2023 Mahoney Prize

Winner: Hannah Zeavin. “‘This Is Womenspace’: USENET and the Fight for a Digital Backroom, 1983–86.” Technology and Culture 63, no. 3 (July 13, 2022): 634–64. https://doi.org/10.1353/tech.2022.0104.

The 2023 Mahoney Prize Committee would like to thank all of the authors who submitted a paper for consideration. We enjoyed reading, discussing, and re-reading this exciting collection of work. As an indication of the state of the field, this was a thrilling year to serve on the committee. The submitted work demonstrated technical rigor, methodological innovation, nuanced argumentation, and substantive engagement with other fields and disciplines. They addressed urgent questions concerning political and economic power, memory and archives, gender and identity, art and computing, transnational perspectives, personhood, and the meaning of failure. The authors engaged computing and information technology as potential tools and sources as well as the objects of historical inquiry.

This year’s award goes to Hannah Zeavin for “‘This Is Womenspace’: USENET and the Fight for a Digital Backroom, 1983–86,” published in Technology & Culture in 2022. Dr. Zeavin is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science in the Department of History and The Berkeley Center for New Media at UC Berkeley. She is also the author of The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy (MIT Press, 2021).

“This Is Womenspace” explores discussions of gender and the experiences of women in the online world of the early 1980s. Through a detailed analysis of archived posts from two USENET newsgroups, Zeavin offers a nuanced account of a period of transition in both internet history and women’s history in the US. Her research demonstrates how participants in these nascent forums explored the possibilities and limits of this new conferencing technology while also contending with gendered expectations about who and what “the Net” would be for. Zeavin argues that the women of USENET drew from a longer tradition of feminist activism and organizing in response to harassment and misogyny on the network. Her archival research reveals continuities between face-to-face Consciousness-Raising Groups of 1970s and struggles to create online space for women in the 1980s. In detailing these efforts, Zeavin’s paper also offers an historical perspective on fundamental concerns in computer-mediated communication concerning anonymity, agency, community infrastructure, and moderation. In addition to these substantial contributions to internet history and feminist media studies, the jury was especially sensitive to Zeavin’s creative handling of born-digital archival materials. She provides an exciting methodological model for future research in early online communities.