Final Essay

The final grade for this class will be based on a 2,000-word final essay you write in response to one of the four questions below. In all of the questions, we ask you to address a topic and ask you some specific questions. We expect the essay to be an argument, to have a central thesis, that you have come up with as you come up with your answers. Logistical details and writing guidelines can be found below the questions.

Due date: Friday, August 14, 1:15pm. No late essays will be accepted. See “Details, formatting, and GUIDELINES for writing your essay”.

Question 1

“We are in the midst of a technological, economic, and organizational transformation that allows us to renegotiate the terms of freedom, justice, and productivity.”

– Yochai Benkler. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, 2006.

This argument comes from a book in which Benkler is arguing that the web has caused a “transformation” in “technological, economic and organizational” processes. These changes, argues Benkler, mean that “we” get to “renegotiate” “freedom,” “justice,” and “productivity.”  The implications of this passage is that these big three concepts may be up for debate and change with a variety of possible outcomes.

Although this passage is from 2006, it might apply to other time periods we have looked at.  Think of at least two other time periods and answer the following question: How have “technological, economic, and organizational” factors enabled renegotiation of the tems of “freedom, justice and productivity” and to what ends?  Be specific about a) what time periods you are examining, b) what geographic areas you are analyzing, c) what “technological, economic, and organizational” factors you are addressing, and d) why you have selected this period.  At least one of these time periods have to be before 1850.

Question 2

Sometimes the way infrastructure, or an information technology, is initially used or conceived is quite different from how it is subsequently used. Or, there may turn out to be many more accepted uses of a technology than initially conceived.  Frequently it takes a long time to settle on a “typical” use (or uses).  For example, it was decades before certain uses of photography that we think of now as routine and banal, such as photojournalism, came to be common practices at newspapers. Based on what you have learned in this class, discuss three other examples of this, at least one of which must be before 1850. Explain how a technology or process was originally conceived in one way, why it was conceived in that way, and why and how it shifted to be used in another way.  Identify the similarities and differences between the cases you described, and use this to make an argument about technological change.

Question 3

Over the course of this class, we have frequently encountered situations where people or institutions are focused on getting the word out—making something known to others. These have included commercial entities trying to announce the price of a product, a government institution (the King, the President, parliament, etc) putting out a policy decision or putting into effect a law, or people getting the word out on news of everyday life. With this in mind, explain how the circulation of text-based documents has changed over time. Make sure to use at least three different time periods, at least one of which must be before 1850. Remember to address the different kinds of factors—technological, institutional, social, cultural, etc.—that contribute to this circulation.

Question 4

“With every new invention or new form of media, inventors take a look at older technologies, figure out whose needs are being met and whose needs are not being met, and then try to solve those needs. Therefore, each new technology is an improvement upon whatever precedes it and eventually replaces it. The net effect is that society as a whole improves as well.”

– Ubiquitous and anonymous

Pick three innovations–either new device, new innovation in technique or process, or even new form of media (at least one has to be before 1850)–and tell us to what extent the position above has merit. What is meant by “improvement” in each case? Which parts of the above argument seem right and wrong and in which situations? Ask yourself, for whom have things improved and for what uses have they improved? (Or, for whom have things not improved, in what circumstances.)

Make an argument using your cases that either supports or attacks the above argument. Note, the position makes a number of claims and is based on a number of assumptions. You should feel free to agree with some and disagree with others as you see fit based on the historical examples you choose. Make sure to address counter-arguments.

Logistical details:

  • You must answer one and only one question.
  • Essays are due at 1:15 pm on Friday August 14.  Sharp. No late essays will be accepted and no extensions will be given.
  • Turn in two paper copies of the essay and email both of us one copy.
  • NEW: please name the document you send us via email in the following format: FIRSTNAME-LASTNAME-FINALESSAY.doc
  • We will not accept essays longer than 2000 words (not including footnotes, endnotes or citations).

Formatting and writing:

  • All essays must be typed and printed on 8.5″x11″ white/off-white paper.
  • The first page of your essay will be a cover sheet.  On this page you will write your name and nothing else.  This is the only place where your name should appear on your essay.
  • The second page of your essay will have (a) the question you chose to respond to and (b) the TITLE of your essay.
  • Please staple all sheets together in the top left hand corner
  • Please use Times, Times New Roman, or Georgia, in 10, 11, or 12pt. No lower, no higher.
  • Please use 1.5 or double spacing
  • Please hand in well written prose with proper grammar and spelling. Take advantage of those spell checkers and grammar checkers that you have at your disposal.
  • Please page number your essay in the header or footer. To avoid loose pages getting lost, put the title of your essay (not your name) in the header or footer.

Citing and citations:

  • The work that you hand in must be your own.  You are not allowed to collaborate or work with anyone in the class. You may show your work to someone outside of the class for the purposes of correcting grammar and spelling.
  • You can use MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style Author-Date formatted citations, but please pick only one format, and be consistent.
  • You may either reference sources using either:
    • A) “parenthetical citations” in the body of the text and then including a proper “works cited” section at the end,
    • OR
    • B) properly formatted footnotes for each citation with a bibliography at the end of the paper.
    • In either case, make sure to include specific page numbers when you are quoting an author or referring to a specific passage. (Finn and Perkel 2009:22-24)
    • If you aren’t sure on formatting rules, look them up online!
  • You may paraphrase ideas from readings, videos, or lectures, but you must properly cite these passages as well. In other words, use citations even if you don’t quote.
  • You may consult non-course materials, but if you use ideas or passages from someone else’s work, you must explain where it has come from. [Yes, this means wikipedia articles.]
  • If you represent work as your own that is not, by failing to cite quotes and paraphrased ideas, it will be considered plagiarism in violation of the student code.
  • When in doubt… send us an email.  If you have any questions about what needs to be cited, please let us know.


  • A 30-point essay will include an answer to the question that is supported by readings from the class.  It will have a central argument/thesis. 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.
  • A 30-point essay will include thoughtful analysis of all of the relevant readings in the class (properly cited). If you make an argument that addresses a topic that is in a reading and you don’t mention that reading, we will wonder why not.
  • Please do not give us personal opinions or feelings which are not grounded in, or supported by the course materials. These are great for future conversations, but not what we are looking for in the final essay.
  • At all costs, avoid writing a book report which contains no argument and no analysis.
  • Make sure that you get your history right!

Good luck! We are looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  1. […] a reminder that you can find complete instructions for the final essay here. Read the details very carefully and let us know if you have any questions. Feel free to email us […]