2014 Computer History Museum Prize

 Winner: Janet Abbate, Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation in Computing (MIT Press, 2012)

Prize Citation: Gender is an important but under-examined dimension of computing. Janet Abbate’s book, Recoding Gender, unveils the gendered conceptions that shaped past and current assumptions of what specific work practices, personalities, and talents are essential to the field. Early studies of gender in computing focused on particularly prominent women (such as Grace Murray Hopper), or women’s contributions to famous projects (such as ENIAC). Recoding Gender instead uses women’s day-to-day experiences to reveal the obstacles encountered and the strategies developed by women who carved out professional careers as corporate programmers, software entrepreneurs, or academic computer scientists. Based on extensive oral histories, all made available online by the author, Abbate's book provides new material for the historical study of women in computing, offering at the same time new ground for current debates on women's under-represented position within computing. We expect it to enjoy a wide readership and to inspire further research.

SIGCIS 2014 Workshop

Computing the Big Picture:
Situating Information Technology in Broader Historical Narratives

SIGCIS Workshop 2014
November 9, 2014, Dearborn, Michigan

Keynote Speaker: Jennifer S. Light, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2013 Computer History Museum Prize

Winner: Joseph A. November, Biomedical Computing: Digitizing Life in the United States (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012)

Prize Citation

In the mid-twentieth century, digital computers began to transform biomedicine. In Biomedical Computing, Joseph November presents an original and compelling account of the processes by which diverse communities in biology and medicine came to embrace digital methods and machines. Furthermore, while historians have demonstrated the influence of physical sciences on early computing, November also demonstrates the forgotten ways in which the demands of biomedical communities shaped computing. In addition to bringing an often neglected scientific community into clear view for historians of computing, Biomedical Computing establishes an important dialogue with the history of science. While historians of technology and business have found ample reason to study computing, Biomedical Computing makes the computer--and thus the history of computing--relevant for science and medicine audiences in general. We expect it to enjoy a broad readership, and to inspire new kinds of computer history.

Did V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai Invent Email?

Did V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai Invent Email? A Computer Historian Responds

Now includes both the original article comissioned by the Washington Post, a lengthy extension covering Ayyadurai's susequent claims added in August 2012, and a second update focused on Ayyadurai's new book The Email Revolution: Unleashing the Power to Connect (Allworth, 2013).

This page has become rather long, so here is the one paragraph version, focused on some inaccuracies in recent press reports (added September 2014):  V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is not a member of the MIT faculty and did not invent email. In 1980 he created a small-scale electronic mail system used within University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, but this could not send messages outside the university and included no important features missing from earlier systems. He does not “hold the patent for email” or have a copyright on the word email, though in 1982 he did register a copyright claim covering the exact text of a program called "EMAIL."  The U.S. Government has not recognized him as the inventor of email and he did not win the Westinghouse Science Talent Search for his program. Electronic mail services were widely used in the 1960s and 1970s and were commercially available long before 1980. To substantiate his claim to be the "inventor of email" Ayyadurai would have to show that no electronic mail system was produced prior to 1980, and so he has recently created an absurdly specific and historically inaccurate definition of electronic mail designed to exclude earlier systems. The details of Ayyadurai’s program were never published, it was never commercialized, and it had no apparent influence on any further work in the field. Ayyadurai has not even been able to show that he was the first to contract “electronic mail” to “email” or “e-mail” – his first documented use is in 1981 whereas the Oxford English Dictionary shows a newspaper usage in 1979. Despite Ayyadurai’s energetic public relations campaign, which presents him as the victim of a racist conspiracy financed by corporate interests, he has not received support from any credible experts in email technology or the history of information technology. His claims have been widely debunked by technology bloggers and articles based on them have been retracted by the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.

Comments on the 2013 SHOT Draft Report

Response to the Draft Report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Structure and Organization of SHOT

from the Executive Committee of
SHOT’s Special Interest Group on Computers, Information and Society (SIGCIS)

Learning about Infrastructure, and Infrastructures for Learning: Insights on Pedagogy from the SIGCIS

Infrastructure on IIT's campus

As I mentioned recently on the listserve, this year there will be a panel on the main SHOT program discussing how SIG concerns are integrated into teaching. As part of SHOT's new website launch, comments from this panel (and several other roundtables) are being made available in advance. I'll be representing the SIGCIS at this teaching panel, and below I've posted a draft of my comments.

Please come to the panel if you are at the conference--the full title of the panel is "Integrating SHOT SIG Concerns into the Teaching of History of Technology: Rethinking Modes of Instruction in a Diverse Communities" and it takes place on Saturday, Oct. 12 from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. It is part of the President's Roundtable program.


Learning about Infrastructure, and Infrastructures for Learning: Insights on Pedagogy from the SIGCIS

Our SIG is sometimes viewed as the “computer history SIG” and while that forms an important part of what we do, I would like to start by emphasizing that it is only one part of what we do. Members of our SIG work on topics ranging from telegraphy to labor history, and from voice recognition to video games. Collectively, we are interested in much more than a narrowly-defined computing history: our mandate is to study how computers, information, and society interact, shaping the human experience in the process. As a result, one of the main teaching goals of the SIGCIS is to help students learn how to contend with technologies of infrastructure that creep into all aspects of our lives, from the broadest to the most personal level.

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