STS & HIST 2054: Engineering Cultures (Online) Syllabus

Fall 2020

CRNs: 90077 & 85639

Instructor: Joshua Earle

Email Address:

Office Hours: Remotely (via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or other program) by appointment


Engineering Cultures is a not a conventional history course with all the topics centered on the same period or place. Rather, it is a non-traditional course which introduces both historical and contemporary themes relevant to cultures of engineers in different nations. This course is designed to lead you around the world to understand the formations of engineers in different locations, what the engineers are up to, and how they work towards engineering problems and solutions wildly differently. We will explore a brief history of engineers and their education, social status and responsibility through space and time. Overall, this class will help you develop global leadership and multicultural perspectives, and become more sensitive to issues of global engineering and engineers.

This course will be perhaps more reading than you are used to. You can expect between 20 and 100 pages to be assigned each week, and will be quizzed on the full range of reading in those weeks. Developing the skills necessary to manage this reading (along with the requirements of the other courses you are taking) is a key part of what this course will teach you. If you find yourself struggling to complete the readings, I am always free to help with strategies and tricks that can make things easier.

Learning Objectives:

Upon successfully completing this class, you should be able to:

  • Understand engineering as a product of Dominant Images, practices, and identities embedded in wider social, cultural and historical contexts
  • Recognize, appreciate and compare diverse engineering cultures in the countries (the UK, France, Germany, the USA, Japan and Korea) selected in this class
  • Become more familiar with the challenges of being a global engineer, including becoming more adapted to working with people from backgrounds different than yours, who define problems differently than you do.
  • Critically reflect on your own personal and career trajectory along the similar line that we analyze how people in other cultural and historical settings become engineers
  • Actively apply the knowledge in this class to your life, for example, by examining how people around you define (either engineering or non-engineering) problems and work towards the solutions differently from you
  • Build up long-termed skills to explore issues in engineering that are interesting and relevant to you, but are not covered in this course due to the constraints of the course schedule

Course Materials

All required readings will be made available on Canvas, or linked to a publicly-available source. You will NOT need to purchase any materials or access to materials for this course.

Basic Needs Policy

Your safety and wellbeing are more important than anything going on in this course. If you find yourself having trouble, please reach out to me, even if it is just to talk. If you are struggling to secure food, housing, or safety you should reach out to the Dean of Students for support (many programs exist that can be of incredible help). Furthermore, please notify me if you are comfortable doing so (caveat: I am a mandatory reporter, see below). I will be happy to offer what support and information is available to me.

Accessibility for all students

Disability rights are civil rights, and disabled people fought hard to secure the rights to your accommodations in the classroom and workplace. Those people who fought for your accommodations were spit on, arrested, isolated, and dismissed, but they wouldn’t take less than they deserve when it came to securing your rights to access education and other public goods. They are my heroes, and their work also works to accommodate me within our classroom as a multiply disabled university employee. You can bet that I really want you to use your accommodations, or help you get them if you don’t have any in place, or find a system that works for us if you don’t care to go through the official channels. Most requests are easy – and you don’t have to be disabled or diagnosed to request from me; I am happy to distribute any in-class readings in larger or otherwise more accessible fonts, disability issue or not! And, if you need text-to-speech software to read aloud with you, I would love to introduce you to my friends in Accessible Technologies and then make sure you get the formats you need to use the AT.


1) What is an Engineer?

As we will be exploring how engineers are made, how they define and solve problems, and what the Dominant Images which shape both of those practices, we must first become aware of what some of our own dominant images of engineers are.

To this end, I want you to (in your search engine of choice… no Bing-shaming) do an image search for the term “engineer.” Take a screenshot of the first page of your results, and include it at the beginning of your submission. In 300-500 words describe what you see. What story about engineers do these images tell?

In your description, please consider these questions:

1) Who is included in these images? Who is not included?

2) Does one kind of person dominate the images? Why do you think that is?

3) Are these images an accurate representation of engineers and engineering (even at the clothing-level)?

4) What are the demographics of the images?

4a) Do they accurately represent the profession of engineering? Why or why not?

4b) Do they align with the general demographics of the country (the U.S.)? Why or why not?

5) Do these images feel encouraging or discouraging towards engineering as a profession to you? Are there people who might feel otherwise? If so, who and why?

Grading for this assignment is almost binary. If you turn in something sufficient, you will get full points (i.e. I’m not going to nitpick about grammar, spelling, and structure). If not, I will return it with feedback so you can re-submit for full points.

Please turn this piece in via File upload in Canvas by 11:59pm Friday, August 28. Worth up to 50 points.

2) Reflection #1

You are all here for a reason. In this reflection I want you to look inward, and reflect on that reason. Write me a short piece which describes why you are here in this course. Yes, I know, this course covers certain requirements for your majors, minors, and graduation, but why this course? In writing about this, please try to cover the following questions:

  1. What do you want to get out of this course? Beyond the checkmark for CLE area, Pathways, or major requirement. You chose this course instead of other possibilities. What do you feel like it will bring to you that others wouldn’t?
  2. What do you understand the relationship between engineering and culture to be?
  3. What relationship do you have, if any, with engineering? This can be personal (you are an engineering major), relationship (a family member or friend might be an engineer), or something else. What excites you about engineering, and learning about engineering?

There is no word minimum or maximum for this assignment. Please be as descriptive as you feel you need to be, but do not feel you are required to send me a 5-page paper.  A 3-sentence, 200-word piece will probably not be enough to satisfy me, but neither would said 5-page manifesto. 1-2 pages should be sufficient (400-1000 words).

Grading for this assignment is almost binary. If you turn in something sufficient, you will get full points (i.e. I’m not going to nitpick about grammar, spelling, and structure). If not, I will return it with feedback so you can re-submit for full points.

This paper is due by 11:59pm Friday, August 28. Please submit it on Canvas.

Worth up to 50 points.

3) Question Formation Exercises. Due (nearly) every week.

Part 1, the questions, is due by 11:59pm Tuesday. Ask one (1) “how” or “why” question about your readings for that week. Follow your questions with a quoted and cited passage from the readings that inspired the question, and a 150-300 word explanation of why the question is a good/important one.

Part 2, answering a question, is due by the end of the day on Thursday of that same week. Posit an answer to one of your classmates’ questions. You should reference at least one of the readings (it can be the same reading the question was about, but any quote you use should be different that the one used by the asker). Please spend 150-300 words on your answer.

Worth up to 30 points per week (15 points per post (question or answer)), for a total of 300 for the semester.

There are 12 opportunities to submit a QFE, but you only need to complete 10 to get full points.

4) Reading Quizzes

At the end of each week, you will complete a short quiz on that week’s readings. Each quiz is 5 questions, multiple choice. The quizzes are open-book/open-browser-tab, and you have 3 swings at getting 100%. Questions will be only on the readings, and will not include anything resembling a “trick” question (i.e. including a “wrong” answer that is a slightly-misquoted passage from the text). If you have completed the readings for the week, these quizzes should be incredibly quick and easy.

Each question is worth 5 points for a total of 25 points per quiz, and 150 points for the term.

5) Short Essays

At the end of each module, I will post a set of questions for you to answer. Choose one of the questions and spend 500-750 words answering the question. You will need to include at least one quote from the readings (presented like so: “Text from source goes here,” (Author, Date, Page #).).

The questions will require you to make connections between readings, and between the readings and your own experience. Grades will be determined by the completeness with which you answered the question, clarity of writing, and spelling and grammar.

Upon receiving your graded essay back, you will have exactly one week (7 calendar days), to revise it and resubmit in order to improve your grade.

Each essay is worth up to 80  points, for a total of 300 points for the semester.

5) Reflection #2.

Return to your first reflection. Read through it and consider your experience in this course. Did it turn out like you thought it would? Do you have a different perspective now than you did when we started? Write me a short piece about the differences between what you expected coming in and what you experienced. In doing so, please answer the following questions:

  1. Did you get from this course what you thought you would? Do you feel what you learned was valuable for you (personally or within your major or minor)?
  2. Did your view of how engineering, culture, and Dominant Images are related change at all? If so, how?
  3. What sections of the course did you find particularly interesting? Why?
  4. What sections did you find less interesting? Why?
  5. Do you feel like your relationship to engineering has changed through this course? If so, how?

As with the first reflection, there is no minimum or maximum word count for this essay. Be as descriptive as you need to. Obviously a 200-word piece will not be sufficient, but neither should you send me a massive tome.

This essay is due by 11:59pm Wednesday, December 9.

Worth up to 50 points.

Possible total points: 1100

Points out of which your grade will be calculated: 1000

Extra Credit:

Life happens. We get sick, we drink too much, we burn out and need a mental health day… it happens to us all. To that end, should you be so unfortunate to miss an assignment, or didn’t do as well on one as you would have liked, I allow for unlimited extra credit. You will need to pitch a project to me, discuss it in person or over email, along with a possible point total and rubric before you turn it in. Any extra credit must line up with the themes of the course, but in theory you could do none of the work assigned and still get 100% if you do enough extra credit. That said, the amount of effort per point for extra credit will usually be higher than your average assignment from the syllabus.

Principles of Community

Virginia Tech is a public land-grant university, committed to teaching and learning, research, and outreach to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. Learning from the experiences that shape Virginia Tech as an institution, we acknowledge those aspects of our legacy that reflected bias and exclusion. Therefore, we adopt and practice the following principles as fundamental to our on-going efforts to increase access and inclusion and to create a community that nurtures learning and growth for all of its members:

  • We affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person and strive to maintain a climate for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding.
  • We affirm the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely. We encourage open expression within a climate of civility, sensitivity, and mutual respect.
  • We affirm the value of human diversity because it enriches our lives and the University. We acknowledge and respect our differences while affirming our common humanity.
  • We reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including those based on age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status. We take individual and collective responsibility for helping to eliminate bias and discrimination and for increasing our own understanding of these issues through education, training, and interaction with others.
  • We pledge our collective commitment to these principles in the spirit of the Virginia Tech motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

Honor Code

The Undergraduate Honor Code pledge that each member of the university community agrees to abide by states: “As a Hokie, I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times.  I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do.”

Students enrolled in this course are responsible for abiding by the Honor Code. A student who has doubts about how the Honor Code applies to any assignment is responsible for obtaining specific guidance from the course instructor before submitting the assignment for evaluation. Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the University community from the requirements and expectations of the Honor Code.

For additional information about the Honor Code, please visit: to an external site.

To add to this statement, please ask questions as we go if you want clarification on what is expected in this course.

Mandatory Reporting

Please be advised that, as a faculty member at Virginia Tech, I am a mandatory reporter, which means that I am obligated to notify the Title IX Office at Virginia Tech if I am given knowledge about sexual assault or violence by other employees and students. Confidential sources, those who do not have to report to the Title IX Office, include staff members at the Schiffert Health Center, the Cook Counseling Center, Virginia Tech Mental Health Centers, and The Virginia Tech Women’s Center.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Aug. 24-28


Brody: An Interview with John Sununu (1992) (8 pages)

Florman: Trial and Error in Washington (1992) (1 page)

Downey: Culture as Dominant Images (9 pages)

Downey: What is Global Engineering Education For? (5 pages)

Winner: Do Artifacts Have Politics? (17 Pages)

Supplemental Video:

Welcome to Engineering Cultures

6-Part playlist

Week 2: Aug 31 – Sept 4


Han & Downey, Engineers for Korea,

Chapter 1: What Are Korean Engineers For? (pp. 1-20)

Chapter 2: Five Koreas Without Engineers: 1876-1960 (pp. 23-48)

Week 3: Sept 7-11 (Labor Day Week)


Han & Downey, Engineers for Korea,

Chapter 3: Technical Workers for Light Industry: 1961-1970 (pp. 53-73)

Chapter 4: Engineers for Heavy and Chemical Industries: 1970-1979 (pp. 77-97)

Week 4: Sept 14-18


Han & Downey, Engineers for Korea,

Chapter 5: Loss of Privilege and Visibility: 1980-1998 (pp. 101-125)

Chapter 6: Engineers for a Post-Catch-Up Korea? (pp. 131-145)

Chapter 7: Engineers and Korea (pp. 149-158)

Week 5: Sept 21-25


Engineering Our Future (1980)

Smiles – The Lives of Engineers (1862)

Smith & Whalley – Engineers in Britain (1996)

Supplemental Video:

Great Britain 1.1: Introduction to Great Britain (Links to an external site.)

4-Part Playlist

Week 6: Sept 28- Oct 2


Buchanan – Education or Training

Morice – Britain and European Engineering Education

Ward – Public Schools and Industry

Supplemental Video:

(see previous)

Week 7: Oct 5-9


 Downey & Wada – Avoiding Inferiority: Global Engineering Education Across Japan (2011)

Henry Dyer (1882) – Valedictory Address to the Students of the Imperial College of Engineering

Ohashi – Engineering Education in Japan, Past and Present (2004)

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

Youtube Playlist, Parts 1.1-2.8

Week 8: Oct 12-16 (Fall Break on the 16th)


 McCormick – Japanese engineers as Corporate Salarymen (1996)

Traweek – Cultural Differences in High Energy Physics (1993)

Vonderau – The Cultural Gap Experienced by a Gaijin Engineering Executive in japan (2000)

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

Youtube Playlist, Parts 3.1-4.7

Week 9: Oct 19-23


Gispen – The Long Quest for Professional Identity (1996)

Hughes – Technology (1980)

Huning & Mitcham – The Historical and Philosophical Development of Engineering Ethics in Germany (1993)

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

YouTube Playlist, Parts 1.1 – 2.2

Week 10: Oct 26-30


Kennedy – Engineering Education in Germany (1996)

Legg – German Engineering at the Crossroads (1990)

Dutta – Daimler-Chrysler A Cultural Mismatch (2001)

Hollman, Carpes & Beuron – The Daimler Chrysler Merger – A Cultural Mismatch? (2010)

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

YouTube Playlist, Parts 2.2 – 3.5

Week 11: Nov 2-6


None. Catch-up week. Remember to Vote.

Week 12: Nov 9-13


Taylor – The Principles of Scientific Management (1911)

Reynolds – The Engineer in 19th Century America (1991)

Reuss – Politics and Technology in the Army Corps of Engineers 1850-1950 (1991) [1985]

Surowiecki – Turn of the Century (2002)

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

YouTube Playlist, Parts 1.1 – 2.4

Week 13: Nov 16-20


Borgdona et al – Engineering Education – Innovation through Integration (1993)

Bowen – The Engineering Student Pipeline (1988)

Landis – The Case for Minority Engineering Programs (1988)

Wallenstein – Asians and Asian-Americans at Virginia Tech

Wallenstein – The First Black Students at Virginia Tech

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

YouTube Playlist, Parts 3.1 – 5.5

Thanksgiving Week.

No class

Week 14: Nov 30-Dec 4


Cain – Raising and Watering a City (1991) [1972]

Lohmann et al – Defining, Developing and Assessing Global Competence in Engineers (2006)

Noble – The Emergence of the Professional Engineer (1977)

Sinclair – At the Turn of the Screw (1991) [1969]

Supplemental Video: (Links to an external site.)

YouTube Playlist, Parts 6.1 – 8.3

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