First paper

Second paper

Where your first paper was an exercise in interpretation of primary sources, your second is about synthesizing across a variety of readings.


Drawing on readings from class, write an original, coherent, and sustained argument responding to one of the following questions.

  1. Ann Blair and Stefan Müller-Wille describe scholarly practices in the 17th and 18th centuries as responses to “information overload,” an expression that wasn’t used until the late 20th century. James Beniger, on the other hand, definitively represents the mid-19th century as the origin of the modern “information society” in reaction to overwhelming amounts of information. In the 20th century, Vannevar Bush proposed the Memex as the solution for a set of problems that closely resemble information overload, if not labeled as such.

Is the information overload in these various periods always the same, or does it differ? (It might differ either in the form of the information, or those whom it afflicts.) What about the solutions proposed in these various eras: are they same, or different? If they are fundamentally similar, how do you account for the constant need for new solutions? If different, does it suggest that claims placing the key moment of information overload in one of these centuries is flawed?

  1. The volume which includes Ellen Gruber Garvey’s “Facts and Facts” is titled “There is no such thing as raw data.” Assess the validity of that statement with reference to the sources we have read. Consider questions (you do not have to answer them all) such as: How would the historical actors we have read and talked about react to such a claim? Did they believe they were collecting pure, unbiased data? Do you see ways that they might have been misleading themselves? Are there overarching trends towards or away from unbiased data before 1960 or so?

  2. Frederick Taylor hoped that the collection of data would help promote a better relationship between workers and employers. How correct was he? How do examples of difficulties in wrapping workers into easily-quantified systems–from the sources we read on slavery in the South through Ensmenger’s computer programmers–complicate or confirm the idea a rational accounting could help smooth over obstacles in the workplace? You may use a more expansive definition of workers if you like–for example, including the students Lehman discusses–but be sure to justify your choice.

Length and Formatting.

Your paper should be between 1500 and 2000 words long, not including notes or bibliography. Properly formatted (double spaced, 12 point serifed font) that should be about 5 to 7 pages.

Due Date

Papers should be submitted by noon on Wednesday, November 26. Late papers will be penalized one grade (B+ to B, etc) for each day they are overdue.


You are also invited to submit your first paragraph and outline by Friday,


Your paper should use evidence from readings and class discussions. You may draw in outside evidence if you feel it necessary, but (unless you clear it with me first) try to focus on the readings we have used and do not focus on contemporary parallels. You should deal substantially with multiple different readings from the class. If there are handouts or other course materials you would like a better reference for, please contact me.

Be sure to acknowledge authors for their contributions to your understanding of a historical figure; good papers will distinguish your own description and interpretation of a historical figure from that given by the authors we have read.

Citations to readings are in the syllabus: copies of all images shown in class are at

Your argument will be strengthened by using direct quotations from the text to make points.


You should cite the works that you quote and refer to in the text in a consistent format. I recommend the Chicago documentary note format: with it, you give a full citation the first time you use a text, and smaller ones later. For short papers, you can omit the final bibliography. If you prefer to use a social-science author-date format with final bibliography, that is also acceptable.

A citation manager program can help you organize all your references and produce well-formatted citations: again, one good (and free) one is Zotero.

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