First-year students use databases to explore the history of technology

This semester, Science and Society 102.23 first-year seminar students practiced using a variety of databases and digital collections to explore questions related to new technologies. One project was to delve into the past and investigate how society reacted to emerging technologies from approximately 100 years ago. Students chose a specific technology and used different databases and search terms to better understand and compare different historical perspectives on new inventions. The results were often fun and interesting, and students were able to present what they found in a final project. The students below gave permission for the library to share some of their findings.

Devansh Patel was able to find two articles written a century apart about the same thing: the future of electric cars! Here is the New York Times article he found from January 1918, using the Historical New York Times database:

Slide with a screenshot of an article from a 1918 issue of the New York Times. The article is called "Big Future Ahead for Electric Cars" and includes some drawings of automobiles from the time.
“Big Future Ahead for Electric Cars,” New York Times, January 6, 1918.

And here is an article he found from a 2019 issue of Environmental Forum, using an EBSCOhost database:

Slide with a screenshot of an article from a 2019 issue of Environmental Forum. The article is titled "Are Electric Cars the Future?"
“Are Electric Cars the Future?” Environmental Forum, March 1, 2019.

Emily Li provided a thoughtful analysis of the historical reception of the typewriter by analyzing a 1912 article and a 1928 newspaper advertisement. Her analysis of the latter is pictured below:

Slide with a screenshot of a 1928 typewriter advertisement. The advertisement is for a noiseless typewriter. It has a drawing of a girl draped over her typewriter in exhaustion, and the text of the advertisement talks about the better health a typist can have if she uses a noiseless typewriter.
Remington Noiseless Typewriter [Display Ad], New York Times, October 18, 1928.

Sammi Lin explored the history of headphones through photographs, articles, and advertisements. She was struck by the similarities between these two technologies from 1920 & the early 2000s:

A slide which compares two different photographs of headphones connected to a music playback device -- one is a 1920s radio and the other is an ipod from the early 2000s.
Comparing headphone photographs from different time periods.

Lin He provided a thoughtful history of vacuum cleaners, and observed that most of the people in old photographs of vacuum cleaners were women. You can see some of the sources she found by viewing her Canva presentation.

Tina Zheng looked at the history of radium, and was surprised to find this 1909 advertisement for Radium Sulphur Springs, which uses the word “radioactive” as a positive adjective to describe the mineral water you could drink there:

Slide with a screenshot of a 1909 advertisement for a spa in Los Angeles, CA. The advertisement describes the "radioactive" water as "liquid sunshine," among other things, and says you can take baths in it, and drink it.
“Radium Sulfur Springs” [Advertisement], Tucson Citizen, June 1909.

And here are a couple more examples from students who wanted to anonymously share their findings:

Analysis of a cartoon from the New York Times, April 19, 1925.
Three slides with a screenshot of a 1929 New York Times article called "To Explore Skies With Moon Rocket."
Analysis of the article, “To Explore Skies With ‘Moon Rocket’,” New York Times, July 20, 1929

Christine Fena

Christine Fena

Undergraduate Success Librarian at Stony Brook University Libraries
Christine Fena
Posted in About Us Tagged with: , , ,