Midterm essay topics

(1) Students can submit a paper instead of a midterm exam. The description of the paper topic is below. We think you’ll get a lot out of the exercise, but be warned it will probably involve more work than preparation for the exam will. If opt to do the paper and then decide at the last minute that you can’t, you can always take the midterm.  However, if you do not turn in a paper topic by March 3, and an outline by March 10, you cannot select the paper option.

(2) March 3: Notify the instructors by either via email or in office hours of your intention to do a paper.  Please include a include your paper topic and a paragraph proposal.

(3) March 10: submit a paper proposal consisting of (ungraded):

(a) short (3/4 page) outline

(b) list of the sources you will use for the paper.  The list of sources should include sources from the class syllabus (required and optional reading) as well as three scholarly sources not on the syllabus.  Please read the guidelines on the selection of scholarly sources.

(4) March 16 by midnight: paper is due online, please submit a paper copy of the exam by 1pm on March 17.  No extensions will be granted, and no late papers will be accepted.  Please submit one electronic copy submitted via bSpace in the following format: FIRSTNAME-LASTNAME-103.doc and one paper copy to the box outside 203A South Hall or to one of us in person before this time.  Please read the guidelines very carefully for instructions for turning in your paper.

(5) TOPIC. Choose a or b.

(a) “Many, if not most, of the cultural phenomena of the modern world derive from [the 18th century] — the periodical, the newspaper, the novel, the journalist, the critic, the public library, the concert, the public museum. Perhaps most important of all, it was then that ‘public opinion’ came to be recognized as the ultimate arbiter in matters of taste and politics.”–Tim Blanning, The Culture of Power

Choose ONE example, either from Blanning’s list or from other seventeenth- or eighteenth-century developments mentioned in the class, and argue how the cultural phenomena came about.  Consider key technologies, people, places and social institutions that might have been critical to the cultural phenomena.  Finally, argue about the significance of the cultural phenomena you have chosen to the history of information: Does the story that you have outlined support a technologically deterministic history of information?


(b) In the course so far we have discussed various innovations in what might now be called “information technology.”  But we have also looked at various processes of standardization–of the codex, of the newspaper, of science and the scientific journal, of the encyclopedia, of time–transformations that would not normally be characterized as technological.  Choose one particular case and argue what preceded this standard, how it came about, and describe the processes of standardization.  Consider key technologies, people, places and social institutions that might have been critical to the standardization.  Finally, argue about the significance of standardization to the history of information: Does the story that you have outlined support a technologically deterministic history of information?  Is the standard you described is still active?

(6) Suggestions for a 30-point essay:

  • A great essay will address all of the sub-questions outline in (a) or (b) and have a central argument/thesis.
  • Select only one cultural phenomena (if doing essay a) or one standard (if doing essay b).  Essays should narrow down the topic of their paper to something that can appropriately be covered in a 2000 word essay.  Whatever choices you make to narrow down your topic should be explained to the reader in the essay.
  • The essays should include thoughtful analysis of all of the relevant readings  in the class.  If you make an argument that addresses a topic that is mentioned in a reading and you don’t mention that reading, we will wonder why not.
  • You may also use the material in lectures to support your arguments (properly cited as a lecture). Including facts, quotes, or media references from lectures would make useful supplements to arguments found in the readings.
  • Please do not give us personal opinions or feelings which are not grounded in, or supported by the source materials. These are great for future conversations, but not what we are looking for in a scholarly essay.
  • At all costs, avoid writing a book report which contains no argument and no analysis.
  • Make sure that you get your history right!
  • Proofread and use consistently formatted citations.
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