SIGCIS Command Lines



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SIGCIS “Command Lines: Software, Power,

and Performance”


The Society for the History of Technology’s (SHOT) Special Interest Group for Computing, Information, and Society (SIGCIS) held its first meeting outside of a SHOT Conference on March 18 and 19 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.  While past SIGCIS conferences all have contained papers from multiple disciplines, the program committee (Andrew Russell, David Brock, Marie Hicks, and Laine Nooney) for this event (through its call for papers as well as invited talks) specifically targeted interdisciplinary perspectives by encouraging papers from history of computing, science and technology studies, software studies, code studies, game studies, media studies, gender studies, sexuality studies, and studies of race, ethnicity and post-colonialism.  Unlike past SIGCIS conferences the majority of papers were by scholars outside of the history of science and technology, and it was SIGCIS’ largest conference to date with roughly a hundred attendees, more than 40 papers, and several panel sessions.  Women of color gave the majority of the invited talks, speaking on issues of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity in IT.  This programmatic focus resulted in a particularly important and engaging event.  In the conference’s opening session, “Why Software? A Keynote Conversation,” University of California-Irvine historian Kavita Philip and Stanford University historian Tom Mullaney, gave fascinating talks on women IT laborers in India (Philip) and Chinese language representation/characters and software (Mullaney) that sparked a lively discussion.  The second plenary session, “Power, Affect and Identity in Networked Interactions,” also provided rich analyses of race and gender through talks on gender bias and digital imperialism, forensics of child exploitation images, and countering the erasure of African American “technigrationists,” by literature, media, and communication scholar Halcyon Lawrence (Georgia Institute of Technology), sexuality studies scholar Mitali Thikor (Northwestern University), and information studies scholar Safiya Noble (University of California-Los Angeles) respectively.  CBI associate director Jeffrey Yost chaired a session on “The Social Construction of Software”—with papers that ranged from “homebrew game development” in Australia to micro-communities using France’s Minitel network.   The Computer History Museum provided a great setting as participants could visit the main (permanent) exhibit “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” as well as CHM’s impressive new exhibit “Make Software: Change the World.”  The latter focuses on various types of applications—from Photoshop, MRI, and Wikipedia to gaming and  motor vehicle crash test simulation software—and includes hands-on tools to teach about software.  

The papers included:

Morgan G. Ames (University of California-Berkeley) “Performing Technological Utopianism with Constructionist Software, from LOGO to Scratch,” Sarah A. Bell (Michigan Technological University) “My Hello Barbie: Friendship is Scripted,” Ingrid Burrington (Data and Society) “Light Industry, Soft Power,” Alexander M. Campolo (New York University) “Graphics, Semiotics, and Governance: Jacques Bertin and Early Data Visualization,” Michael Castelle (University of Chicago) “Brokers, Queues, and Flows: Techniques of Financialization and Consolidation, 1985-2005,” Eileen Clancy (CUNY Graduate Center) “Sekiko Yoshida: Abacus ‘Software’ in the Early U.S. Space Program,” Guy C. Fedorkow (Juniper Networks) “The IBM 1401’s Place in History of Computing,” Bradley R. Fidler (University of California-Los Angeles) “Social Relations and Routing Architectures: Historicizing the End-to-End Principle,” Petrina Foti (Nazareth College of Rochester) “Echos of Power: Collecting and Exhibiting Software at the Smithsonian Institution,” Marie Hicks (Illinois Institute of Technology) “Hacking the System: Transgender Britons Confront the Ministry of Pensions, 1950-1970,” James A. Hodges (Rutgers University-New Brunswick) “Excavating (Anti-)Piracy: Materiality of Intellectual Property Struggles in 1980s Commodore Software,” Matthew L. Jones (Columbia University) “Visualizing Data and Augmenting Cognition from John Tukey to ggplot2,” Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler (Purdue University) “Raceways and Keyboard Trays: The Messy Integration of Personal Computers in American Office Design,” Thomas Krendl Gilbert (University of California-Berkeley) “Seeing Like an Algorithm: Machine Learning and the New Division of Apperceptive Labor,” Halcyon Lawrence (Georgia Institute of Technology) “Inauthentically Speaking: Speech Technology, Accent Bias and Digital Imperialism,” Dylan Lederle-Ensign (University of California-Santa Cruz) “git blame,” Daniel Cardoso Llach (Carnegie Mellon University) “Software Comes to Matter: An Episode in the Material History of Computational Design,” Julien P. Mailland (Indiana University) and Kevin Driscoll (University of Virginia) “Micro-serveurs and Micro-communities: Alternative Networks on the Margins of Minitel,” Andrew Meade McGee (Carnegie Mellon University) “Programs of Control: Bureaucratic Hierarchies, Software Implementation, and Agendas of Policy and Power in the U.S. Federal Government, 1963-1983,” Jeffrey Moro (University of Maryland-College Park) “Roomba in Revolt: Sociability and Securitization in the Internet of Things,” Ramsey Nasser (Independent Computer Scientist) “قلب: لغة برمجة and the Cultural Baggage of Computer Science,” Safiya Noble (University of California-Los Angeles) “Speaking Black, Speaking Back: Counternarrating the Erasure of African American ‘Technigrationists’,” Yoehan Oh (Seoul National University) “Algorithm Maintainers’ Dilemmas Resolved: When Trending Algorithm, Hidden Labor, and External Audits Caused a Great Search Portal Not to Fail,” Kavita Philip (University of California-Irvine) and Tom Mullaney (Stanford University) “Why Software? a keynote conversation,” Fabian Mauricio Prieto-Nanez (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Ignasi Meda-Calvet (Autonomous University of Barcelona) “Programe su Futuro: Printed Media and Translation in Spanish and Latin American Computing Histories during the 1980s,” Eva-Maria Raffetseder (Technical University Munich) “‘Digital Taylorism’: Working with Process Management Systems in Comparison to Management Practices in Taylor’s Scientific Management,” Joy Marie Lisi Rankin (Michigan State University) “Performing Gender on PLATO,” Erica Robles-Anderson (New York University) “Command Performance: Slideware, Power, and Presentation Culture,” Sreela Sarkar (Santa Clara University) “Away from the Doorsteps of the ICT Center: Youth, Technology, and Development in Global India,” Meredith Sattler (Virginia Tech) “Constructing Performance: Territories of Optimization in Willis and Associates’ CARLA Platform,” Nabeel A. Siddiqui (College of William and Mary) “Trouble in Cyborg Paradise: Johns Hopkins’ First National Search for Applications of Personal Computing to Aid the Handicapped,” Rory Solomon (New York University) “Wireless Infrastructures and the Politics of Connectivity,” Hallam Stevens (Nanyang Technological University) “Data Culture: Historical Methods for the Digital Age,” Melanie Swalwell (Flinders University) “Homebrew Game Development: On Illegitimacy in Software Production,” Mitali Thakor (Northwestern University) “Digital Apprehensions: Forensic Craft and the Policing of Child Exploitation Images,” Melissa Villa-Nicholas (University of Rhode Island) “Latinas On Line: Intersectional Identities at AT&T,” Madisson Whitman (Purdue University) “Scraping Glitches: Social Media and Marginalization,” Carlin Wing (Scripps College) “Touching You, Touching Me: Getting the Physics Right in EA FIFA,” Shari Wolk (New York University) “PEBDAC Error: Problem Exists Between Desk and Chair.”

There were also three panel sessions:

Daniela K. Rosner (University of Washington), Samantha Shorey (University of Washington), and Rose Paquet Kinsley (University of Washington) “Margaret Hamilton & the Core Memory Weavers: The Women Who Put Man on the Moon”; Laine Nooney (Georgia Tech), Brian McCullough (Internet History Podcast), Melanie Swalwell (Flinders University), and David C. Brock (Computer History Museum) “Tools, Techniques and Communities: Oral History in Software History”; Kilnam Chon (KAIST and Keio University), Chen Yu (President and Cofounder,, and Camille Paloque-Berges (National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts [Cnam]) “Networking History Roundtable: The Net is Eating Software.” 

Jeffrey R. Yost


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