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.

SIGCIS 2015 Workshop

SIGCIS Workshop 2015: Infrastructures
Sunday, October 11, 2015 
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Keynote Speaker:
Nathan Ensmenger (Indiana University)
"The Materiality of the Virtual: An Environmental History of Computing"
The Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society (SIGCIS) will host our annual one-day scholarly workshop  on Sunday, October 11, 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is immediately after the end of the regular annual meeting of our parent organization, the Society for the History of Technology, details of which are available from http://www.historyoftechnology.org/features/annual_meeting/.
Questions about the SIGCIS 2015 workshop should be addressed to Andrew Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology), who is serving as chair of the workshop organizing committee (e-mail: arussell@stevens.edu).
Workshop Theme: Infrastructures
Across academic, artistic, and popular domains, curiosity and concern over the information and computing infrastructures that sustain economic, cultural, and social interaction has never been more salient.  In contrast to the hype generated by the gadgetry of innovation prophets and venture capitalists, an emphasis on infrastructure highlights networks of labor and focuses on the human, material, and ecological cost and scale of information and computing technologies.  

Mahoney Prize

The Mahoney Prize recognizes an outstanding article in the history of computing and information technology, broadly conceived. The Mahoney Prize commemorates the late Princeton scholar Michael S. Mahoney, whose profound contributions to the history of computing came from his many articles and book chapters. The prize consists of a $500 award and a certificate. For the 2017 prize, articles published in the preceding three years (2014, 2015, and 2016) are eligible for nomination. The Mahoney Prize is awarded by the Special Interest Group in Computers, Information, and Society (SIGCIS) and is presented during the annual meeting of our parent group, the Society for the History of Technology.

The deadline for submission for the 2017 Mahoney Prize is April 15, 2017. To nominate an article, send an electronic copy to all three committee members using the email address below. All questions should be directed to the 2017 Mahoney Prize Committee Chair, Dr. Jeffrey Yost (yostx003@umn.edu).

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.

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