HSTAA 317 A: History of the Digital Age

Winter 2023
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm / GLD 322
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

HSTAA 317 - HISTORY OF THE DIGITAL AGE | Winter 2023 | Professor Margaret O’Mara | TuTh 11:30-12:50 | Gould Hall 322

Welcome! This is an upper-level small lecture course on the history of America’s digital age. It traces the evolution of the computer hardware and software industries from the Manhattan Project and mainframes of the 1940s to the social media and software giants of today. We’ll explore why American technology companies (in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and elsewhere) grew out of the political economy of the Cold War and beyond, trace how and why they have had such impact on global business and society, unearth the human stories and political histories behind the technology, and historicize and contextualize today’s debates about digital technologies and platforms.

You'll read about 75-100 pages of material per week, write regular discussion posts, engage in discussion and group work, write an essay midterm exam, and create a final research project.

This is a class for students who build, study, or use digital technology—in short, everyone. No prerequisites required.

Find a full syllabus here.

Find course policies here.

Learn more about Prof. O'Mara here. Sign up for office hours here.

Schedule at a glance 
Week Topic
Week One (Jan 3-7) Introduction; before the digital age
Week Two (Jan 10-14) World War II, the Bomb, and American science
Week Three (Jan 17-21) Loving and fearing “the electronic brain”
Week Four (Jan 24-28) White spaces, tech places 
Week Five (Jan 30-Feb 4) From moonshots to hippies 
Week Six (Feb 7-11) The computer becomes personal
Week Seven (Feb 14-18) Wargames: AI, the internet, and high-tech defense
Week Eight (Feb 22-25) The dot-com boom
Week Nine (Feb 28-Mar 4) Global Silicon Valleys
Week Ten (March 7-11) Big Tech and beyond


Catalog Description:
Provides concrete historical knowledge about the evolution of the American computer hardware and software industries from the 1940s to the present day, situating today's debates about digital technologies and platforms in a longer political, social, and economic perspective.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
June 22, 2024 - 7:31 pm