SIGCIS 2014 Workshop

Computing the Big Picture:
Situating Information Technology in Broader Historical Narratives

SIGCIS Workshop 2014
November 9, 2014, Dearborn, Michigan

Keynote Speaker: Jennifer S. Light, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Special Interest Group for Computers, Information and Society (SIGCIS – welcomes submissions for our annual one-day scholarly workshop to be held on Sunday, November 9 2014 in Dearborn, Michigan. 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 Questions about the workshop should be addressed to Andrew Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology), who is serving as chair of the workshop organizing committee. Email

Workshop Theme

When the history of computing began to emerge as a scholarly field forty years ago its first practitioners and consumers were computing pioneers, who favored technical accounts focused on the first electronic computers. Since then the field has developed in many directions, attracting scholars trained in a variety of historical traditions and working on a broad range of topics, time periods, and geographical settings. Work on the history of computing is increasingly influenced by methods and questions from broader fields and, in turn, is influencing scholars in other communities. This undermines the traditional, hardware centered, master narrative of computing and challenges us to integrate computing into a variety of broader historical stories. As a result, scholars working in or near the history of computing face some big questions:

  • What is the place of “the history of computing in the history of technology,” 26 years on from Michael Mahoney’s classic article on that question?
  • How can traditional historical narratives in areas such as gender studies, economic history, or environmental history be challenged by taking seriously the role of information technology? Conversely, what might these narratives bring to deepen our understanding of information technology itself?
  • Can historical questions and methods help to provide a coherent framework for new interdisciplinary areas such as software studies, Internet studies, and information studies?
  • What does today’s history of computing literature have to offer to computer scientists and other audiences without specialist historical training?
  • How can we take seriously the complexities and unique features of computing technology while still producing work that transcends technical detail to tell stories and advance arguments of scholarly interest?

We expect most submissions to focus on particular stories rather than on directly answering these weighty questions, but would appreciate it if presenters made an effort to connect their stories to broader narratives and in doing to provide a particular practical answer to one of the questions. SIGCIS has a tradition of welcoming all types of contributions related to the history of computing and information, whether or not there is an explicit connection with the annual theme.  Our membership is international and interdisciplinary, and our members examine the history of information technologies and their place within society from a variety of scholarly perspectives including the history of technology, business history, labor history, social history, the history of science, science studies, communications, gender and sexuality studies, computing, and museum studies.

Workshop Program

All sessions will occur in the Henry Hotel, which is the main location of the SHOT conference and the location of the Saturday sessions.

  Salon II ("Room A") Salon III ("Room B")

Opening Plenary (in Salon II)

  • Workshop and Speaker introductions by Andrew Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology) and Jason Gallo (Science and Technology Policy Institute)
  • Plenary lecture by Prof. Jennifer Light (MIT): "Computing and the Big Picture: A Keynote Conversation"

Coffee Break

Including presentation of the Computer History Museum Prize


Information Technology and the Automated Society
(Traditional Papers I)

Chair and Commentator: Rebecca Slayton (Cornell University)

  1. Paul Ceruzzi (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum), “The SHOT/AHA Series on Historical Perspectives on Technology, Culture, and Society: What Should a Booklet on Computing and Information Technologies Contain?”
  2. Arvid Nelsen (University of Minnesota), “Debates on Automation in the 20th Century: Interpreting New Sources at CBI”
  3. Andrew Gansky (University of Texas at Austin), “The Meaning of Life in the Automated Office”
  4. Ekaterina Babintseva (University of Pennsylvania), “Between Life and Mechanism: The Notion of Information in Warren McCulloch's Theory”

(4x15 minute presentations followed by a 10-15 minute comment and general discussion)

Work in Progress I

Session Leader: Andrew Russell, Stevens Institute of Technology

  1. William Vogel (University of Minnesota), “Shifting Attitudes: Women in Computing, 1965-1985”
  2. Steve Anderson (University of California, Riverside), “The Digital Imaginary:  Mainframe Computers from the Corporate Basement to the Silver Screen, 1946-1968”
  3. Margarita Boenig-Liptsin (Harvard University), “Making the Citizen of the Information Age: A Comparative Study of Computer Literacy Programs for Children, 1960s-1990s”

(Short presentations, approx 5 minutes each, to introduce precirculated papers, to be discussed in turn by workshop participants)


Lunch: Buffet lunch in Salon 5 & 6 with IEEE History Committee and related SHOT SIGs to discuss the question "Is there a role for history of technology in the Middle School/High School history curriculum." This is free and open to all.
or: Box lunch (included in workshop registration)


Organizations, Institutions, and Computing
(Traditional Papers II)

Chair: Christopher Leslie (New York University)
Commentator: Cyrus Mody (Rice University)
  1. Nicholas Lewis (University of Minnesota), “Computing Behind the Red Line: The HPC History Project at Los Alamos” 
  2. Chuck House (InnovScapes Institute), “The Cisco Heritage Project” 
  3. James R. Lehning (University of Utah), “Technological Innovation and Commercialization: the University of Utah Computer Science Department, 1965-1975” 
  4. Michael Castelle (University of Chicago), “Making Markets Durable: Transaction Processing in Finance and Commerce” 
(4x20 minute presentations followed by a 10-15 minute comment and general discussion)

At the Interfaces: Users and Games (Traditional Papers III)

Chair and Commentator: Gerard Alberts (University of Amsterdam)

  1. Kimon Keramidas (Bard Graduate Center), "The Interface Experience”
  2. Katherine McFadden (University of South Carolina), “Hand Sewn Computing: Women’s Hobbies, Needlework and Computer Electronics”
  3. Jonathan Scott Clemens (University of Minnesota), “The Most Blatant Testimony We Have to American Waste:” Moral Panic and Video Arcade Games, 1978–1983”
  4. Michael McGovern (University of Cambridge), “Re-framing Power Relations in the Historiography of Computing: Examples from Early Medical Genetics and Calculator User Groups”

(4x20 minute presentations followed by a 10-15 minute comment and general discussion)

4:00–4:30 Coffee Break

Work in Progress II

Session Leader: Jason Gallo

  1. Beatrice Choi (Northwestern University), “Ser Técnico: Localized Technology Transfer, Emerging Technical Actors, and the Brazilian Computer Industry”
  2. William Aspray (University of Texas at Austin), “How to Frame a Study of the History of IT Education and its Relation to Broadening Participation in the IT Workforce in the United States”
  3. Alex Campolo (New York University), “White-Collar Foragers: Ecology, Economics, and Logics of Information Visualization”

(Short presentations, approx 5 minutes each, to introduce precirculated papers, to be discussed in turn by workshop participants)

Designing and Making Computers
(Traditional Papers IV)

Chair and Commentator: Nathan Ensmenger (University of Indiana)

  1. William McMillan (Concordia University), “Technical Trends in the History of Operating Systems”
  2. Lav Varshney (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), “Block Diagrams in Information Theory: Drawing Things Closed”
  3. Barbara Walker (University of Nevada, Reno),
    "Gossip, Storytelling, and the Spread of Innovation: The von Neumann and Lebedev Computer Projects in Comparison"
  4. Gerardo Con Diaz (Yale University), “Embodied Software: Patents and Software Development, 1946-1970”

(4x15 minute presentations followed by a 10-15 minute comment and general discussion)

6:00–6:45 Time to recover
6:45 Meet in the lobby of the conference hotel to walk to an optional group dinner in a neaby restaurant.

CFP Material is Below -- For Reference Only

The submission deadline of August 15, 2014 has passed.

Suggested Formats for Submissions:

Proposals for entire sessions and individual presenters are both welcome. We hope to run special sessions featuring dissertations in progress and other works in progress. The workshop is a great opportunity to get helpful feedback on your projects in a relaxed and supportive environment. All proposals will be subject to a peer review process based on abstracts.

Individual contributions can fit one of a variety of formats:

  1. Traditional 15 to 20-minute presentations followed by a question and answer session. In this case, a one-page abstract (maximum 400 words) will be reviewed and included in the electronic conference program. Abstracts should address the paper's topic, argument, evidence used, and contribution to the existing literature. A full version of the paper should be sent to the session commentator at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting. We welcome proposals for entire sessions (3-4 papers that elucidate a common theme) or for individual presentations.
  2. Dissertation proposals. SIGCIS usually hosts a special session on dissertations in progress so that scholars can receive critical feedback in a relaxed and supportive environment. Interested students in the early stages should submit a dissertation proposal. Those whose project is more advanced should submit a dissertation chapter together with table of contents of the whole dissertation. Accepted submissions will be pre-circulated in the electronic conference program. Participants will be encouraged to read this prior to the session. Dissertators will have five to ten minutes to introduce their material, leaving the bulk of time available for discussion.
  3. Works in progress. This is your chance to receive informal and expert discussion of draft journal articles, or book chapters. Submit a one page abstract (maximum 400 words) including discussion of the current state of the work and any specific kinds of feedback you are seeking. If your proposal is accepted you will need to supply the draft for discussion by 1 October for inclusion in our electronic program. You will have five to ten minutes to introduce the material, leaving the bulk of time available for discussion.
  4. Proposals in other formats are also welcome, such as round table discussions, "works in progress" proposals for early-stage research projects, demonstrations of software of interest to historians of computing and information, or "author meets critics" sessions. Descriptions should be a page or two and clearly identify format, objectives, activities, and participants.

As we attract proposals from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds it is best to be explicit: SIGCIS follows traditional practices for the submission of papers for professional historical conference. These include selection based on abstracts rather than full papers; no dissemination of full papers (with the exception of dissertation proposals and work in progress formats as noted above); and the requirement that presenters share their full paper with the session commentator at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting.

Submission Procedure

All submissions should be made online via the SIGCIS website by August 10, 2014. The same person should not be included as a panelist or speaker in more than one proposal for the workshop, though it is OK to appear as a speaker/panelist in one session and a chair/discussant in another. People already scheduled to participate on the main SHOT program are welcome to submit an additional proposal to our workshop, but should make sure that there is no overlap between the two presentations. However SIGCIS may choose to give higher priority to submissions from those not already presenting at SHOT.

Individual submissions should be made at Note that this requires a one page curriculum vitae as well as the proposal itself in the form described above.

Proposals for complete sessions should be made at

They should include:

  •  a description of the session that explains how individual papers contribute to an overall theme
  •  the names and email addresses of each presenter
  •  an abstract and title for each presentation (in the form described above)
  •  a one-page c.v. for each presenter and other participant (including commentator or chair if named)

We will provide acceptance decisions by August 24.

Travel Support

The top financial priority of SIGCIS is the support of travel expenses for graduate students, visiting faculty without institutional travel support, and others who would be unable to attend the meeting without travel assistance. The submission page includes a box to check if you fall into one of these categories and would like to be considered for an award. These is no separate application form, though depending on the volume of requests and available resources we may need to contact you for further information before making a decision. Any award offered is contingent on registering for and attending the workshop. Participants in work in progress or dissertations in progress sessions must also meet the deadlines set for providing the material to be discussed. Please note that SHOT does not classify workshop presentations as participation in the SHOT annual meeting and so acceptance by SIGCIS does not imply eligibility for the SHOT travel grant program.

Details of available awards are at Funding sources include donations from SIGCIS members at our annual meeting, income from the Mahoney Fund and support from MIT Press for our annual book auction.

For information on previous SIGCIS workshops in 2009-2013, please visit the "Activities and Events" section of the SIGCIS website at