- Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine: Information, Invention, and Political Forces
History has not been kind to Emanuel Goldberg. Although he made significant contributions to almost every aspect of modern imaging technology, through the vagaries of discrimination, politics, and cultural memory he has remained one of twentieth-century science's forgotten men—that is, until now. Michael Buckland writes in his preface that he began his study of Goldberg after being "provoked by reading one too many uncritical references" to Vannevar Bush's celebrated 1945 essay, "As We Think," as the origin of informational science (xi). In what can only be described as an extraordinary case of scholarly detective work Buckland presents his readers with convincing evidence that among Goldberg's many inventions was "what he called a 'Statistical Machine,' a document retrieval machine using microfilm for storage and pattern recognition for searching" in the late 1920s (xi). However, just as the polymath Goldberg resists easy classification, so, too, does Buckland's approach to his subject. More than a tribute or a history of a technology, this book is perhaps best read as a cultural history of sorts: the life story of a man and the technologies he helped to create and how both were profoundly shaped by the political and social forces of the time. The lesson implicit in Buckland's revealing narrative is that the man himself can be understood only in the context in which he was forgotten—and it is a story well worth remembering.
The citations and documents uncovered by Buckland, many of which comprise the last hundred pages of the book, reveal a complex man who was almost universally admired by his peers. He was also, by his own admission, a man with an obsession: "At the age of six I was shown by a friend of the family how a lever can be used to lighten work. Since then I have been obsessed by the idea that, by using a tool, life can be made more pleasant. To be an engineer seemed to me [End Page 332] the highest goal" (233). He could not pursue, however, his chosen field because of a quota system that allowed no more than one Jewish student to be admitted to the Imperial Technical School of Moscow for engineering. Instead, a choice made by lot meant that he was forced to enroll at the University of Moscow and study chemistry. Like most Russians, Goldberg found himself attracted to the relative liberalness and traditional "freedom to learn" of German institutions. He later recalled his years spent studying and teaching at Leipzig as "the most beautiful of my memories" (19). His research as a chemist into photography and its reprographic implications led to a doctoral degree and more than seventy publications over the next ten years. An engineer at heart, Goldberg took a decidedly pragmatic approach to his work. Rather than "seeking to achieve unattainable perfection, he sought to diminish the disadvantages of practical solutions" (27). It was these "practical solutions" that most interested the German military during the Great War, and Goldberg was granted German citizenship so that he might continue his work with aerial photography uninterrupted. His technological advances led to a contract with Zeiss, and, after the war, he left the civil service for a post at the Ica photographic company (later Zeiss Ikon) in Dresden.
It is Goldberg's Zeiss Ikon years that most interest Buckland. He begins with a fascinating account of the Kinamo handheld movie camera Goldberg designed and marketed in response to the growing popularity of cinematography in the 1920s. Goldberg helped promote his invention, which was advertised for family use, by making a series of short dramatic films featuring his own family, several stills of which are featured in this book. Another advance in camera design came in 1932, with the introduction of the Contax 35 mm camera, "a good example of modernist industrial design" (127). However, the real interest in this crucial period in Goldberg's life...