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Perold Named 2019-2020 Tomash Fellow

We are delighted to announce that New York University (NYU) doctoral candidate Colette Perold is the recipient of the Erwin and Adelle Tomash Fellowship for the coming academic year. Her dissertation focuses on the history of IBM in Brazil in the punch card tabulation era—and we are thrilled to support her path-breaking and deeply insightful information technology research on this understudied region (Latin America), country (Brazil), and era (pre-computing). Perold is ABD in NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, where she is working under Professors Nicole Starosielski (Dissertation Chair), Mara Mills, and Paula Chakravartty. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, Perold studied at Harvard University, where she completed her BA in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Romance Languages and Literature, and spent a semester of study at the University of Havana, Cuba. She then had a series of impressive union organization, associate/managing editorships, and research positions for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the North American Congress in Latin America, and The Nation Institute and other journalistic outlets, before pursuing her doctorate at NYU.

Perold has been very active in presenting her scholarship at a number of leading conferences. In mid-March Perold gave a paper, “Pan-American Tabulation and Brazilian Foreign Dept,” at the Business History Conference (BHC) in Cartagena, Columbia. In 2018 Perold presented her research at SHOT’s SIGCIS and at the International Communication Association Preconference. Later this year she will present “Americanizing the Global Brand: IBM’s Welfare Capitalism in Authoritarian Brazil” at the Latin American Studies Conference. She has received numerous travel grants to support her research and to present at conferences, including an Alfred D. Chandler Travel Grant from BHC, a Hagley Library Exploration Research Grant, and a Tinker Field Research Grant for Travel in Latin America.

Perold’s dissertation, “The Empire of Informatics: IBM in Brazil Before Computing,” draws from archival research conducted in the U.S. and Brazil to investigate IBM’s pre-computing market expansion in South America. While underexamined in Anglophone computing history, Brazil was in fact a strategic site for IBM’s global growth prior to the advent of modern computing, as it housed the first major IBM subsidiary outside the United States, and was the largest and most stable market for IBM operations in Latin America for much of the twentieth century. IBM’s precursor company, C-T-R, was first established in 1911 with a vision of South American expansion, later entering Brazilian markets in 1917. Soon after, the company made itself indispensable to a succession of Brazilian governments despite coups d’état and protectionist crack-downs on foreign business, repeatedly emerging as one of the few multinationals in Brazil to survive political turbulence unscathed. With its regional manufacturing and services base in Brazil and a history of measurable influence on Brazilian policy, IBM was able to achieve near-monopoly status in South American markets by the 1960s—until it was dealt a fatal blow by Brazil’s authoritarian regime in the 1970s. In this dissertation, Perold charts IBM’s political engagements alongside its market expansion in Brazil from the early-1900s through the mid-1960s—before IBM operations were first shuttered in Brazil—in order to investigate the role Brazil played in IBM’s global expansion.

In quantifying the impact of early IBM machines’ processing power on a range of state and private-sector projects, and tracing these impacts alongside the political and business coalitions the company fostered to advance its market expansion, Perold analyzes IBM’s impact on projects including the controversial negotiation of Brazil’s external debt in the 1930s, Brazil’s shifting of allegiances toward the Allied powers prior to World War II, and the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) negotiations of the 1960s. Ultimately, she finds that the company’s ability to transnationalize in the postwar period owes to a largely underexplored source: its embrace of the United States’ long-standing imperial relationship to Latin America. Placing Brazil at the foundations of modern computing and IBM alongside U.S. foreign policy actors, this dissertation reveals how data processing’s pre-computer history became central to the maintenance of U.S. hegemony in the postwar period.Adams, Stephen B., Dustin Chambers, and Michael Schultz. “A Moving Target: The Geographic Evolution of Silicon Valley, 1953-1990.” Business History 60: 6 (2018): 859-883.

Jeffrey R. Yost

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