Anthro 154   EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGY   Spring 2002

MWF 8:00

Instructor:  Kathy Kamp

Office: Goodnow 206; ext. 3140 To make an appt. e-mail me

Goals: This course is not a comprehensive history of technology, but tries to meditate on the nature and impact of technology from a historical perspective. We will focus on how technologies evolve, and the social and ecological results of technological change. Our point of view is that to understand any technology, we must consider 1) its context, 2) how it is fabricated and operated, and 3) its social, political, economic, and environmental effects. The organization of the material is roughly chronological, but distinctly incomplete in that many important technological advances are omitted.  Instead a small number of technologies, many of them presented by guest lecturers, serve as case studies.


Teich, Albert H., 1999, Technology and the Future, Bedford/St. Martin's.

Tapscott, Don.  1998, growing up digital: the Rise of the Net Generation, McGraw-Hill.

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz, 1983, More Work for Mother, Basic Books.

Strasser, Susan, 1999, Waste and Want, Metropolitan Books.

Other readings will be on electronic reserve, available via the library web page.


1)          Class attendance* and participation (10%) - read assignments ahead of class for discussion.

2)          Participation in the technology assessment project, which will include turning in interviews, observations, etc.  (20%)

3)          Write-up of one section of technology assessment project (15%)

4)          Presentation/report on one chosen household product (20%)

5)          Biotechnology debate (10%)

6)          Quick quizzes (25%)—These will be periodic opportunities to write a very brief in-class commentary on a reading.  The lowest quiz grade will be dropped.

You are expected to attend all class sessions and arrive on time (despite the early hour of the class).  


1/21 M   Orientation, Ideas and Definitions

1/23 W   The Nature of Technology and Change

READ: Berry (Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer)

  White, Leslie, 1949,  excerpt from “Ch. 13, Energy and the Evolution of Culture,” The  Science of Culture, pp. 363-376.

1/25 F   More Perspectives on Technology

READ: Mesthene (The Role of Technology in Society)

                    McDermott (Technology: Opiate of the Intellectuals)

1/28 M  Technology Assessment Initial Planning Discussion

READ: Relevant administrative documents

1/30 W Computers in the Modern World: a Case Study of Technology

READ: Tapscott, growing up digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, Chs. 1-4.

2/1 F Computers in the Modern World: a Case Study of Technology

READ: Tapscott, growing up digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, Chs. 5-8. 

2/4 M Computers in the Modern World: a Case Study of Technology

READ: Tapscott, growing up digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, Chs. 9-13.

2/6 W Assessment, the Whys Wherefores and History of the Office of Technology Assessment  (Doug Caulkins)

2/8 F Assessment Study:  Organizing the Project

 READ: Previous Assessment of Laptops at Grinnell College

First interviews due.

2/11 M The Human Adaptation: Culture and Technology

READ: Explore  Be sure you watch the video segments and also read some of the additional information.  Think about how you are using this resource versus reading a traditional text.

2/13 W Evolution of Stone Tool Technology (John Whittaker, Anthropology)

Whittaker, John C. 1994  Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.    (Chapters 2, 3.)

2/15 F  Changes in Tool Technology Stone Tools in the Modern World (John Whittaker)

READ: Sharp, Lauriston, 1952,  Steel Axes for Stone Age Australians. In Man in   Adaptation: The Cultural Present 2nd ed., Y. Cohen ed., pp. 116-127. Chicago: Aldine  Publishing Co.

Gould, Richard A., 1981, Brandon Revisited: A New Look at an Old Technology. In Modern Material Culture: The Archaeology of Us. Gould and M. Schiffer eds. pp. 269-281.    New York: Academic Press.

2/18 M The Development of Writing  (Jerry LaLonde)

READ: Schmandt-Besserat,  D.,1978,  "The Earliest Precursors of Writing" Scientific American  238(6)

               Henderson, John S., 1997, The World of the Ancient Maya,  pp. 15-57.

2/20 W Writing, Continued (Jerry LaLonde)

2/22 F Books, Printing and the Spread of Literacy 

2/25 M Assessment Project Discussion

Second stage of data collection due.

2/27 W Technology in Society: More Perspectives

READ: Winner (Do Artifacts Have Politics?)—Check out the Automatic Professor on Winner’s website ( you have read Winner

                    Sclove (Technological Politics as if Democracy Really Mattered)

3/1 F How do Computers Influence Social Participation?

3/4 M Changing Technologies/Changing Lifestyles

READ:  Cowan, Ch. 1-2

3/6 W Changes in Lifestyle as a Result of Industrialization

READ:  Cowan, Ch 3-4.

3/8 F  Evaluating Cowan’s Thesis

READ:  Cowan, Finish.

3/11 M  Household project presentations.

3/13 W  Household project presentations.

3/15 F   Feminist Perspectives on Technology 

READ: Wajacman (Feminist Perspectives on Technology)


4/2 M   Movie on Technology and Development: TBA

4/4 W  Alternative Perspectives on Technology

READ: Schumacher (Buddhist Economics)

              Goodman (Can Technology Be Humane?)

4/6 F   More Perspectives on Technology

READ: Hughes (Technological Momentum)

                  Weinberg (Can Technology Replace Social Engineering?)

                   Marx (Does Improved Technology Mean Progress?)

4/9 M An In-Depth Alternative Energy Case Study: Solar Power  (Jim Swartz, Chemistry)

                  READ: Handouts to be provided.

4/11 W Solar Power  (Jim Swartz, Chemistry)

4/13 F Solar Power (Jim Swartz, Chemistry)

4/16 M Alternative Energy Technologies Background Planning-- Nuclear Power, Biogas, Hydropower, Wind Power, Other Options

READ: Flavin, Christopher and Seth Dunn, 1999, Reinventing the Energy System, In State of the world 1999: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress toward a Sustainable Society,  pp.  22-40.

4/18 W Putting Technological Solutions to Play in the Real World: A Development Example  (Monty Roper)

READ: The energy and Bolivia sections of the technology web page.

4/20 F  Technology Assessment Project Meeting

4/23 M Biotechnology (Bruce Voyles, Biology)

4/25 W Biotechnology (Bruce Voyles, Biology)

4/27 F Biotechnology Debate

4/30 M  Waste and Want: A Case Study

READ: Strasser, Ch. 1-2.

5/2 W Waste and Want: A Case Study

READ: Strasser, Ch. 3-5.

5/4  F Waste and Want: A Case Study

READ: Strasser, Ch. 6-7.

5/7 M Assessment Project Discussion I

Final Paper due.

5/9 W Assessment Project Discussion II

5/11 F  Who Controls/Should Control Technology?  Can it Be Controlled?

READ: Volti Chapters 15-17