Cal Poly Pomona

History 408


History of American Science and Technology


Instructor: Zuoyue Wang                                           Office: Building 94, Room 335

Fall Quarter 2013                                                       Office Hours: MW 11am-12pm and by appointment

Course Hours: MW 2:00-3:50pm                              Email:

Classroom: 5-255                                             


Course Description: Has American history been driven by science and technology?  Was the atomic bomb the single most significant event of the twentieth century, as an online poll of journalists and the public suggests (  Or was our tampering with the environment on planet earth, including climate change, “the most important aspect of 20th-century history, more so than World War II, the communist enterprise, the rise of mass literacy, the spread of democracy, or the growing emancipation of women,” as one scholar claimed (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/19/2000)?  Can the US combat terrorist threat by relying on its superior science and technology?  How have the historical election of Barack Obama and the current economic crisis changed the priorities in American science and technology policy? In this course we will examine these questions and the complex interactions between science, technology, the environment, and society in American history, with emphasis on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  We will do so through readings, lectures, discussions, videos, and writing exercises; along the way we will also learn how to collect and interpret historical evidence.


Learning Objectives: By the end of the class, students should be able to: 1) gain a better understanding of the dynamic historical interactions between science, technology, and American society; 2) apply knowledge gained in foundational courses in the humanities and social sciences to new areas of investigations through in-depth research in the form of a term paper; 3) develop and improve writing, critical thinking, and communication skills, and information literacy. In short, the course aims to develop “3C”: Clarity (in expression), Creativity (in scholarship), and Critical Thinking (about everything).


General Education (GE) Designations and Prerequisites: This course fulfills General Education Area C-4 (Humanities Synthesis) or D-4 (Social Science Synthesis) if you have completed at least two lower-division GE courses in each of the following areas: Humanities (C1, C2, C3) and Social Sciences (D1, D2, D3).  For detail, see University Catalog’s section on General Education.


Further Tips: How Do You Succeed in This Class?

Read the Textbooks and Take Notes in Class: Textbooks provide the core facts and theories in the class, and therefore it’s most important to “get them done” thoroughly before moving to other sources relevant to the class.  Yes, you can pick up facts on individuals and events from the web, such as wikipedia, but often they come in as isolated pieces of information without the proper context that is developed in the textbooks.  It’s also important to relate your term paper with arguments from the textbooks.  You do not necessarily need to agree with these arguments; in fact the best papers tend to revise the accepted views as represented in the textbooks.  But, whether you agree with the textbooks or not, you need to relate your main argument with theirs, either as a confirmation or as a revision.  You should also take notes in class during lectures and videos—it will help keep you focused and may give rise to new ideas of your own.

Engage in Informal Learning: Please engage with current events by, e.g., reading the Los Angeles Times or New York Times (free on their websites) or other news publications, listening to NPR radio, and watching PBS, especially its American Experiences, Nova, Frontline programs.  These will help keep you intellectually stimulated and keep you informed of current debates over major political, social, and technological issues, which in turn would help you better understand the dynamics of historical changes in the past.

Talk to Others about What You Are Learning in the Class: Trying to explain something to someone else will help you better understand what you are trying to explain.  Questions from your audience are usually very helpful in giving a new way of looking at the problem.  Often you will find that you do not quite “get it” yourself, but that’s fine.  This discovery will motivate you to read the texts again or to discuss the problem with your instructor.

Communicate with Your Instructor: Professor Wang encourages you to raise questions at any time in class and to talk to him, in class or in his office during office hours, on any issue related to this class.  You can contact him outside of class most effectively via email.

Use Resources on Campus and Work on Your Writing: Make use of reference librarians to help with your research and the Writing Center (Library 15-2921, phone 909-869-3505) to improve your writing skills.  Go to campus events and lectures.


Required Books Available at Bronco Bookstore (all except for the Rampolla book also on reserve in library):

Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm,1870-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Merritt Roe Smith and Gregory Clancey (eds.), Major Problems in the History of American Technology (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).

Zuoyue Wang, In Sputnik’s Shadow: The President’s Science Advisory Committee and Cold War America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. P., 2009) (also available as an ebook and on reserve in the library).

Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012).

In addition there will be online reading assignments.


Assignments: There will be frequent writing assignments (esp. reading worksheets and video reviews), a midterm exam, a term paper, and a final exam.  Good writing, attendance, and active participation in discussions count in this class as we aim to improve not only our historical knowledge but also our written and oral communication skills. 


Term Paper: You are required to write a paper on a topic related to the class and approved by Prof. Wang in advance.  During the first week, try to thumb through the texts to get an overview of the topics we will be studying and think about what topics you would like to write on.  Try to avoid big, overtly general topics, such as “A History of the Atomic Bomb.”  Instead, try to narrow it down to something like “Albert Einstein and the Atomic Bomb.”  Check out this link ( on my website and read our Rampolla text for further suggestions.  Keep a notebook handy to write down sources and ideas.  You are required to submit and discuss with Prof. Wang the topic and a one-paragraph explanation of your topic and sources on the date specified below.  A draft of your paper is due in class on the date noted in the schedule below for a session of peer review.  The completed paper is due on the last day of class (see schedule below for detail).  It should be about 5-8 pages, double-spaced, with 12 point font and one inch margin on all sides, printed on plain paper, stapled at the upper-left corner (no plastic cover or binding please).  You should use footnotes, instead of in-text citations. All writings in this class are evaluated for both grammar and content and there will be discussions of paper drafts later in the quarter.


A good paper will have a clear thesis statement, supported by a narrative built on a variety of evidence such as scholarly books and articles, reports in newspapers or magazines, or oral history interviews.  It can describe an event or an individual, but should explain how that event or individual does or does not fit in the general themes of this class.  See a sample paper by Melissa Mikanami on “The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster of 1986.”


Information Literacy beyond Wikipedia: As a rule of thumb, you are encouraged to use it as a starting point of research but generally not as an end point.  We will discuss why scholarly (peer-reviewed) books and articles, many of them available online from our library’s databases, are preferred sources of information and analysis.


Reading Worksheets, Discussions, and Video Reviews: Please complete the reading assignments before each session.  To help you manage the reading assignments, a one-page worksheet is linked with each topic (sometimes two for one session) which you are required to fill out using a word processor and bring to class.  We will use these worksheets for in-class discussions where you will share your comments with others in small groups.  At the end of the class students will turn them in; they will be reviewed but not individually graded.  We will also be watching a number of videos in class and students will write a one-paragraph reaction (not summary) as to what you find striking and get out of the video and turn it in.  You are encouraged to write the video reviews on the back or blank areas of your reading worksheets, as well as to print double-sided to save paper.


Extra Credit Activities: You can engage in activities outside of the classroom, such as reading extra books, watching videos (individually or in groups), visiting museums or non-profit organizations, going to campus lectures, or interviewing people, and turn in a one-page report explaining what you get out of it and how it relates to this class for extra credit.  Preferably turn the report in at a related session but no later than the last class meeting. The deadline for turning in extra credit reports is the last day of instruction.


Suggested Extra-Credit books:

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia; Upton Sinclair, The Jungle; Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith; Richard Feynman, Surely You Are Joking, Mr. Feynman!; Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle; Richard Polenberg (ed.), In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer; Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe; Peter George, Dr. Strangelove; Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; Theodore Roszack, The Making of a Counter Culture; Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed; Constance Penley, NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America; Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt.


Suggested videos (check CPP library’s video collections; check also availability for online playing if you have Netflix):

Fat Man and Little Boy; Dr. Atomic (opera on Oppenheimer); October Sky; Dr. Strangelove (Netflix play); Fail-Safe; Hearts and Minds; The Fog of War; Atomic Café (Netflix play); China Syndrome (Netflix play); 2001: A Space Odyssey (Netflix play); Jurassic Park; Gattaca (Netflix play; featuring CPP CLA buildings); Wall-E (Netflix play)


Examinations: There will be a midterm, which covers the first half of the class, and a final exam, which covers the whole class.  Before each exam, Prof. Wang will collect suggestions for questions from students.


Ground rules to ensure a suitable learning environment for everyone:

1.     Avoid late entry or early exit without instructor's prior authorization.

2.     Late works will be penalized by 1/3 letter grade per day, e.g. B to B- if one day late.

3.     Repeated, unexcused absences will considerably lower your grade for the class. 

4.     Signing-in for another student on the attendance sheet when that student is absent is an act of misconduct subject to disciplinary actions.

5.     Cell phones should be turned off during class period; no text messaging—either sending or receiving—is allowed once class starts.

6.     To avoid distraction, no use of laptop or any electronics device is allowed in the classroom unless authorized specifically by the instructor.

7.     In general, activities not related to this class are prohibited during class: e.g., newspaper-reading, doing work for another class, and chatting with each other.

8.     If you do not use your Cal Poly Pomona email account regularly, you will need to set it up so any email sent to your CPP account will be forwarded to an email address you do use regularly.

9.     You can purchase Microsoft Windows and Office, including MS Word, at a greatly discounted price at Bronco Bookstore.

10.  If you have any learning disabilities and might need special accommodations, please contact me or the Disability Resource Center (x3333).

11.  Grade appeals policy: Please see this link for grade appeals procedure and policy in my courses:

12.  Plagiarism and other misconducts: See current Cal Poly Pomona Catalog regarding university policy governing student conduct and discipline, including rules against plagiarism (presenting ideas and writing of others as one's own). 


Grading (general guideline):

Attendance, Reading Worksheets, Video Reviews, Participation in Discussions: 25%; Midterm: 25%; Term Paper: 25%; Final: 25%.


Topics and Reading Assignments (subject to change):

The lectures will cover only a few major events in depth but the students should read the texts to gain a comprehensive understanding of developments covered in class.  Click on the topics for the associated worksheets; underneath the titles and in parentheses are the relevant reading assignments.


Week 1

9/30     Introduction

10/2     What is science or technology? Video: Digital Nation

(Smith, 1-25; PBS introduction and interview with Sherry Turkle related to the program)


Week 2

10/7     1. Early American technology and society 2. The debates over manufacture and the factory system

Video: Franklin and Jefferson

(Smith, 26-61, 103-119, 144-157)

10/9     Industrialization: 1. Railroad, and 2. Telephone. Video: The Telephone

(Smith, 191-266). (“Types and Development of Man” Poster at 1904 St. Louis Exhibit)


Week 3

10/14 From inventors to technological systems; Video: Edison's Miracle of Light

(Browse Hughes, 1-183; Randall Stross, “The Wizard and the Mortal: Two Sides of Genius [on Edison and Jobs],” New York Times, October 8, 2011).  

10/16   No Class Meeting but read the Rampolla book and write a one-page review of what’s new and useful to you in regard to selecting a topic and writing the term paper.

            Rampolla, the whole book. 

Due at the time of the next class meeting: one-page review of Rampolla.


Week 4

10/21   The debate over scientific management or Taylorism; Video: Frederick Taylor: The Biggest Bastard Ever (Smith, 267-311; Hughes, 184-203).

10/23   Henry Ford and mass production; Video: Henry Ford

(Smith, 312-354; skim Hughes, 203-248). 

Due: Term Paper Proposal (a title, a paragraph of explanation, and a list of primary and secondary sources)

Bring midterm suggestions to class or email them to Prof. Wang.


Week 5

10/28   1. European and artists’ views of American technology (Franz Radziwill paintings)

2. Social dimensions of technology

Video: Modern Times (Hughes, 249-352; Smith, 355-382); Richard Lcayo, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945-1980,” Time,  October 13, 2011.

Hand out Midterm Questions; Tips on Writing History Essay Exams

10/30   The Manhattan Project; Video: Oppenheimer

(Hughes, 353-442)                 


Week 6

11/4     The use of the atomic bomb; video: Hiroshima: Why Was the Bomb Dropped.

(Wang, 1-22; Browse Truman and the Bomb: A Documentary History by Robert H. Ferrell (pdf), pay attention to Truman’s diaries on July 17, 18, and 25, 1945).

Midterm due

11/6     Library Databases and Internet Research; Writing and Citations

Read Rampolla book; Complete worksheet and bring it in during the next class


Week 7

11/11   No Class Meeting; Veterans Day

11/13   The Cold War, technology, and the military-industrial complex; Video: Sputnik

(Wang: read 23-31, browse 32-67, read 71-87, browse 88-157, read 158-179; Smith, 427-470; Wang interviewed on Sputnik in 2007 and 2009)


Week 8

11/18   Modern environmental movement; Video: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

(Smith, 383-426; Wang, 183-235) See also: Al Bredenberg, “50 Years after “Silent Spring,” a blog post  on April 16, 2012.


11/20   Science and technology in the Vietnam War era; Video: “Unpinned” by ABC News on the Vietnam War Part 1 and Part 3

(Hughes, 443-472; browse Wang, 236-310; browse Rampolla book, and sample term papers on “Hiroshima Maidens,” “Edward Teller,” and Particle Accelerators and Scientific Risk)

Progress reports on term papers


Week 9

11/25   The computer and internet; video Triumph of the Nerds

(Smith, 471-519; Marshall Poe, “The Hive”--click on “Printer Format” and browse;  browse PBS site on Triumph of the Nerds)


11/27   Biotechnology; war on terror; video Bioterror

(Wang, 311-324; Ralph Vartabedian, U.S. Funnels Billions to Science to Defend Against Terrorism” (PDF); Maureen Dowd, Gunsmoke and Mirrors

” (PDF))

Submit Final Exam Suggestions or Email them to Prof. Wang.


Week 10

12/2     Peer review of term papers. Due: Term Paper Draft

12/4     Debate over global climate change and Obama science policy.  Video: Hot Politics

(Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” and related discussion; Barack Obama, “The Necessity of Science,” speech to the National Academy of Sciences, April 27, 2009: video and transcript; Zuoyue Wang, “China, Sputnik, and American Science”; Caral Davenport, “The Education of Steven Chu,” National Journal, January 17, 2013).

Due: Term Paper (in class and via email)

            Hand out: Final Exam Questions; Due Wed. 12/11/2013 by 4pm via email and in box inside office (94-335) through window