Volume 58, Issue 1 (April 2023)
Present and Past: the Relevance of Information History
This article contributes to the ongoing conversation about information history. The article argues for reformulating and pinpointing legitimacy and relevance as core issues characterizing information history and for drawing on theoretical input from historical disciplines such as conceptual history and microhistory. Different notions about history reflect how the individual historian approaches information as an object for historical scrutiny which ultimately allows for multiple research strategies. Information history also deals with traditional history topics such as structures vs. actors, change vs. continuity, and context. The article argues for seeing information history as histories of information.
This Copyright Kills Fascists: Debunking the Mythology Surrounding Woody Guthrie, “This Land is Your Land,” and the Public Domain
Dr. Jason Lee Guthrie
Advocates of an expanded public domain and less restrictive copyright policies have made Woody Guthrie a cause célèbre for their point of view. Meditations on his artistic persona are used to support their argument, as is a direct quote about copyright that is cited with surprising frequency despite lacking proper citation. This research locates the source for Guthrie’s copyright quote and corrects several false assumptions about its meaning as well as about Guthrie’s wider copyright activities. For proponents of public domain expansion that have mythologized Guthrie, this research thoroughly debunks that myth.
Federal Support For The Development Of Speech Synthesis Technologies: A Case Study Of The Kurzweil Reading Machine
Sarah A. Bell
This case study situates an early text-to-speech computer developed for blind persons, the Kurzweil Reading Machine (KRM), within a broader history of speech synthesis technologies. Though typically no more than a footnote in the technical history of speech synthesis, I show that the KRM was still a powerful symbol of innovation that reveals how disability can be used as a pretext for funding technology development. I argue that various boosters held the KRM up as a symbol of technological solutionism that promised to fully enroll blind people into the US political economy. However, the success of the KRM as a symbol belies its technical flaws, the federal subsidies needed to bring it to fruition, and the structural barriers to its use that were elided by its utopian promise.
Care and Feeding for the Computer: Imagining Machines’ Preventive Care and Medicine
This article investigates how computing discourses, including user guides, news articles, and advertisements, urged personal computer users in the 1970s and 80s to preventively care for their devices. Through hygiene recommendations related to eating, drinking, and dusting, these discourses warned that computers’ “health” depended upon humans. Importantly, they interpreted care as individual responsibility by putting the onus on users to behave properly. Within this frame, such texts described repairs as unfortunate medical interventions resulting from neglect. The piece argues that computing discourses have historically defined “care” and “repair” in opposition, as acts of doting prevention and undesirable intervention respectively.
An Introduction to Dr. Husam Khalaf’s “The Cultural Genocide of the Iraqi and Jewish Archives and International Responsibility”
translated and edited by Amanda Raquel Dorval
This is an Arabic-to-English translation of Dr. Husam Abdul Ameer Khalaf’s article “The Cultural Genocide of the Iraqi and Jewish Archives and International Responsibility.” Khalaf contends that the loss of Iraqi archives after Saddam Hussein’s fall and subsequent US Occupation in 2003 was cultural genocide. The first part of the article focuses on the losses suffered by official archives, national archives, the Ba’ath party archives, and the Iraqi-Jewish Archive. The second discussion examines the international laws governing the protection of cultural heritage and the extent to which the US-led Multinational Force was responsible for the loss of Iraqi archives.
Trusted Eye: Post-World War II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate by Claudia Fontaine Chidester (review)
A fascinating book, rich in archivalia, anecdotes, and insight, Trusted Eye documents the life and career of Virginia Fontaine (né Hammersmith, 1915-1991), “one of the most important promotors of art among the members of the American occupation forces” in immediate post-Second World War Germany.
Lightning Birds: An Aeroecology of the Airwaves by Jacob Smith (review)
Jacob Smith’s Lightning Birds: An Aeroecology of the Airwaves is an accessible work about an esoteric topic—the “aerosphere” as a contact point between birds and radio broadcasts. Smith traces an overlapping history of ornithology and radio, transforming a whimsical observation about the sky into a persuasive and often entertaining case for thinking about media technologies ecologically, in relation to animals and earthly processes.
Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the History of Bookwork by Whitney Trettien (review)
With the rapid development of book history as a discipline, recent work has focused on breaking down the book’s elements, forms, genres, and agents into discrete units for close study; zooming in on titlepages, frontispieces and indices, for example, or singling out exceptional publishers, illustrators, and binders. Whitney Trettien’s new book and digital project is a much-needed step back that explores how these delineations obscure the messy world of “bookwork”.
Useful Objects: Museums, Science, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century America by Reed Gochberg (review)
In Useful Objects: Museums, Science, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century America, Reed Gochberg offers an engaging analysis of informational institutions during a period of change across the nineteenth-century. Gochberg, whose background is in American literature and culture, draws from a variety of sources, including children’s literature, travel guides, and newspaper advertisements, in order to show the breadth of nineteenth-century people thinking and writing about collection and presentation practices related to the newly conceptualized exhibition and research space.
Data Lives: How Data are Made and Shape our World by Rob Kitchin (review)
As we become more swaddled by data in our everyday lives, it becomes almost impossible to fully comprehend its impact and potential outcomes in the future. In Data Lives, Rob Kitchin takes a novel approach to examine a complex topic that is data. Instead of choosing a traditional academic writing style, Kitchin blends fictional and personal stories to explain how data are produced, processed and interpreted, as well as the consequences of these actions.
Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age by Dennis Duncan (review)
More often than not, today’s book indexes are afterthoughts. Typeset at the last second lest the pagination shift, squeezed into narrow columns, and tucked into the back of the book, the index is an unassuming, if obligatory, part of your average non-fiction text. Taken for granted as long as it does its job, the index tends to draw attention only where it fails, missing or mislabeled entries sending readers on a wild goose chase through the pages. While the index is certainly a crucial piece of information technology, it is more than a mere tool; it is a site of comedy and controversy, of poetry and wit. Or so Dennis Duncan, a lecturer in English at University College London, argues in Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age.
A Time to Gather: Archives and the Control of Jewish Culture by Jason Lustig (review)
What does it mean for the marginalized and the persecuted to control their data, and thus shape their destiny? In his book, A Time to Gather: Archives and the Control of Jewish Culture, Jason Lustig explores this very twenty-first-century question through the lens of the history of twentieth-century Jewish archives.