[SIGCIS-Members] What can SIGCIS learn methodologically from the history of science, environmental history, etc?

Ceruzzi, Paul CeruzziP at si.edu
Thu Oct 15 07:32:41 PDT 2015

Tom & SIG:

I regret that I was unable to attend the meeting, but from following it on Twitter [!] and from your comments, I see that it was a big success.
I went looking in my files to see if I could find out about the humble beginnings of the SIG-the earliest I found was letter from David Allison announcing the SIG lunch, on Saturday from 1:00 to 2:00 PM, at the SHOT 1990 meeting in Cleveland. In those days the meeting consisted of a lunch where we circulated a list of names and e-mail addresses if we had one (I had BITNET but no internet e-mail). As the letter from David suggests, we still communicated by regular mail a lot.  I couldn't find any of the early lists, unfortunately.  If any of you have one, It'd be fun to share. As this pre-dated the Internet, there is a good chance that someone saved the paper copies.

One of the most memorable meetings that I can recall was at Charlottesville in 1995. We managed to convince Jean Sammet, author of those monumental histories of programming languages, to drive down from DC.  Jean was treated like a movie star, with the younger scholars clustered around her in admiration. For those of you who knew Jean, try to picture that!

Great to see the health & evolution of SIG-CIS. On a more serious note, the growth of the SIG, especially in comparison to other SHOT SIGS that still follow the more informal model, hints at a changing relationship between the history of computing and the history of technology in general, and by extension the relationship between SIG-CIS and SHOT.

Paul Ceruzzi
ceruzzip at si.edu<mailto:ceruzzip at si.edu>

From: Members [mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] On Behalf Of Thomas Haigh
Sent: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 6:32 PM
To: members at sigcis.org
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] What can SIGCIS learn methodologically from the history of science, environmental history, etc?


We just had a wonderful meeting, which I could enjoy all the more as it was the first of the seven SIGCIS workshops where I had no operational responsibilities. Nathan really did a great job with the keynote, and it was splendid to see so many people making the transition from list membership to physical participation at SHOT and SIGCIS for the first time. Better still were the people who had been "first timers" in 2013 or 2014 coming back for a second meeting, as this proves they found the experience useful. I think we accounted for a very significant fraction of the overall graduate student attendance at SHOT.

My impression was that the research and delivery of the SIGCIS papers held up pretty well against the quality of material in most parts of the main SHOT program. However I also heard a suggestion from one person that many of the papers in both venues tended to be very narrowly framed, telling a particular story without really engaging with a broader literature or being explicit about what general lessons or methodological implications the work holds.

To the extent that this is true, one could see an aversion to explicit historiography and to the drawing of broad conclusions as a kind of aesthetic preference rather than a failing of craft or scholarship. Still, I was wondering if list members might be able to suggest recent (say post-2010) papers from other traditions that are effective in using a focused historical study to make a compelling case that we should think differently about a topic of broad interest to the field in question. I'm not thinking necessarily about work related to IT, since the literature in many areas of history of science, environmental history, history of medicine, and other fields is more mature and appears to have developed a clearer sense of what the "big questions" are. However I have had few opportunities since grad school to read systematically in other literatures.

So list members, please post away with your nominations of recent articles from other fields with an explanation of what cool thing you think the article is doing methodologically that those of us writing on the history of computing could learn from.

Best wishes,


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