2019 Computer History Museum Prize


Jaroslav Švelch, Gaming the Iron Curtain How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games (MIT Press, 2018).

Prize Citation:

Jaroslav Švelch’s Gaming the Iron Curtain makes an important and fascinating intervention into the history of computing, challenging many basic categories in the field. The history of computing has long privileged the United States and Western Europe. Particularly during the Cold War, these regions have been treated as the primary sources of innovation and novelty, in contrast with the presumed computing backwaters of Soviet Bloc nations and the developing world. Gaming the Iron Curtain challenges this view, showing that computer users and developers in communist Czechoslovakia demonstrated considerable innovation despite and even because of their limited access to Western technology. They developed novel computers and games, creatively modified and built upon pirated code, and built hardware gaming interfaces from available materials. They also alternately utilized (“gamed”) the resources and practices of a centralized state, and critiqued the politics of that state. The book reveals the movement of technology across national borders and through an Iron Curtain that many have assumed to be impenetrable, making a significant contribution to the understanding of computing as a transnational activity. It highlights the distinctive ways in which gaming culture evolved in an environment that was not dominated by mass produced commercial technology and magazines. The book represents an impressive feat of empirical research, based on oral histories and previously unused archival sources. Finally, the book is beautifully written, providing a great deal of historical and theoretical framing while maintaining a lively and engaging narrative.

About the CHM Prize:

The Computer History Museum Prize is awarded to the author of an outstanding book in the history of computing broadly conceived, published during the prior three years. The prize of $1,000 is awarded by SIGCIS, the Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society. SIGCIS is part of the Society for the History of Technology. In 2012 the prize was endowed in perpetuity through a generous bequest from the estate of Paul Baran, a legendary computer innovator and entrepreneur best known for his work to develop and promote the packet switching approach on which modern networks are built. Baran was a longtime supporter of work on the history of information technology and named the prize to celebrate the contributions of the Computer History Museum to that field.