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05/20/91

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Guillotine, aqueduct on Quad show technology shapes culture

STANFORD -- From the stone ax to the supercomputer, the technology of the hands has shaped culture of the head, a Stanford teacher says.

Illustrating that point, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, the Quad will be home to a French guillotine, a medieval Persian water raising device, a Mesopotamian musical instrument and a Roman aqueduct. The 165 students in the Technology and Culture class of senior lecturer Barry Katz will be displaying the results of a Stanford Centennial project.

"We decided this year to take seriously our claim that technology is a way of knowing," Katz said. "The idea that head and hand are two separate experiences and ne'er the twain shall meet is not what we're teaching."

Instead, Katz traces 2.5 million years of artifacts in human culture, showing that designing tangible solutions to problems bridges the purely cerebral and the purely manual.

In addition to reading books, writing papers and taking exams, Katz's students are required this year to recreate a significant artifact from the history of technology. Each project must be based on serious research and accompanied by a 10-page paper.

The students work in teams of four, supervised by a student "coach" from the Product Design Program and postdoctoral lecturers Sharona Ben- Tov, Keith Gandal and Patricia Nabti.

A grant from the Dean of Undergraduate Studies' Innovation Fund provides tools; students must buy materials themselves.

"We want them to create something that will tell us about the relationship between technology and culture in a historic period," Katz said.

"We take seriously the idea that science and technology are components of culture, not something outside or antithetical to it. Science and technology are part of what makes us human."

Katz said the public display of the projects and papers is intended to help illuminate the restructuring of the Western Culture requirement.

"Our students are still reading books, writing papers and taking exams," said Katz, who has been teaching the Values, Technology, Science and Society sequence since its inception in 1980.

"The design project is simply another way to trace the process by which humankind got to where we are."

The curriculum reform, Katz said, allows the separate tracks to develop individually while retaining their common underpinnings. Great works from relevant cultures of the world, including Plato's Republic, the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, are still assigned reading.

According to history Prof. Paul Robinson, formerly head of the Western Culture program, the Bible and works by Freud, Marx and Shakespeare were taught in all eight tracks of the Cultures, Ideas and Values program during the last academic year. Authors taught in seven tracks were Aristotle, Augustine, Virginia Woolf and Rousseau.

The program tracks are: Technology and Culture; Europe and the Americas; Great Works; Europe: From the Middle Ages to the Present; Literature and the History of Ideas; Philosophy and Human Nature; Literature and the Arts; and Structured Liberal Education.

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