations in relation to economic, social, cultural, political, and technical structures, traditions, and processes. Among the themes we will explore are: the central role of technology in our culture, and the tension between technological devices and human users and developers; the link between communication, politics and power; the role of communications processes and technologies in marking the changing boundaries separating the public and private realms of life; the deep ties between trade, labor, transport, and communication technologies; the role of governmental and corporate institutions in influencing the uses of mediated communication in our society. Our goal is to provide the student with a sense of the history of communications technologies and the recurring theme of "revolution" in their uptake and use; to appreciate when what are now “old” technologies were new; to understand the continuities and discontinuities between past and present media, social, and cultural contexts; and to furnish the critical tools and perspectives to evaluate communications revolutions past, present, and still to come.
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Freshmen or sophomores
Lecture twice per week for 1.5 hours each; discussion once per week for 1.0 hour.