2017 Computer History Museum Prize


Elizabeth Petrick, Making Computers Accessible: Disability Rights and Digital Technology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).

Prize Citation:

This is a groundbreaking book on an understudied topic in the history of computing. Petrick integrates histories of technology and civil rights and demonstrates the interaction of technological, social, and legal supports for accessibility. She uses disability studies frameworks to highlight how the shifting paradigms of “normality” and “universality” have shaped computer technology. She argues convincingly that principles of “universal design” that were aimed at making computers usable for the disabled significantly shaped the evolution of personal computer technology in general—thereby making the larger historiographic point that we can’t tell complete or accurate histories of computing without including (dis)ability as a factor. The book is clearly written and well-researched, with a helpful appendix on her sources and methods.

Prize Committee:

  • Joy Rankin (2017 Chair), Lyman Briggs College, Michigan State University, 919 E. Shaw Ln. E-35, East Lansing, MI 48825, USA
  • Janet Abbate, Dept. of Science, Technology and Society, Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center, 7054 Haycock Road, Falls Church, VA 22043, USA
  • Hallam Stevens, Room 1705, 7/F wenke Building, China Center for Special Economic Zone Research, Shenzhen University, Nanhai Avenue 3688, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China, 518060

2017 Mahoney Prize


Erica Robles-Anderson and Patrik Svensson. “’One Damn Slide After Another’: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech.” Computational Culture (January 15, 2016). 

Prize Citation:

In “’One Damn Slide After Another’: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech,” Erica Robles-Anderson and Patrik Svensson provide a highly original and insightful history of PowerPoint’s design, development, and use.  They convincingly argue how PowerPoint has become a dominant and indispensable medium for communication, yet like many other forms of ubiquitous software programs and packages it has undergone minimal critical analysis.  As such, the conditioning of knowledge production with PowerPoint is overlooked, and once distinct situations and settings such as classrooms, press conferences, and church sermons become more alike.  Overall, their article stands out for astutely engaging with communication theory, as well as making significant IT history and historiographical contributions by analyzing PowerPoint within the context of precursor technologies such as the DuPont Chart Room, white boards, and overhead projectors.


SIGCIS is pleased to announce its 2017 Conference: MEASURE, MODEL, MIX: COMPUTER AS INSTRUMENT.

The conference will be held on October 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, as part of the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology.

The conference keynote speaker will be Joanna Radin from the Department of History at Yale University.

Measure, Model, Mix invites scholars and independent researchers across the disciplinary spectrum to explore the historical conditions of computation. The conference program is now available.


Command Lines: Software, Power, and Performance, March 18-19, 2017

Command Lines: Software, Power, and Performance is a meeting that will draw together scholars from a variety of fields that study software. These fields include: the history of computing; science and technology studies; software studies; code studies; game studies; media studies; the study of women, gender and sexuality; studies of race, ethnicity and postcoloniality; and computer science and engineering. Command Lines is collaboratively organized by SIGCIS (Special Interest Group for Computing, Information and Society) and the Computer History Museum.

The Call for Papers is now closed. The meeting was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, on March 18-19, 2017, and the program and conference videos are now available.


2016 Computer History Museum Prize

Winner: Dinesh C. Sharma, The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution (MIT Press, 2015).

Prize Citation: Dinesh Sharma has written a highly accessible book on a significant topic - the history of computing in India - that is well-grounded in sources and interviews. The Outsourcer is full of fascinating stories on the beginnings of computing in India. Sharma does an excellent job contextualizing this story within broader Indian history and the history of computing in the West. Trained as a journalist, Sharma has produced a book that is both carefully researched and engaging to the reader. He regales and rewards readers with a great selection of anecdotes. The committee is pleased to award the 2016 Computer History Museum Prize to Dinesh C. Sharma for The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution.

The Outsourcer is available from MIT Press.


2016 Mahoney Prize

Winner: Andrew L. Russell and Valérie Schafer, "In the Shadow of ARPANET and Internet: Louis Pouzin and the Cyclades Network in the 1970s," Technology and Culture 55, no. 4 (October 2014): 880-907.

Prize Citation: This paper expands our understanding of how networks emerged and evolved.  It contributed additional evidence of the international nature of ICTs, in this case, within France.  The paper is another example of the power of international collaboration among scholars.  It provides a meaningful narrative of a key piece of French networking history that has been understudied in a polished essay.

The essay is available via Project Muse

SIGCIS Workshop 2016: Convergence and Divergence

SHOT-SIGCIS Singapore Workshop 

June 26, 2016

“Convergence and Divergence”


The Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society (SIGCIS) 2016 annual Workshop will be held on June 26, 2016. The workshop begins immediately after the regular annual meeting of our parent organization, the Society for the History of Technology in Singapore. 



2015 Mahoney Prize

Winner: David Nofre, Mark Priestley, and Gerard Alberts, "When Technology Became Language: The Origins of the Linguistic Conception of Compter Programming, 1950-1960," Technology and Culture 55 (January 2014): 40-75.

Prize Citation: This paper presents a history of the emergence of high-level computer languages, documenting co-evolving relationships between computer technology and communities of practice. In tracing the genealogy of a phenomenon that seems to us today second nature -- the "computer language" -- their work is a particularly worthy inaugural winner of a prize honoring Mike Mahoney, who did so much to conceptualize the history of that most evanescent technology, computer software.

2015 Computer History Museum Prize

Winner: Rebecca Slayton, Arguments That Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (MIT, 2013).

Prize Citation: Rebecca Slayton’s Arguments That Count advances the history of computing in several significant ways. Through careful, original research and clear writing, Slayton grants a wide audience access to the complex and highly controversial story of the role of computing in missile defense. Slayton’s book deftly unpacks the institutional and rhetorical aspects of arguments set forth by physicists and computer scientists as they wrangled over the feasibility of developing systems capable of stopping ICBMs. By demonstrating how scientists and computing experts crafted and sold their arguments justifying the development of risky, expensive technological solutions to geopolitical problems, this study yields insights that are relevant to the many other areas in which heavy investment in technological systems is championed as a solution to existential problem.


Did V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai Invent Email?

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

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

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. 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. 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.  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.

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