History 390: The Digital Past, Fall 2021

Record Cutting Lathe

Michael O’Malley Fall 2021
This course will explore the history of American music and music technology, focusing especially on digital technology as it developed after WWII. The course will alternate between the history of digital media and the history of American music, looking at where they merge. We will be considering the larger question of what communications technology does not just for you, but to you—what does it mean to adopt a new technology? Your final project will be to make a song using GarageBand or similar software, and annotate the experience. The song does not have to be good.

Required books
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows
Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play
Karl Miller, Segregating Sound
Stephen Witt, How Music Got Free

Four reading quizzes, due as described below
Class participation 20%
Final Assignment, 50%

Other requirements:
GarageBand or similar music production software
Willingness to learn how to use DAW software


Monday, August 23: Introduction
Wednesday, August 25: Why does music sound like it does? Come to class having read/watched The Loudness War

Monday, August 30: Lecture: Technology and Culture
Wednesday, September 1 Lecture: The Cold War. 

Wednesday, September 8: Discussion: Carr, The Shallows

Monday, September 13: 1st reading quiz due.

Wednesday, September 15: discuss Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic (July 1945) Or use this link

Monday, September 20: Lecture: Analog systems

Wednesday, September 22: Lecture: discuss Soni and Goodman, A Mind at Play

Monday, September 27: Lecture: History of the internet and HTML Come to class having watched how the internet works and History of the Internet

Wednesday, September 29: Lecture: American Popular music: an introduction Reading quiz #2 due

Monday, October 4: Lecture: History of Recording.

Wednesday, October 6: Lecture: The making of musical genre and the history of distribution

Wednesday, October 13: Lecture: Music and displacement

Monday, October 18: Lecture: Imperialism and musical movement

Wednesday, October 20: Discuss Miller, Segregating Sound

Monday, October 25: TBD

Wednesday, October 27: TBD

Monday, November 1: Lecture: Open source, Wikipedia and crowd sourcing: read this article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/01/15/wikipedia-20-year-anniversary/

Wednesday, November 3: Lecture: Copyright and Sampling

Monday, November 8: Come to class having completed the Digital scavenger hunt

Wednesday, November 10: DAW Workshop.

Monday, November 15: Lecture: Enclosure of the Commons

Wednesday, November 17 Discuss Witt, How Music Got Free

Monday, November 22: Reading Quiz four due. Lecture, Streaming, taste, and community Read this article on How Garageband sounds are made

Monday, November 29: DAW Workshop

Wednesday, December 1: Review: Modeling the final project.