San Jose State University Engineering Questions


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Technology is often the product of people and their circumstances, yet its influence also far surpasses its immediate environment. This understanding of technology helps to explain the resulting changes to human behavior that occur over time, especially when one considers the historical periods involved in the development and distributions of specific technologies.

In keeping with the idea that some technologies may possess inherent value-laden qualities, consider how the invention of mechanized timekeeping devices (such as the mechanical clock) have radically changed human behavior over the last 1000 years.

The fundamental concept we work with in class is the “artifactual system” — the innovating subsystem (in society), the conceptualizing subsystem, and broader human system — as they maintain their native conditions, and periodically influence one another. We use this conception to represent that the human notion of time evolved from one that follows natural rhythms (of the body, nature, astronomical) to the modern notion of time as uniform, infinitely divisible, and independent of humanity. This evolution of the notion of time depends on creative conceptual leaps, and at the same time, is a way of abstracting over ever-smaller and ever-more-precise gears in mechanical clocks.

Given this historical development of our modern notion of time, and its central dependence on seeing a deeper meaning in the gears, we can call our modern notion “artifactual time.” Modern timekeeping depends on this notion of artifactual time, and so we can call it “artifactual timekeeping.” Artifactual time and timekeeping are nothing more than modern time and timekeeping, but we add the ‘artifactual’ to stress their genesis depends on the invention and evolution and influence of mechanical timekeeping.

For this assignment, explain the historical context and cultural traditions which led to the development of the mechanical clock. Do research on how the development and adoption of the mechanical clock in Europe later affected the United States. Be sure to give examples. Then, consider your own experience with a form of artifactual timekeeping. Consider the influence that precision in accurate timekeeping has had upon your own behavior, both in your everyday life and especially as an engineer.

Required Reading/Citation: Lewis Mumford, “Technics and Civilization” Sec. 1-3 – “The Monastery and the Clock”

In your write up, be sure to:

1. Describe the history of the mechanical clock, including at least one influence that led to its development (e.g., historical, cultural, religious, social, economic, political).

2. Explain how the mechanical clock gave rise to the concept of artifactual time.

3. Explain how precision in accurate timekeeping affected human behavior in both Europe and the United States. Give examples.

4. Think about how artifactual timekeeping has affected your own behavior, both in your everyday life and especially as an engineer. That is, consider the importance of measuring time with accuracy and precision that makes possible your training as an engineer.


Please do not use the following paper as a source:

“The Invention of the Mechanical Clock and Perceptions of Time in the 13th–15th Centuries”, by Mehitabel Glenhaber (2014), from The Concord Review.

Glenhaber wrote this paper as an 11th-grade High School student, so I’m categorically banning the use of this work. If you use this work, you will be penalized. Just don’t use it.


Write an essay that addresses the questions above. When you respond to these questions, you should be specific and cite specific details from the readings, class lectures, and your own research. You may provide references from your own research, but only in addition to material provided by the course. Also, you MUST make sure to cite your sources in your response and include a reference list at the end of your essay. Citations must be from reputable sources. Sites like Wikipedia,, etc. are NOT considered acceptable sources.

Higher credit will be given for responses that show evidence of a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the topics involved.

You are encouraged to review the rubric for this assignment and make sure that you answer each question in detail and with specifics.

Correct use of English is a fundamental requirement for your papers to be graded. If errors in English make it difficult for a grader to understand your sentences, or excessively slow down the grader to mark your technical errors, your paper will be returned to you for further work on its English, and your grade for the paper will be deferred until it is resubmitted with corrected English. If your assignment is returned for an excessive number of grammatical errors, you will be allowed to rewrite and resubmit it within two weeks of the original return date. If not resubmitted by the date set by your instructor, you will receive a zero (0) for the writing assignment.


Standard font, preferably Arial in either 11pt or 12pt.

MLA, APA, or any other format is acceptable provided that it is consistent through the entire paper. Please, no cover sheets.

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