PhD, Harvard University, 2004
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 85305
Office: Lawson Hall 2228
Office Hours: Mondays 1:00-3:00pm or by appointment.
I study the history of the late 19th and 20th century United States with a special focus on the cultural and political history of information, communication, science, and technology.
My first book, The People’s Network (2014), tells the story of the telephone in the United States and Canada before the triumph of the Bell System: the rise and fall of an independent telephone movement and the forgotten struggle for a more democratic communications regime. The People’s Network won the 2016 Albert B. Corey Prize, jointly awarded by the American Historical Association and the Canadian Historical Association for the best book in the last two years on the history of Canada and the United States.
I am currently writing a history of pseudoscience in 19th-century America, tentatively called King Crank. This SSHRC-funded research project uses computational methods to trace the circulation of so-called “quack,” “crank,” and “pseudoscientific” ideas. How do wrong, bad, and weird ideas spread? And how do the networks through which we communicate shape the beliefs we hold? The goal of this project is to understand the past but also to draw useful lessons for responding constructively to pseudoscience and misinformation in our own time.
I also study the history of games and the use of games and simulations in teaching history. Between 2011 and 2013, I co-designed and directed Tecumseh Lies Here, an augmented reality game designed to teach critical historical thinking while exploring the history of the War of 1812.
I blog occasionally at http://www.robmacdougall.org/blog/ and I am on Twitter as @robotnik. I co-host a podcast about the seminal 1978-82 sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati, called “Hold My Order, Terrible Dresser”. For more information about my work and hobbies, please visit my personal website.
I teach a variety of courses on United States history at the graduate and undergraduate level, and I lead graduate seminars on the writing and teaching of history. I have also taught courses on digital history, media history, big history, business history, and the history of science and technology. I supervise several M.A. and Ph.D. students and I welcome inquiries from potential students interested in any of these topics.
I have just completed a book, The People’s Telephone, on the fight to build and control telephone networks in the United States and Canada from the 1870s through the 1920s. My next book project is a history of pseudoscientists and cranks in 19th-century America, tentatively called King Crank. I continue to explore the use of games and simulations in teaching history and good historical thinking, and am preparing for the launch of Tecumseh Lies Here, an augmented reality game that both commemorates and subverts the history of the War of 1812.
The People’s Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. Winner, 2016 Albert B. Corey Prize.
“Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom.” In Zones of Control: Perspectives on War Gaming, edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, 447-455. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016. With Lisa Faden.
“Mapping Communication.” In Mapping Movement in American History and Culture, edited by James Akerman and Peter Nekola. Chicago: Newberry Library, 2016.
“Tecumseh Lies Here: Goals and Challenges for a Pervasive History Game in Progress.” In Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, edited by Kevin Kee, 87-108. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. With Timothy Compeau.
Introduction to The Wire Devils, by Frank L. Packard. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
“The Wire Devils: Pulp Thrillers, the Telephone, and Action at a Distance in the Wiring of a Nation.” In Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies, edited by Carolyn de la Peña and Siva Vaidhyanathan, 161-188. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
“The All-Red Dream: Technological Nationalism and the Trans-Canada Telephone System.” In Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century, edited by Adam Chapnick and Norman Hillmer, 46-62. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007.
“New Old Things: Fabrication, Physical Computing, and Experiment in Historical Practice.” Canadian Journal of Communication 37 (2012): 121-128. With Devon Elliott and William J. Turkel.
“Towards a Transnational Political History of North America: The View from Canada.” Nuevo Mundo / Mundos Nuevos 10 (2010).
“Long Lines: AT&T’s Long-Distance Network as an Organizational and Political Strategy.” Business History Review 80 (2006), 297-327. Winner, 2008 Fishel-Calhoun Prize.
“The Wire Devils: Pulp Thrillers, the Telephone, and Action at a Distance in the Wiring of a Nation.” American Quarterly 57 (2006): 715-741. Shortlist, 2006 Constance M. Roarke Prize.
“The Telephone on Main Street: Utility Regulation in the United States and Canada before 1900.” Business and Economic History Online 4 (2006).
“The People’s Telephone: The Politics of Telephony in the United States and Canada.” Enterprise and Society 6 (2005): 581-587.
“The People’s Telephone and the Internet Today,” ActiveHistory.ca, November 18, 2015.
“Long Before Net Neutrality,” Interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, February 27, 2015.
“Who Made That Dial Tone?“ The New York Times Magazine, January 10, 2014.
“Barbed Wire Fences Were an Early DIY Telephone Network,” Gizmodo, January 2, 2014.
“Wired Wild West,” New Scientist, December 17, 2013.
2016 Albert B. Corey Book Prize, jointly sponsored by the American Historical Association and the Canadian Historical Association, for The People’s Network.
2014-15 USC Teaching Honor Roll
2010-11 USC Teaching Honor Roll
2009-10 David Simmons Visiting Assistant Professorship in Media and History, University of Utah
2008-09 UWO International Curriculum Fund Award, for Collaborative Teaching with Indian Institute of Technology: Madras
2008-09 USC Teaching Honor Roll
2008 Fishel-Calhoun Prize, Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, for “Long Lines.”
2007-08 USC Teaching Honor Roll