[SIGCIS-Members] Dedicated to SIGCIS: A New History of Modern Computing

Christine Finn christine.finn at gmail.com
Fri Oct 1 09:31:04 PDT 2021


Congratulations Tom, and Paul.

I look forward to reading this - and to spreading the word!

Best wishes,

Christine

On Fri, 1 Oct 2021 at 17:26, <thomas.haigh at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello SIGCIS,
>
>
>
> I’m very happy to be able to tell you that MIT Press has now published *A
> New History of Modern Computing*, my collaboration with Paul Ceruzzi to
> produce a replacement for his 1998 classic *A History of Modern Computing*.
> https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/new-history-modern-computing MIT has
> produced a handsome, oversized book with plenty of space to see the detail
> in the many pictures. Gerado Con Diaz blurbed it as follows: "*A New
> History of Modern Computing* is an instant classic—essential to
> historians, curators, and interdisciplinary scholars in information and
> media studies. Its integrated analysis of usage and technological change is
> an impressive feat and a real joy to read." Paul Edwards called it
> "indispensable" and Valérie Schafer called it "a must-read." The price is a
> fairly reasonable $40, which we lobbied hard for in the hope that this is a
> book people might buy to read for pleasure, rather than just because it is
> assigned for a college course.
>
>
>
> As you would expect from any book with both “new” and “modern” in the
> title, this one strives to be up to date. We have added in-depth coverage
> of topics neglected in previous overview histories such as communications,
> video games, digital media, smartphones, cloud computing, home computers,
> embedded microcontrollers, and operating systems that were given only
> glancing coverage in previous overview histories. The timeline comes right
> up to this year, with an epilogue covering the role of computer technology
> during our current apocalyptic moment. We’ve made a particular effort to
> take serious the evolution of the PC through the 1980s and 1990s rather
> than just treating the original IBM model as the endpoint of the personal
> computing story.
>
>
>
> But we have also tried to come up to date in terms of reflecting much of
> the wonderful scholarship produced by this community in the two decades
> since Paul published his original book. You’ll see that the book is
> dedicated to the SIGCIS community, from two former chairs. Even the
> discussion of topics that were given thorough treatment in the original
> book, such as chips, timesharing systems, and early personal computing, has
> been greatly deepened because of all the new work we were able to draw on.
> We hope that the endnotes and, in many cases, in-text mentions of this work
> will steer readers deeper into the intellectual life of our community. I’d
> also like to thank the many members of the SIGCIS community who helped us
> by reading drafts of some or all of the book. That list include David
> Hemmendinger, Con Diaz, Alana Staiti, Marc Weber, Michael J. Halvorson,
> Paul McJones, David Brock, Troy Astarte, Tom Lean, Bradley Fidler, and
> Henry Lowood. Also, of course Bill Aspray and Tom Misa as the editors for
> the History of Computing Series. Many others helped us by answering
> specific questions, assisting with image permissions, or critiquing our
> initial plan for the book’s content and organization.
>
>
>
> Our most ambitious goal was to reconceptualize the history of electronic
> computing as a series of transitions, in which particular groups of users
> remake the computer to fit their needs. In each chapter the computer
> becomes something new, such as a scientific supertool, a real-time control
> system, a communications medium, or a publishing platform. This lets us
> integrate discussion of users, applications, hardware, and software into a
> succession of intertwined stories which, cumulatively, add up to an
> explanation of why and how the computer became a universal machine. I
> described that objective in more detail in a 2018 working paper called
> “Finding a Story for the History of Computing.” (
> https://mediarep.org/bitstream/handle/doc/4553/Haigh_2018_Finding-a-Story_Working-Paper-Series-SFB-1187-No-3_.pdf?sequence=10)
>
>
>
>
> In the present moment you may feel there is something inherently
> reactionary about imposing a grand narrative on computing, particularly
> when the effort is made by two white men both over the age of 45. It’s
> hard, perhaps impossible, to further the widely repeated goal of
> “decentering the computer” when writing a book that tries to tell the story
> of said technology. Given that computing is now a part of pretty much
> everything, if you remove the thread of technology that holds the thing
> together you just finish up with the history of the world. But I am by
> temperament and training a slightly old fashioned social historian, and my
> teaching consists mostly of telling the story of the US in one survey class
> on the history of race and heath and another on the history of capitalism.
> So I’m well aware of the tension between a narrative frame based around a
> technology and the broader themes of US history that have now become part
> of general discourse. I will say that we have tried to incorporate elements
> of social, cultural, and political history into the narrative as smoothly
> as possible in ways that will not seem gratuitous to readers who are there
> for the technical story. While still US-dominated, the narrative does reach
> out more than previously to the UK with occasional visits to France and
> some attention to Asia in the later part. That may not seem like enough to
> you, but it is more than you are going to get out of a book like The
> Innovators (which is by far the best-selling overview history of computing).
>
>
>
> As the saying goes, the problem with being in the middle of the road is
> that you get runover. The book is unlikely to produce the same excitement
> currently gathering around cultural history, critique of AI, or media
> theoretic approaches. But we were in a situation where the established
> overview histories were falling further and further behind the rapidly
> expanding and diversifying perspectives of our community. I hope that we’ve
> managed to close that gap, by produce something that’s engaged with newer
> work and broader histories while also deeply engaged with the affordances
> and materiality of computer technology.
>
>
>
> A book like this gets essentially no marketing and is unlikely to be
> reviewed in mass-market outlets. So if you do like it, or at least like it
> more than *The Innovators* or *Turing’s Cathedral* which are the books
> that general readers are likely to stumble upon, please consider helping to
> get the word out by using your social media networks, putting a review up
> on Amazon, or just recommending it to a friend or family member who is
> looking for something to read. The same goes for almost all scholarly
> books, by the way. I sometimes think the most helpful thing we could do for
> each other as a community is to write a bunch of Amazon reviews and add
> references to Wikipedia entries.
>
>
>
> Best wishes,
>
>
>
> Tom
>
>
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