2019 Mahoney Prize


Menon, Nikhil. "‘Fancy Calculating Machine’: Computers and planning in independent India." Modern Asian Studies 52, no. 2 (2018): 421-457.

Prize Citation:

Nikhil Menon’s fascinating history details and contextualizes the efforts of statistician P. C. Mahalanobis to import a first digital computer to India in the 1950s. As Menon demonstrates, Mahalanobis’ many attempts to secure a computer – from the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom – were central to the national project of economic development and planning, rather than military use. Against a backdrop of decolonization and the Cold War, Mahalanobis was hamstrung in his attempts to source a computer from the United States for his politics, by perceptions that he was too close to the Soviet Union. The Mahoney Prize committee commends Menon for a well-written, rich article based on detailed archival research, which speaks at once to India’s isolation from and connections to the ‘centres’ of computing and key figures of the era. The article evokes not just a history of computers and of Indian national development, but also scholarly meetings, negotiations with governments, and inter-departmental jockeying in an earlier era of ‘big data.’

About the 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. 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.