The Society for the History of Technology held its 58th Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 8-11, 2015, at the Hotel Albuquerque, Old Town. CBI director Thomas Misa organized two SHOT sessions, “Artificial Sciences? Technology, Education, and Professional Networks in Early Computing,” and “Rewiring Public and Private: Computing for the Public Sector and Public Interest.” He also led a Sunday SIG lunchtime discussion (with lunch sponsored by the IEEE History Center) on the evolution of discipline-specific history centers and diverse approaches.
CBI archivist Arvid Nelsen presented a SIGCIS paper “Concern for the ‘Disadvantaged’: Computer Training Programs for Communities of Color in the Late 1960s.” He examined the history and context of a short-lived ACM committee for the disadvantaged, as well as other contemporaneous efforts launched to aid African Americans with IT education and jobs. This is part of his larger book project on the history of computing and African Americans.
CBI’s Nicholas Lewis, a University of Minnesota History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (HSTM) doctoral candidate, presented a SIGCIS paper entitled, “Increasing the Yield: Nuclear Testing, Weapons Strategy, and Supercomputer Selection at Los Alamos in the 1960s.” This is part of his larger work for LANL and dissertation research on the history of the lab’s High-Performance Computing.
We are pleased that Dr. Janet Toland, a faculty member in the School of Information Management at Victoria University of Wellington, has been a visiting research fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute this semester. She is a recipient of an Association for Computing Machinery grant to help support her travel and research at CBI. On the main program of SHOT, she presented a paper entitled, “Computing Opportunities for All: ACM’s Role in Influencing Public Policy on Universal Access and Education, 1960-2010.”
University of Minnesota’s HSTM faculty member Jennifer Karns Alexander gave a SHOT talk, “Engineering, Religion, and Industrial Ethics: Jack Keiser and Industrial Missions in Post-war Britain.” And HSTM doctoral student Dustin Studelska participated with the SHOT Graduate Student Workshop as well as served as a graduate student advisor to SHOT’s Executive Council.
On Friday afternoon, SHOT awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal to Johan Schot, the Director of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and Professor of the History of Technology and Sustainability Transition Studies, University of Sussex. Schot, a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, is renowned for his interdisciplinary approach and contributions to building infrastructure at the intersection of the history of technology, science and technology policy, environmental sustainability, and social change. This has included leadership roles with: “The Greening of Industry Network,” “The History of Technology in the Netherlands Programme,” “The Tensions of Europe Network,” and the “The Knowledge Network for System Innovation.” Schot and Misa have been long-time collaborators, co-editing (with Arie Rip) Managing Technology in Society (Pinter 1995) and (with Ruth Oldenziel) a special issue of History and Technology (2015). Schot’s inspiring da Vinci address challenged historians of technology to conduct work to help check a globally pervasive form of capitalism adverse to environmental sustainability and social well-being.
Overall, the SHOT meeting had a substantial number of sessions and individual papers devoted to the history of computing, and a rich SIGCIS (Special Interest Group for Computers, Information, and Society) Sunday full-day meeting offered many additional papers on computer history. Immediately prior to SHOT, IEEE Annals of the History Editor-in-Chief Nathan Ensmenger held the journal’s annual Editorial Board meeting.
The Friday SIGCIS lunch had its traditional set of introductions by new attendees, a vibrant book auction (led by past chair and inspired auctioneer Thomas Haigh) to raise funds for upcoming graduate student travel awards, and recognition of this year’s winners of these grants.
After brief opening remarks by SIGCIS Andrew Russell, Indiana University’s Nathan Ensmenger kicked-off the Sunday SIGCIS meeting with a dynamic and deeply insightful keynote lecture, “Materiality of the Virtual: An Environmental History of Computing.” Undertaking the challenge posed in Jennifer Light’s provocative keynote from last year (to extend our connections within and outside of the history discipline), Ensmenger’s talk highlighted the deep geographical connection of transportation and communication infrastructures—from railroads and the telegraph to telephony and computing networks. He concentrated on the often-ignored environmental and labor impacts of our digital world. In exploring Bitcoin “mining,” he detailed the substantial carbon imprint of a digital currency often promoted as liberating. Ensmenger also called attention to the full life-cycle of digital devices and the developing world junk heaps where a substantial amount of once first world-owned digital devices now pollute. He also related the oppressive labor conditions of fabrication plants in China and other low-cost manufacturing countries. The audience, nearing one-hundred people, was moved by Ensmenger’s exquisitely crafted talk and slides, and a lively discussion followed.
The Computer History Museum SIGCIS Prize for the best book published on the history of computing was awarded to Rebecca Slayton’s Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012. This path-breaking work makes a major contribution to understanding the development of complex software for missile defense, constructions of expertise, and the arguments about underlying computing and software within missile defense system policy debates.
The Michael S. Mahoney SIGCIS best article prize was awarded to David Nofre, Mark Priestley, and Gerard Alberts’ Technology and Culture (January) 2014 article “When Technology Became Language: The Origins of the Linguistic Conception of Computer Programming, 1950-1960.” In this insightful article, the authors trace the origin of the language metaphor in modern computing to cybernetics and explain how it evolved in the second half of the 1950s to a more abstract meaning aligned to formal languages of logic and linguistics. The call for universal languages was to enable the migration of code between machines, and represented a major step toward the creation and growth of programming languages.
The general SHOT program had 30 papers on the history of computing: Colin Agur (Yale University) “Re-Imagining the Indian State: Three Phases in Telecom Policy, 1947-present,” Janet Abbate (Virginia Tech) “Good to Think With: Educational Visions of the Materiality of Computing,” Margo Boenig-Lipstin (Harvard University) “Players, Not Users: The Role of Computer Play in the Education of Citizens of the Information Age,” Scott Campbell (University of Waterloo) “Professional Networks, Social Geography, and Early Computing in Canada,” David Chavarria-Camacho and Ignacio Siles (Universidad de Costa Rica) “Between MATILDE and the Internet: Computerizing the University of Costa Rica, 1968-1993,” Beatrice Choi (Northwestern University) “Layers of Myth and Magic: The Role of the ‘Artist Class’ in Brazilian Technology Transfer and the Myth of Use Neutrality,” Gerardo Con Diaz (Yale University) “Ontological Contests: Patent Law and the Nature of Computer Programs, 1963-1972,” Kevin Driscoll (Microsoft Research) “Building a Grassroots Internet: Technical Culture and the Dial-Up Bulletin-board System,” Quinn DuPont (University of Toronto) and Bradley Fidler (University of California-Los Angeles) “The Co-Development of Early Computer Network and Cryptography Infrastructure,” Sebastian Dziallas (University of Kent) “The Evolution and Purpose of Computing Curricula (1960s to 2000s),” Evan Helper-Smith (Princeton University) “‘The Sins of our Forefathers’: Chemists, Information Systems, and the Elusive Ideal of Unique Chemical Names,” Marie Hicks (Illinois Institute of Technology) “Computer Love: Sex, Social Order, and Technological Matchmaking at the Dawn of the Electronic Age, 1950-1979,” Daniel Holbrook (Marshall University) “Clean, Pure, and Orderly,” Charles House (InnovaScapes Institute) “Emergence of Corporate Wide-area Computer Communication Networks,” Bernadette Longo (New Jersey Institute of Technology) “Who Will Benefit from U.S. Computer Development? Establishing Open Communication Channels for Technology Development after World War II,” Sarah McLennan (College of William and Mary) “Computing and the Color Line: Race, Gender, and Opportunity in Early Computing at NASA,” Andrew Meade McGee (University of Virginia) “Defining Public Interest Computing: The Early Washington ACM Community and Discussions of Policy, Governance, and Democracy in the Age of the Mainframe, 1947-1968,” Andrew Nelson (University of Oregon) “Robust Action and the Rise of the CCRMA-lites: The Emergence of Computer Music at Stanford,” Irina Nikivincze (Higher School of Economics) “Making a ‘Science of the Artificial’: Careers and Contributions of the first Doctoral Women in Computer Science,” Joseph November (University of South Carolina) “George Forsythe, the ACM, and Creating a ‘Science of the Artificial’,” Tolu Odumosu (University of Virginia) “Why Diversity Was Crucial to the Creation and Adoption of the GSM Standard for Mobile Communication,” Dongoh Park (Indiana University) “Building a Digital Obligatory Gateway: Sociotechnical Development of Public Key Infrastructure in South Korea,” Elizabeth Petrick (New Jersey Institute of Technology) “From the Dynabook to Autism Apps: Tracing the Ideals of Tablet Computing,” Craig Robertson (Northeastern University) “Information as Modular: Organizing Paper in Early 20th Century Filing Cabinets,” Andrew L. Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology) “Modular Design: Project Tinkertoy and the Building Materials of the Information Age,” Ramesh Subramanian (Quinnipiac University) “High Technology and the Developing State: The Development of India’s PARAM Supercomputer,” Ksenia Tatarchenko (New York University) “‘Primum Non Nocere’ [First, Do No Harm]: Computer Expertise, Responsibility, and Cold War International Encounters,” Janet Toland (Victoria University of Wellington) “Computing Opportunities for All: ACM’s Role in Influencing Public Policy on Universal Access and Education, 1960-2010,” Gregg Pascal Zachary (Arizona State University) “Digital Africa: Researching the History of Computers and Culture in the Sub-Saharan.”
SIGCIS had 24 papers on the history of computing (and a digital humanities roundtable): Nathan Ensmenger (Indiana University) “The Materiality of the Virtual: An Environmental History of Computing” [Keynote/Opening Plenary], William Aspray (University of Texas-Austin) “The History of NSF Programs to Broaden Participation in Computing,” Amy Sue Bix (Iowa State University) “Technical Work and Gendered Professionalization in the 1970s and 1980s: The Association for Women in Computing,” Eileen Clancy (City University of New York) “Abacus Computing in the Age of Electronics: Sekiko Yoshida and the Early U.S. Space Program,” Gerardo Con Diaz (Yale University) “IBM and Patent Reform in the United States, 1965-1968,” Quinn DuPont (University of Toronto) “Plaintext, Encryption, Ciphertext: A History of Cryptography and Its Influence on Contemporary Society,” Bradley Fidler (University of California-Los Angeles) “The Emergence of Border Router Protocols and Autonomous Systems on the Internet, c. 1968-1989,” Megan Finn (University of Washington) “‘I am So Anxious to Hear’: Improving Information Infrastructure,” Reem Hilu (Northwestern University) “‘The Ultimate Doll’: Microprocessor Controlled Talking Dolls and Girls’ Play Practices in the Home,” Eric Hintz (Smithsonian Institution) “Susan Kare: Design Icon,” Devin Kennedy (Harvard University) “What was ‘Real’ about ‘Real-Time’?: Engineering Responsive Computers from Whirlwind to Vanguard,” Kimon Keramidas (New York University) “Digital Humanities, SIGCIS, and SHOT” [Organizer and Chair of Roundtable], Nicholas Lewis (University of Minnesota) “Increasing the Yield: Nuclear Testing, Weapons Strategy, and Supercomputer Selection at Los Alamos in the 1960s,” Rebecca Miller (Science and Technology Policy Institute) “Communication of Disaster-Related Information,” Christine Mitchell (New York University) “Bright Side of a Dark Age: Developments in Machine Translation, 1966-1992,” R. Arvid Nelsen (Charles Babbage Institute) “Concern for the ‘Disadvantaged’: Computer Training Programs for Communities of Color in the Late 1960s,” Laine Nooney (Georgia Institute of Technology) “The Infrastructure of Expertise, or What Game Engines Allow,” Joseph November (University of South Carolina) “The Medical Record and the 50-Year Challenge to Computing,” Camille Paloques-Berges (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers) “Unix Networks Cooperation as a Shadow Infrastructure for an Early French Internet Experience (1983-1993),” Giuditta Parolini (Technische Universitat Berlin and Berliner Zentrum fur Wissensgeschichte) “From Paper to Bit: A Digital Life for the Records of Long-term Experiments in Agriculture,” Eric Rau (Hagley Museum and Library) “A Future for History (of Technology, Science, and the Environment): Understanding the Challenges of Preserving Corporate Records in the Digital Era,” Andrew Schrock (University of Southern California) “From Black Hats to White Hats: Constructing the ‘Ethical Hacker’,” Brent Strang (Stony Brook University) “Peripheral Convergence Through User-Centered Design: A Case-Study of Logitech,” Lee Vinsel (Stevens Institute of Technology) “ICTs, Auto Safety, and Systems Maintenance: The Toyota Unintended Acceleration Recalls, 2009-2011,” Jacob Ward (University College London) “Research Transplanted and Privatised Post Office/British Telecom R&D in the Digital and Information Era.”
Jeffrey R. Yost