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HIS 109 — Information Technology from Movable Type to Machine Learning

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 5—Jun 7
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Apr 7
Units: 2
Tuition: $520
Instructor(s): Thomas S. Mullaney
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Cancelled
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Apr 5—Jun 7
10 weeks
Refund Date
Apr 7
2 Units
Thomas S. Mullaney
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Humans rely on information and information technologies to make, preserve, and transmit knowledge and meaning. But what is “information,” and what counts as an “information technology”? While conventional wisdom might bring to mind 1s and 0s, bits and bytes, pixels and protocols, the word “information” itself suggests an alternate definition that is both more specific and more expansive: information is any set of entities, physical or conceptual, that has been put in a formation for the purposes of forging, preserving, and sharing meaning. Information technology is any process or practice employed along the way for maintaining these formations in a universe that is always tending toward entropy and deformation. Thus, while magnetic tape and Morse code are forms of information technology, so too are formaldehyde and footnotes, papyrus plants and page numbers, semiotics and storytelling.

This course will chart the history of technology information from 1400 to the present. We will look at both classic forms of information technology (movable type, telegraphy, typewriting, and personal computing) and those that tend to be omitted from conventional histories (music notation systems, phone books, and weaving, to name a few). Students will leave the course with an enhanced perspective on information and how it shapes—and is shaped by—culture, nationality, gender, ethnicity, economy, and environment.

Professor of History, Stanford

Thomas S. Mullaney is the author of The Chinese Typewriter: A History, which examines China’s development of a modern, nonalphabetic information infrastructure encompassing telegraphy, typewriting, word processing, and computing. He has received the 2013 Abbott Payson Usher Prize; a three-year National Science Foundation Science, Technology, and Society award; a Hellman Fellowship; and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He received a PhD from Columbia.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.