Third paper

Paper Assigment 3

Your first paper was an exercise in description, and your second was an exercise in argument. Your final project will bring these together as an exercise in synthesis across all periods of this course.

These are general questions that reach across a single theme through the course. Your answers should cite a number of different works from throughout the span of the course; in most cases it will not be helpful to cite documents from outside the class, but you can if you wish. (And it may be helpful to cite examples discussed in class but not assigned on the readings; see the course slides or contact me if you want a citation on particular matter.)

As always, a careful consideration of counterarguments–particularly those that moderate your own initial views–will substantially strengthen your paper.

Since this paper is somewhat longer, take care to structure them coherently.

Paper Prompts

  1. Was the computer a revolutionary development in the history of data collection, analysis, and storage that dramatically transformed the way data was collected and used? Or was it, instead, evolutionary, fitting into trends that already existed? (Feel free to substitute your own terms here if you think “revolution” and “evolution” do not fit). Consider how structurally similar tasks were accomplished before and after computerization.

  2. Concerns about privacy have been paramount in many of the discussions of data collection we’ve read and discussed in this class. Are privacy and the collection of large-scale data necessarily antagonistic? What can historical examples tell us about the possibilities for privacy to be maintained? When have different historical actors found the benefits of increased data collection to outweigh their costs in privacy?

  3. The writer Tracy Kidder observed around the year 1980 that computers “made fine tools for the centralization of power.” Particularly with reference to data collection, has this claim held up through the era of personal computers? Was this because of the way computers were used, or was it inherent in the technology itself? Has large-scale data collection always led to the centralization of power, or are there reasons to think it might undercut it?


You should cite the works that you quote and refer to in the text in a 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 medium-length papers like this, you may omit a final page bibliography if your initial citations are complete. If you prefer to use a social-science author-date format with final bibliography, that is also acceptable.

Length and Formatting.

Your paper should be between 2300 and 3000 words long, not including notes or bibliography. Properly formatted (which is to say, double spaced with a 12 point serifed font like Times New Roman) that should be about 8 to 10 pages.

Due Date

Papers should be submitted electronically via Blackboard by 5 pm on December 12. Late papers will be penalized a third of a letter grade for each 24-hour period they are overdue; note that the University grade deadline is December 15, so no extensions will be granted and late papers may result in an incomplete for the course.

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