Sealed Doors & Crypto Wars: Security and Society With Schuyler Towne - Atlas Obscura Experiences
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Sealed Doors & Crypto Wars: Security and Society With Schuyler Towne

$85 per person Online Experience
6 sessions
See Dates
$85 per person
$85 per person
See Dates
What We’ll Do

In this six-part lecture series, we’ll explore the role security technologies have played in the creation of complex societies.

Course Description

From the advent of keyed locks to the modern development of encryption, advances in security technologies are often leading indicators of societies in transition. Quickly conceived, developed, and distributed, security systems act as bulwarks behind which the slow, iterative processes of larger, sustainable change can take place. We’ll look at how ancient door seals, Mesopotamian locks, and security innovation in 19th-century England may have enabled the transformation of social norms, then focus on modern cryptography. We’ll question the consequences of breaching these security technologies, such as governments using legislative and clandestine methods to create backdoors in encryption technologies. If strong security technologies play a vital role in the creation of complex, safe, strong societies, could undermining those technologies ultimately undermine the society itself?

Syllabus at a Glance

There are six total sessions included in this purchase, each lasting for 1.5 hours on six Thursdays, beginning December 3, skipping December 24 and December 31. This lecture series is designed so students can participate live or watch at their leisure. Sessions will take place live over Zoom, with dedicated Q&A segments for students to ask questions via video or chat. All enrolled students will receive recordings of each session in the days following each class and will be able to access them for up to one week using a temporary password.

Session 1 (Thursday, 12/3, 8–9:30 PM ET): Why do you lock your door? 

Session 2 (Thursday, 12/10, 8–9:30 PM ET): The origin of the lock

Session 3 (Thursday, 12/17, 8–9:30 PM ET): The great lock controversy

Session 4 (Thursday, 1/7, 8–9:30 PM ET): The crypto wars

Session 5 (Thursday, 1/14, 8–9:30 PM ET): Trustless or trustworthy

Session 6 (Thursday, 1/21, 8–9:30 PM ET): Why do you lock your door? 

Atlas Obscura Online Courses

Our online courses offer opportunities for participants to emerge with new skills, knowledge, connections, and perspectives through multi-session classes designed and taught by expert instructors. Courses can take one of two forms: Seminars are intimate, interactive classes—capped at nine to 20 students—exploring topics and crafts through discussion, workshops, assignments, and in-class activities. We also offer lecture series that can be attended live, or viewed a time that works for you for up to one week after they’ve aired.

To learn more about our current course offerings, please visit

Where We’ll Be

Once registered, you can access the Zoom room for this course through your confirmation email or Eventbrite account.

About Your Instructor
Schuyler Towne
Schuyler Towne

Schuyler Towne is a research scholar at the Ronin Institute studying the history and anthropology of security technologies. Before turning fully academic in his pursuits, he was a competitive lockpicker, frequently winning competitions in America and losing them abroad. He has been teaching people to pick locks for 13 years and has provided lockpicking consulting for a wide range of people, from manufacturers to mystery authors.

What Else You Should Know

Between sessions, students will be given short, optional readings that will provide some context for the following lecture. The first, third, and fifth sessions will include additional optional assignments, primarily reflections on how what we’ve learned can be understood in the context of our own lives.

Dates and Availability

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