AMST 263
Cold War Technocultures Spring 2015
Division II
Cross-listed STS 263 / HIST 363 / HSCI 263 / SCST 263 / AMST 263 / SOC 263
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

With the Soviet Union┬┐s collapse at the end of the twentieth century and the emergence of the United States as an unchallenged victor and “new world” hegemon, have we lost a sense of the drama, fear, and unbridled terror that permeated American life during the Cold War? In this course we will set out to understand Cold War American culture(s) by examining the intersection of politics, aesthetics, and a range of major technoscientific developments during this period. The course will take shape in three parts. Part I will explore the emergence and role of the computer in shaping the distinctly American style of thought aimed at Soviet “containment”. We will furthermore trace historical treads connecting MIT’s legendary Whirlwind computer, the SAGE continental air defense system, nuclear wargaming at the RAND Corporation, artificial intelligence, and the advanced technologies, management strategies, and atrocities of the Vietnam War. Part II takes up the symbolic potency of the space race, which we will use as a conduit through which to explore the following events and developments: Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight, the Apollo moon landing, and American civil defense; the postwar science of cybernetics and the emergence of the now iconic cyborg; the Club of Rome’s {Limits to Growth}report and the Gaia hypothesis; plans backed by NASA for the industrialization, humanization, and colonization of outer space; and Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, ‘”Star Wars”. Finally, case studies considered in Part III will focus on moments of conflict and resistance, appropriation, and unintended consequences of the preceding and other Cold War technological developments, among them antipsychiatry and environmentalism; Project Cybersyn, an infrastructural causality of the US/CIA-backed Chilean coup of 1973; the American counterculture and the countercultural roots of neoliberalism(s).
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3941
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly discussion precis, film screenings, class presentations, and a final research project decided in consultation with the instructor
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: preference will be given to students with a demonstrated interest in the study of Cold War science and technology
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
STS 263 Division II HIST 363 Division II HSCI 263 Division II SCST 263 Division II AMST 263 Division II SOC 263 Division II

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