- Events and Sightings
SIGCIS at SHOT Conference
The 56th annual conference of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) met in Portland, Maine, on 10–13 October 2013. Two of the main themes of the meeting were multiple histories and diversity in a global environment.
The Special Interest Group for Computers, Information, and Society (SIGCIS) of SHOT sponsored four sessions in the SHOT main program, including “Analog History: The Forgotten Post-WW II World of Analog Computing,” organized by Thomas Haigh; “Gender and Computing: International Perspectives,” organized by Corinna Schlombs and Marie Hicks; “Gaming the History of Technology,” organized by Laine Nooneyand Jacob Gaboury; and a hands-on workshop on the “Digital Humanities,” with organizers and panelists Charles Berret and Kevin Gotkin.
“Computers for What?” was another complete session that was devoted to the history of computing in the SHOT main program. There were also at least several other individual papers that discussed the history of information technology, such as Meryl Alper’s “Can Our Kids Hack It With Computers?: Making Hacking ‘Family-Friendly,’ 1983–1987” and Nathan Ensmenger’s “Toward an Environmental History of Computing.”
SIGCIS hosted an annual lunch on Friday to award travel grants to graduate attendees of its Sunday workshop and to hold a book auction, with books donated by attendees, SIGCIS members, and especially MIT Press and Jim Cortada. SIGCIS Chair Thomas Haigh reported that the luncheon raised $1,520 (a record), with about 45 people in attendance.
The Sunday SIGCIS workshop was entitled “Old Ideas: Recomputing the History of Information Technology.” As the introduction of this workshop mentioned, information technologies have little time for old thinking, or for anything old, but this workshop invited scholars to turn their attention to old ideas and their relationship to information and computer technology.
The day-long workshop had an opening plenary, four sessions, and a closing plenary. During the opening plenary, William Aspray, the keynote speaker, gave a talk entitled “In Search of the Many Histories of Information,” which nicely echoed one of the main themes of the SHOT meeting. Aspray traced his research back to Michael Mahoney’s speech in 2005 when Mahoney argued that there was no one master narrative of computing but instead there were many histories of computing. Aspray identified some of the many histories of information by exploring the complex relations among the histories of computing, the histories of information technologies, library histories, archive histories, and the histories of information studies.
In the morning session, “New Wine in Old Bottles? Tensions Between Computer Science and Traditional Disciplines,” Janet Abbate explored how computer science was constructed in the 1960s; Pierre Mounier-Kuhn traced the emergence of computer science in France between 1955 and 2000; and then Irina Nikiforova examined and compared the emergent computer science journals in the US and Russia, 1945–1970. Another morning parallel session, “Old Ideas on Control and Communication,” covered transitions from the analog to the digital domain in electric power systems (by Julie Cohn), a prehistory of the Internet about international teleprinter networks (by Christopher Leslie), and the educational computing networks in Minnesota 1965–1975 (by Joy Rankin).
In the afternoon “work in progress” session, two dissertation-related papers were Trevor Croker’s cloud computing and the physicality of the Internet and Jacob Gaboury’s computer graphics at the University of Utah. Thomas Haigh had a column in progress titled “Turing Didn’t Invent the Computer” for the Communications of the ACM. All three articles were precirculated. The other afternoon parallel session called “Old Ideas and New Technologies” focused on punch cards and industrial control (by Barbara Hahn) and on MIT’s Project Athena in the development of the distributed computing paradigm (by Mary E. Hopper).
The closing plenary was called “An Ancient Continent as a New Frontier: Discovering that Computing Has a History in Asia,” during which three presenters discussed the 19th-century newspaper Mahratta and the rise of technological nationalism in India (by Ross Bassett), BBSs and the emergence of online communities in India (by Ramesh Subramanian), and the origins of laptop contract manufacturing and the transnational learning years in Taiwan, 1988–2001 (by Ling-Fei Lin...