Kevin Baker Tomash Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
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Kevin Baker Awarded Tomash Fellowship

BakerNorthwestern University History Department ABD student Kevin Baker was awarded the Erwin and Adelle Tomash Fellowship for 2016-2017. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Baker completed both a BA and MA in history at Georgia State University.  He wrote a Master’s thesis entitled, “Red Helmsman: Cybernetics, Economics, and Philosophy in the German Democratic Republic,” which analyzes a Marxian variant of cybernetics in Ulbricht-era East Germany. More recently he has published “Virtual Nigeria: USAID, Simulated Futures, and the Politics of Postcolonial Expertise, 1964-1980,” a chapter in Jenny Andersson and Egle Rindzeviciute’s edited volume The Struggle for the Long-Term in Transnational Science and Politics: Forging the Future (Routledge, 2015).  Baker has presented his research at the Midwest Junto, Society for the Social Study of Science, and a number of other conferences and events.

Baker’s dissertation, entitled “World Processors: Computer Modeling, Global Environmentalism, and the Birth of Sustainable Development” analyzes the first generation of global simulation models in the 1970s. Beginning with the famous “World 3” model of the 1972 Limits to Growth report, these simulations and their dire projections launched an international debate between those who envisioned a future of limitless economic growth and others with a heavily pessimistic outlook. While these studies electrified public opinion, policymakers were often more skeptical about their projections. Baker’s dissertation shows how practitioners in this nascent field, faced with a lack of credibility, used the new possibilities afforded by computation to present their research as trustworthy. In doing so, designers reimagined their models as interactive programs, allowing users to experiment with policy alternatives and alter variables at will. By creating interactive simulation that could incorporate the experienced judgment of decision-makers, modelers hoped to gain policymakers’ trust, securing a place for their simulations in the policy creation process.

Jeffrey R. Yost

 


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