Category: STS

SHOT Book Launch

At the Society for the History of Technology Meeting this coming weekend in Philadelphia, MIT Press will being doing a joint launch of my book and Edward Jones-Imhotep’s terrific new volume on a unique set of Cold War technological failures. It runs from 3:30-4:30 on Friday, October 27, at the MIT Press table in the SHOT book hall. Discounts, free bookmarks, and snacks will be available! Come on by.

Learning How to Read Better (In College & Beyond)

The short guide below evolved out of a conversation with Miriam Posner (@miriamkp) of UCLA who was looking for ways to help her students read more quickly and effectively. These tips can help you retain more when reading academic texts and allow you to get through them at a quicker pace.

Here’s what I tell my students if they have trouble keeping up with the reading for my history and STS classes: Continue reading

A new, improved Women in Computing History syllabus

Annie Easley at NASA in 1981. Image: nasa.gov
Annie Easley at NASA in 1981. Image: nasa.gov

This year, at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, I am teaching a new and improved version of my popular course Women in Computing History. It was initally taught at Illinois Tech in Chicago last year, where it garnered some press attention.

Due to the interest the course generated with people beyond the walls of our classroom I annotated the syllabus with discussion topics and class notes to give a sense of what we did in each class meeting–and what kinds of questions might be useful if you do the readings on your own.

See my syllabus page for the newest version of the course–the old version is still available as well, for all you completionists who might want to look at the details of how the course has changed!

The History of Computing is More Relevant Than Ever

I recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post using history to debunk the infamous “Google Memo” and its contention that women are somehow less innately suited to technical pursuits. Truth is, for a long time women were predominant in the field of computing because technical work wasn’t seen as important. Their disappearance has everything to do with structural discrimination and little to do with “innate” differences.

I was also very glad to get a few mentions in The Guardian. See this (delightfully acerbic) article about memogate in general, and this one that’s specifically about the history of computing’s role in helping us better understand power and (the lack of) diversity in our technological landscape in the present.

Quick note about the latter article–it made a little bit of a mistake in the first few lines (read more here and here). Both SUSIE and SADIE were computers. The typist/programmer in the ad was unnamed.

BCL Computer ad from 1967 that talks all about the “typist” that will program your newly-purchased computer for you.

 

What the Google gender ‘manifesto’ really says about Silicon Valley

File 20170809 32154 xnrsxk
Oh the terrible irony.
Photo by Mar Hicks

Five years ago, Silicon Valley was rocked by a wave of “brogrammer” bad behavior, when overfunded, highly entitled, mostly white and male startup founders did things that were juvenile, out of line and just plain stupid. Most of these activities – such as putting pornography into PowerPoint slides – revolved around the explicit or implied devaluation and harassment of women and the assumption that heterosexual men’s privilege could or should define the workplace. The recent “memo” scandal out of Google shows how far we have yet to go.

Continue reading

Why Should We Care About The Failure of the British Computing Industry?

Recently I gave a talk at Data & Society, a think tank in NYC that focuses on issues of social justice and technology. The talk was about how the history of computing of our closest historical cousin, the UK, can help us learn things about the past and present of the US–things that we may be blind to, or perhaps just resistant to seeing. The half-hour talk is an overview of what happens when countries build discrimination into technological order, rather than seeking to make equality a core goal of technological progress. In it, I address how the current state of affairs in the US relates to this, and I offer some advice on solving the problems of underrepresentation in STEM fields today. Watch the talk here.

 

The Women of Woomera

Recently I was on National Radio Sydney in Australia talking about women in computing. I didn’t actually get to go to Australia–the show was taped via phone–but I did get a taste of some fascinating Australian history of computing. The show’s producer shared records about the women computer programmers who worked at Woomera missile testing range in the 1950s and 1960s with me. Woomera was a joint initiative set up by the UK and Australian governments to give Britain a place to test its long-range weapons. Women there did a lot of similar computer work as women in the UK and the US who worked on ballistics research by computer. Listen to the full interview here.

Article from the Canberra Times, July 30, 1964

My New Book

My book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Their Edge in Computing, has just been published by MIT Press, in their history of computing series. I’m enormously excited to be able to add to the literature in the history of gender, sexuality, and computing in this way, and I’m also glad to be giving several talks about the book around the country and in the UK in the coming months (see here for a schedule). If you’d like to read more about the book–including the full introduction–see the MIT Press page. In addition, I recently did an interview with ChicagoInno about it that provides a good overview of why we should care about the history of British computing, and how it’s a cautionary tale for the US in the 21st century.

What the Histories of Hidden Women Mean For Nations

I recently wrote a post for the MIT Press blog about the connections we can tease out between US history of computing and British history of computing. The two aren’t so similar as they may seem, and the things we can learn about the US from the British context might surprise you.

From the MIT Press Blog:

Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race has praised Programmed Inequality, saying, “Marie Hicks’s well-researched look into Britain’s computer industry, and its critical dependence on the work of female computer programmers, is a welcome addition to our body of knowledge of women’s historical employment in science and technology. Hicks confidently shows that the professional mobility of women in computing supports the success of the industry as a whole, an important lesson for scholars and policymakers seeking ways to improve inclusion in STEM fields.” 

In this post, Marie Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure that women will rise to the top in science and technology fields, how the disappearance of women from the field had grave macroeconomic consequences for Britain, and why the United States risks repeating those errors in the twenty-first century.

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Margot Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures is a masterpiece of history of technology. It shows how the struggles of black women impact technological advance in ways that we still don’t pay enough attention to.

The film based on that book takes things in a more feel-good direction, telling audiences an inspirational story about the triumphs of NASA’s black women mathematicians or human “computers.” At the end of the movie, the United States is coming from behind in the Space Race, and though Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson are all still being denied their civil rights in the wider world, they emerge as heroes, and as respected movers and shakers at work. All’s well that ends well, the film seems to say.

Despite not allowing black citizens to reach their full potential in any sphere, the US still manages to “win” the Space Race by putting a man on the moon. The book shows how critical the submerged, highly skilled labor of these women was—why it was instrumental to US success—and finds a place for them in the canon of technological greats. A skeptical reader, however, might be inclined to question whether the contributions of these women really did make a “make or break” difference. Was there really such a strong connection between their work and the US winning the Space Race? Is there another case in which we can see the flip side of this scenario, where a nation has failed on the global stage because it did not harness the power of women’s technical skill?

As it turns out, there is a very good example of exactly this kind of failure. It’s the subject of my recent book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Their Edge in Computing. The twentieth century history of our closest historical cousin allows us to see very clearly what would’ve happened if NASA and the United States had done anything less than they did to leverage the skills of black (and white) women workers… Read the rest on the MIT Press website.

The #SIGCIS #DH panel at #SHOT2015

I was very glad to be a part of the digital history and humanities panel at the SIGCIS Workshop (part of the 2015 meeting of the Society of the History of Technology in Albuquerque this year), As background to my comments, I’ve provided my Digital Labor Class syllabus, which was my main contribution to the digital humanities degree we recently set up at Illinois Institute of Technology.