SP.272 / ESG.SP272 Culture Tech

As taught in: Spring 2003

Etching shows two women attending a power loom, with a third in the background carrying a large basket.

Young unmarried women flocked to Lowell, MA and other budding industrial centers to work in the mills and factories there. (Image by Lowell Historical Society.)




James Rising

Amilio Aviles

Course Description

This class is divided into a series of sections or "modules", each of which concentrates on a particular large technology-related topic in a cultural context. The class will start with a four-week module on Samurai Swords and Blacksmithing, followed by smaller units on Chinese Cooking, the Invention of Clocks, and Andean Weaving, and end with a four-week module on Automobiles and Engines. In addition, there will be a series of hands-on projects that tie theory and practice together. The class discussions range across anthropology, history, and individual development, emphasizing recurring themes, such as the interaction between technology and culture and the relation between "skill" knowledge and "craft" knowledge.

Culture Tech evolved from a more extensive, two-semester course which formed the centerpiece of the Integrated Studies Program at MIT.  For 13 years, ISP was an alternative first-year program combining humanities, physics, learning-by-doing, and weekly luncheons.  Culture Tech represents the core principles of ISP distilled into a 6-unit seminar. Although many collections of topics have been used over the years, the modules presented here are a representative sequence.