A version of this essay was originally posted at http://www.hastac.org/blogs/sarahr/digital-labor-cold-war-roots on February 9, 2010.
Doing some reading over the past week, I was prompted to think about, then comment on, a chapter by Friedrich Kittler on Cold War computing technology and the implicit (and explicit) ways in which an examination of so-called “defense technology” comes into direct contact with, and within the purview of, media studies, information studies and labor studies.
Specifically, I am interested in uncovering the history of these technologies and their development, particularly when the when many defense technologies have been considered value-neutral or even as beneficial (and perhaps were, particularly when they moved from the province of military applications to consumer or mass-market ones). Additionally, the process of uncovering the hidden labor embedded in digital and computing technologies and processes, is inextricalbly tied to the critically important task of uncovering their hidden agendas, applications and roots within the military-academic-industrial complex1.
“The SAGE radar display console seen here presents a picture of the air defense situation within its assigned geographic area. Using buttons and switches on the console, the Air Force Airman First Class who is operating the console can request information to be displayed such as speed, altitude and weapons availability and location, and he can direct action to be taken against an attacker. With the light gun in his right hand, the operator selects radar tracks for identification and display on the SAGE Direction Center’s summary board.” Photo Credit: IBM online archive.
Fred Turner, in a talk a few weeks ago at the University of Illinois, referenced SAGE, for example, one of the first interlinked computer systems, and part of the U.S military’s DEW (distant early warning) system. Kittler notes, in the same writing, that the Semiautomatic Ground Environment Air Defense System, was conceived as an answer to the Soviet atomic fleet, and it brought us everything todays computer users have come to love: from the monitor to networking to mass storage (182). Many of these military innovations have found direct applications and homes in the civilian sector, a spin-off called information society [that] began with the building of a network that connected sensors (radar), effectors (jet planes), and nodes (computers) (182). Not only, therefore, has the technology developed by the military, in conjunction with partners in academe and industrial R&D, made its way into daily life, but so, too, have basic concepts of organization, processes and structures. Any study endeavoring to undertake an examination of these organisms must therefore absolutely examine ties to other systems, projects and goals, particularly during the technological boom of (and promulgated by) the Cold War.
I recently undertook a preliminary (to me) study of a state information system in late 20th century France that was developed for civilians and laypeople in the country2. While this system, popularly known as the Minitel, was fundamentally implemented for the populace at large, by tracing the policy development and goals at the root of the creation of the system, I quickly discovered that military and national sovereignty concerns were, in fact, at the core of this massive national technology project. In fact, a desire to be able to calculate nuclear strikes and impacts in simulation on IBM mainframe computers drove then-president and erstwhile war hero Charles de Gaulle to institute a state information policy where previously there had been none. To this end, Kittler’s comment that since 1941, wars no longer needed men, whether as heroes or as spies, but were victories of machines over other machines (182) does not seem like much of a reach at all.
The Third Graduate Student Conference on the History of American Capitalism: “Capitalism in Action”
Sponsored by the David Howe Fund for Business and Economic History at Harvard University.
Keynote Speaker: Jackson Lears
Discussions of American capitalism often uncritically rely on loaded but abstract terms, from “markets” to “capital.” This conference aims to bring together emerging scholars who are interested in interrogating the nitty-gritty details of how capitalist systems have been imagined, constructed, maintained, altered, and challenged by an array of different historical actors in the United States and across the globe. What does “the economy” look like once we shift our focus from intangible market models towards the concrete workings of capitalist society and culture? In this conference, we hope to expand our understanding of American history by analyzing many different moments of “capitalism in action.”
We welcome papers by fellow graduate students from many different fields, such as cultural, social or business histories of capitalism. We encourage papers on a range of diverse topics. Possible paper subjects could include anything from mortgage-backed derivatives, land speculation and the geography of garbage to corporate personhood, consumer branding and the political economy of baseball. We welcome the submission of panels as well.
Interested graduate students should submit a C.V. and a 750-word abstract of their paper (description, significance, sources, current status) to:
History of Capitalism Conference
Charles Warren Center
4th Floor Emerson Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138
The submission deadline is Nov 1st, 2010. Those selected to present will be notified by Nov 19th and receive a stipend towards travel costs.
For additional information, please see: www.fas.harvard.edu/polecon or email email@example.com. For the websites of previous conferences, please see www.fas.harvard.edu/~polecon/conference/ and www.fas.harvard.edu/~histcap/.
Faculty supervisor: Professor Sven Beckert
Organizers: Nikolas Bowie, Eli Cook, Jeremy Zallen and Caitlin Rosenthal
History of the Present, a Journal of Critical History is a new peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Illinois Press. The editors (Joan Wallach Scott, Andrew Aisenberg, Brian Connolly, Ben Kakfa, Sylvia Schafer and Mrinalini Sinha) invite submissions that approach history as a critical endeavor for publication in volume 2 number 1 (summer 2012). We are particularly interested in essays that press the boundaries of history’s disciplinary norms. In that spirit, we also seek submissions from scholars thinking through the past in fields outside of history.
We welcome articles that:
-examine the historical construction of categories of knowledge.
-analyze how relationships of power are established and maintained, and how history has served to legitimize or challenge them.
-are explicitly theorized without being restricted to the discipline’s conventional categorizations of method and subject (i.e. social, cultural, intellectual, legal, or political history).
Manuscript submissions and queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seeks applicants for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in Media and Cultural Studies, to begin August 2011. Ph.D. in a related field required prior to start of appointment. Candidates will be expected to conduct research, develop and teach courses, and supervise graduate students in the critical/cultural analysis of television and electronic media with a specialization in at least one of the following: global media, gender and/or identity studies, or industry/production studies. Candidates must show potential for excellence in scholarly research and teaching. See also http://commarts.wisc.edu. Please submit a CV and a letter detailing interests and capabilities and arrange to have sent three letters of reference to Professor and Chair Susan Zaeske, Media and Cultural Studies Search, Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 821 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706. Electronic applications will not be accepted. The deadline to assure full consideration is November 14, 2010. EOE/AA. Employment may require a criminal background check.
Unless confidentiality is requested in writing, information regarding the applicants must be released upon request. Finalists cannot be guaranteed confidentiality. The Department of Communication Arts is committed to building a culturally diverse intellectual community and strongly encourages applications from women, ethnic minorities, and other underrepresented groups. Questions about the search may be directed to Professor Mary Beltrán at email@example.com.