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PWR 1MO: Imagining Technology: The Rhetoric of Humans and Machines

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Schedule TBD

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement

From William Gibson’s popularization of “cyberspace” in Neuromancer (1984) to the technology depicted in our daily lives in television shows like Sherlock (2010), imaginative sources play a core role in shaping our sense of technology. This course explores the ways that technology has been imagined on the page and on the screen. We look at how a diverse group of sources from Cold War comics to Elon Musk’s twitter account contribute to an ever-changing definition of “technology.” And we consider how our hopes and anxieties about technology are represented in creative genres and media.

By focusing largely on imaginative narratives, we’ll explore larger questions, including the role of the worker in an industrial society, environmental consequences of technology, and the relations between technology, race, gender, and social class. Looking at critics such as Leo Marx, Thomas Hughes, and Rosalind Williams, who explore the cultural and sociological implications of images of technology, we will develop our own arguments about technology and imagination. You may research your own interests. Past student projects have included arguments about the way that the Apollo missions shaped the visual imagination of outer space, essays comparing how lucid dreaming is imagined in film and in scientific papers, and topics that consider a myriad of ethical questions about AI raised by science fiction.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment, you will analyze an imaginative source with attention to the effect of technological imagery on the argument or story. You may choose from several short sources such as Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times (1936), a comical critique of industrialization, or Ralph Ellison’s “Prologue” to Invisible Man, which uses a technological metaphor to illustrate the experience of the narrator. Or you can analyze a scene from a more recent text or movie.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) At this stage in your project, you choose an issue or question related to the course theme and research scholarship that defines and gives context to that topic. For instance, one student researching the portrayal of male characters and their comfort with computing in the Big Bang Theory might explore what film critics and cultural historians have said about onscreen representations of men and technology. Another might look at how a single technological object, such as a nuclear power plant, is depicted across several sources or how two U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy, writing a century and a half apart, imagined the place of technology in national identity.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Building on the first two assignments, you will continue to develop your topic and find out about issues that spark your curiosity, ultimately crafting a focused argument that contributes to the “conversation” you explored above.

This course explores the ways that technology has been imagined on the page and on the screen. We look at how a diverse group of sources from Cold War comics to Elon Musk’s twitter account contribute to an ever-changing definition of “technology.” And we consider how our hopes and anxieties about technology are represented in creative genres and media.