2020 Computer History Museum Prize


Gerardo Con Diaz, Software Rights: How Patent Law Transformed Software Development in America (New Haven: Yale University Press 2019).

Prize Citation:

Gerardo Con Diaz's Software Rights is the definitive account of the history of software patents in the United States. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, the book is notable for its original analysis and empirical novelty. Most contemporary discussions of software patenting treat software as something purely “virtual,” but this book brings the physicality of software to the foreground and shows how that physicality has at times been instrumental to software patents. It also highlights the interpretive flexibility of software (as text, algorithm, and machine) and the ways in which these ambiguities facilitated competing arguments for and against patenting. And it tracks the changing criteria for patenting and the conflicts within the complex legal framework for intellectual property protection. Particularly refreshing was its presentation of the shifting positions of various stakeholders and the genuine disagreements within those groups. The history of software patenting is tremendously complicated, and the judges were impressed with how carefully, clearly, and insightfully Software Rights explains this history. As one judge put it, “If I were to recommend a single book on the history of software patents, this would be it.” Chapeau for this achievement!

2021 Mahoney Prize


Colette Perold, “IBM’s World Citizens: Valentim Bouças and the Politics of IT Expansion in Authoritarian Brazil,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 42, no. 3 (July-September 2020): 38-52.

Prize Citation:

Colette Perold is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her article follows a notable figure in Brazilian history, Valentim Bouças, IBM’s first representative in Brazil, his relationship with the company from the 1910s to the 1940s, and the role IBM’s computers played in Brazil’s changing political climate in the early-twentieth century. This notably well-written and argued article pushes computer history not only into Latin America studies but into its relationship with U.S. foreign policy, and the history of globalization and colonialism. Bridging the history of technology with political and economic history, Perold demonstrates that “Brazil is a particularly fruitful site for understanding IBM’s global expansion,” but also that “As historians of computing continue to uncover these narratives outside the global North, we will find that investigating… political and economic contours… will generate new insights into the ways multinational computing companies first installed themselves in the global South, and into the factors that override democratic social relations, both between countries, and within.”

Register Now! SIGCIS 2021: Online Edition

Registration is now open for the SIGCIS 2021 conference, to be held online on September 23, 24, and 25, 2021. We have an excellent program (available from http://meetings.sigcis.org/conference-schedule.html), featuring a keynote panel on Friday, September 24, with Rayvon Fouché, Jason Edward Lewis, Lisa Nakamura, and Lucy Suchman.

Details and registration instructions are available from http://meetings.sigcis.org/.

SIGCIS 2021: Online Edition

SIGCIS 2021 is an open call for any and all work related to the history of computing and information systems, broadly imagined. The SIGCIS community is especially welcoming of new directions in research and creative production, and encompasses academic professionals, museum and archive professionals, IT practitioners, artists and creative technologists, and independent researchers across the disciplinary spectrum. We maintain an inclusive atmosphere for scholarly inquiry, promoting diversity in STEM and supporting disciplinary interventions from beyond traditional history of technology. We especially encourage submissions from those who have not previously attended but wish to learn more about our community.
Abstracts due June 1, 2021.
More information: http://meetings.sigcis.org/call-for-papers.html

2020 Mahoney Prize


Belcher, Oliver. “Sensing, Territory, Population: Computation, Embodied Sensors, and Hamlet Control in the Vietnam War,” Security Dialogue 50.5, 416-436 (2019).

Prize Citation:

Oliver Belcher – a geographer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University – has written a remarkable history of the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) created and deployed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. As Belcher details, the story of HES is an important episode both in the history of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and in the history of U.S. “pacification” actions in Vietnam. Particularly striking are Belcher’s arguments that U.S. military advisors acted as “embodied sensors” for HES, and that their transformations of the realities of village life into the data format of HES constituted a form of “epistemic violence” implicated in the broader landscape of physical violence during the war. In this, Belcher positions his study as a contribution to a “history of computers as a technology of imperial violence.”

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.’

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.

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 2024 prize, articles published in the preceding three years (2021, 2022 and 2023) are eligible for nomination. The Mahoney Prize is awarded by the Special Interest Group in Computers, Information, and Society (SIGCIS).

Technical Accomplishments of Ron Crane- RIP

Ronald C. Crane photo

Ron Crane may be best known for being an eccentric design engineer, but he had many technical accomplishments that were not documented. Those include:

2018 Mahoney Prize

Joanna Radin. “Digital Natives: How Medical and Indigenous Histories Matter for Big Data.” Osiris Vol. 32, No. 1 (2017): 43-64.

Prize Citation:
In “Digital Natives: How medical and Indigenous histories matter for Big Data,” Joanna Radin argues for critical engagement with “the metabolism of Big Data”. Radin presents the remarkable history of a dataset known as the Pima Indigenous diabetes study, derived from research conducted with the Akimel O’odham Indigenous community in Arizona. Since the loss of their ability to farm the land, this community has an extremely high rate of diabetes. Reconstructing the circumstances of the dataset’s production and its presence in a Machine Learning repository where it is used in projects far removed from diabetes, Radin draws attention to the way that data is naturalised, and bodies and economic struggle are elided. Significant questions are raised about the ethics and politics of research in an age of Big Data, including the reproduction of patterns of settler colonialism in the research enterprise, and the community’s work to redefine the research encounter. The prize committee were impressed by Radin’s depth of research, quality of analysis, and the contribution to multiple literatures, and commend her for an inspired and inspiring article.


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