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 you 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 and an outline by March 8 and receive instructor permission by March 10 you cannot select the paper option.

(2) March 8: Notify the instructors by either via email or in office hours of your intention to do a paper.  Please include your paper topic and a paragraph proposal:

(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.

(3) March 22 by 9 am: paper is due through e-mail to ude.yelekrebnull@jekalb.  No extensions will be granted, and no late papers will be accepted.  Please also submit one electronic copy submitted via bSpace in the following format: FIRSTNAME-LASTNAME-103.doc.  Please read the guidelines very carefully for instructions for turning in your paper.

(4) TOPIC. Choose a, b, or c.

(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) Pick any of the information technologies that we have made the topic of a class up to this point in the semester, and use it to support either Heilbroner’s or Williams’s arguments. For whichever one you chose, be sure to include the arguments about that technology that were included in the reading for that day.


(c) Assume that Phaedrus came to Socrates not with a scroll but a printed book. Write the ensuing dialog as Socrates contemplates the effect of the printing press on society.

(5) Suggestions for a 30-point essay:

  • A great essay will address all of the sub-questions outlined in (a), (b), or (c) and have a central argument/thesis.
  • Select only one cultural phenomena (if doing essay a) or one argument (if doing essay b) or two points of view in dialogue with each other (if doing essay c).  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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