Probably the most clear impact that the seminar had on my teaching this year was that I was very self conscious about choosing texts for my LIB 200 course that examined technology, specifically. I have a very broad understanding of technology and attempted to be very clear about this robust definition throughout the term in my LIB 200 class. So, when I talk about technology, I am talking about physical technologies, like machinery, as well as theoretical or political technologies, like forms of government. We followed these two threads consistently throughout the course and were consistently interested in (and struck by) the ways they were intertwined. Indeed, toward the end of the course, we had a very interesting discussion about the relationship between production technologies, in both industry and agriculture, and governing technologies, including, but not limited to colonialism, imperialism and new regimes of free trade.
We began with an excerpt from Thomas McCormick’s, “From Old Empire to New,” a comparative study of changing ideas about imperial control among both European and US elites. So, we began by talking about imperialism, itself, as a technology of power — something invented for specific reasons that had taken a specific shape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We looked at how new physical technologies — like ships, munitions, etc. — allowed for and changed in dialogue with new governing technologies — like the American embrace of territorial colonialism in the late nineteenth century.
Next, we looked at César J. Ayala and Rafael Bernabé, “Reshaping Puerto Rico’s Economy, 1898-1934,” and Jason Colby, “Corporate Colonialism, 1904–1912.” The Ayala and Bernabe piece was extremely useful because like McCormick, they are interested in how new physical technologies allowed for and helped shape new governing technologies. So, they looked at the introduction of American imperial control alongside the introduction of centrales — new sugar mills that allowed for faster production of refined sugar on a much larger scale. Shifts in sugar production, they showed, allowed for American corporate control of the sugar economy alongside American political control of the Puerto Rican state. We read Alyala and Bernabe alongside Colby, who discussed US corporate control in Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Panama Canal Zone. Each of these stories was about the connections between production technologies in a range of different places, and governing technologies — both direct control (in the Canal Zone) and indirect control of Central American politics (in Guatemala and Nicaragua).
The remainder of the course followed this analytic approach — each week I assigned two texts, each of which had an element that addressed these larger questions about technology, and each of which I used as a jumping off point to meditate on this central tension — how do we understand the relationship between physical/production technologies and technologies of governing and power.