[SIGCIS-Members] A response to a SIGCIS Command Line panel session presentation on PLATO

Gerardo Con Diaz condiaz at ucdavis.edu
Tue May 23 17:24:58 PDT 2017

Hi everyone,

I would like to offer two things. First is a note on three points that can
help us to engage productively with work that draws on gender and sexuality
studies even if we have never encountered those perspectives. Second is a
respond to Jeff Tyzzer’s awesome questions on what kinds of feedback
professional historians value.

*I.               **We value work on gender and sexuality*

Here at SIGCIS, we value and welcome the work of scholars who draw from the
perspectives of gender and sexuality studies. If you have never engaged
with this rich and fascinating collection of methods, I encourage you to
consider these three departure points that helped me get started back when
I began my graduate work:

*1)* Analyses of the gender politics in the history of technology may not
(and probably will not) align with what participants in these histories
remember, and that’s a good thing. We know well from gender and sexuality
studies that we all face gender politics often without realizing it, and it
would be unwise for us not to analyze something just because no one
remembers it.

*2) *We should be careful whenever we encounter calls to preserve narrative
integrity, impose methodological consistency, or adhere to arbitrary
scholarly standards. These efforts can (even accidentally) perpetuate
patterns of male privilege. At the very least, in practice they can end up
favoring men’s analyses and actions over all others. This is antithetical
to our values.

*3) *Privileged access to historical actors is not the only means (let
alone the most reliable one) through which scholars can analyze the gender
politics of a historical process. In fact one of the key first lessons from
introductory oral history courses is how to deal with the fact that
different participants will often have completely different perspectives on
the same thing.

*II.            **Healthy and professional academic criticism is open and
generous, not hostile*

Thank you, Jeff Tyzzard, for posing your questions. I can only speak for
myself, but I hope that the Q&A below will address what you asked.

*How much evidence do historians include in a talk? *

Conference talks and published works play very different roles in our
research. For instance, it would be impossible for me to offer all the
evidence I have available for an argument in a 20 minute talk. If I were to
write the talk down, I would probably need between 40 and 60 citations,
with many of them pointing to several sources. That's far more than what I
could include in a few powerpoint slides or mention in a short talk without
sounding like I'm reciting a laundry list. Critiquing a talk because it
fails to showcase every bit of evidence available is unproductive; that's
simply not what talks are meant to do.

*What kinds of feedback are helpful?*

I have found that the most helpful feedback is the one intended to help me
reflect on my methods, my argument, or how I position my work in
relationship with the rest of our field. Some of my most valued questions
fall along these lines: What else could I do to enrich the argument? How
could I articulate with greater clarity my argument's place in our
collective body of work? What alternative published arguments or
interpretations should I engage with? Where else could I look for sources?
Did I overlook any important sources or methods?

*Why don’t professional historians write full reviews of each others’

One of the many reasons why we don't write public extensive critiques of
each others' talks is simply that this arrangement for feedback places the
speaker at an unfair disadvantage. For instance, the person writing the
critique can incorporate footnotes, hyperlinks, and all sorts of other
evidentiary support; the speaker can't do that. For this reason, it is
proper to reserve our sharpest critiques for each others' written work;
this helps us even the playing field between the critique and the work
being criticized. And even then, our critiques are directed at the work,
not the person who wrote it. Certainly, we identify and highlight where
authors fell short, misconstrued material, or produced a subpar analysis,
but we only do so after reading the fully polished published work--the best
and most thoroughly documented argument that the author can make. Anything
less than this amount of professional courtesy is downright unprofessional
and unacceptable.

*And why take all these things into consideration in the first place?*

This respect for healthy academic criticism is essential to ensure that our
field remains vibrant and open--connected not just to our roots as
historians of computing, but also to the larger interdisciplinary community
of scholars interested in the technologies we study. One of the many things
that can make professional historical work innovative is its ability to
challenge our established narratives and the methods we use. This is
difficult and time consuming, and talks are essential to help propel the
scholars forward.

I'll be happy to write more about this. But for now, I would just like to
echo Marie's note on how important it is to be collegial and supportive.
This is most important when we disagree with one another. SIGCIS is a
wonderful collaborative space, and our embrace of healthy and professional
modes of academic criticism is essential to keep it that way.


Con Diaz

*Gerardo Con Diaz*
Assistant Professor
Science and Technology Studies
University of California, Davis
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