Spring 2020

Railroads, Rifles, and Rockets: Technology and State Power

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-417


Jonathan M. Obert (Section 01)


This research seminar investigates the links between the material and political worlds in the U.S. and around the world. In particular, it tries to understand the way that technology and material objects have constrained and enabled the making of state power, while also being the product of policy choices. Since states are not merely abstract institutions, but also constellations of things like weapons, highways, computers, railroads, buildings, monuments, and even paper, to understand how infrastructure affects state formation (and vice versa), we need to explore the links between the construction of political authority and technological life as tied up in a complex process of socio-material evolution and stasis. Drawing from a wide variety of works (including literature from historical sociology, social studies of science, “big history,” anthropology, political economy and economic development, among others), this seminar will thus explore historical and contemporary case studies and theoretical accounts of the influence of key infrastructural technologies on political development from around the world, as well as examine the often incomplete attempts of historical states to redeploy or construct technological systems to extend their authority.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester.  Professor Obert

If Overenrolled: Priority to juniors and seniors.


Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020