Getting your bearings if you were surprised

In the wake of an election that has chagrined many, I made up a list of 10 films for students in my “Disasters” course. My intent was to help them get a sense of why we are where we are today, in a way that wouldn’t require them to add to the mountains of reading and problem sets they already do for their courses.

The list is below–they’re mostly documentaries. But not the boring kind. I decided to leave it handwritten, rather than type it up, because I think we could all use traces of each other as human beings right now. Plus, that way you can see my “Depress-o-meter” rating for each film (in the margin). I did that so you won’t end up watching something terribly depressing when you’re already crushed, as my students seemed to be this Wednesday  when I saw them in class.

Against Meritocracy in the History of Computing

Meritocracy is often taken for granted, even though when you look at it closely it’s pretty clear that it’s a pleasant historical fiction. The danger of this fiction is that it clouds our judgment of the past, present, and future. It makes us sloppy about ensuring that everyone’s civil rights are being respected and hurts our understanding of the social systems that we live and work within.

The high technology sector is still one of the worst offenders when it comes to indulging in this particular fiction. So when I was recently invited to write a piece on the topic for CORE, the magazine of the Computer History Museum, I jumped at the chance to talk about this issue in a publication that helps remind Silicon Valley about its history. You can read the article here (it starts on page 28): Against Meritocracy in the History of Computing.

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.

Fall 2015 IIT Digital Humanities Speaker Series

Digital Humanities Speaker Series 2014-2015: Building Infrastructure Through Collaboration

In connection with the establishment of both a Digital Humanities Center and a Digital History Lab on IIT’s campus this year, this year’s series will focus on how infrastructure for the digital humanities, broadly construed, gets built, used, and apportioned–both at IIT and at other universities.

Fall Schedule:

All meetings take place on Tuesdays from 1:15 to 3pm in the Siegel 218 conference room (map). Faculty, staff, students, and visitors from other universities are welcome to attend.

1. September 9th: Katrin Voelker & Jillana Enteen, heads of the DH lab at Northwestern

“Jumpstart: Digital Humanities Projects at Northwestern University”

Jillana Enteen and Katrin Voelkner will share experiences and insights from recent projects at Northwestern that are designed to engage faculty in Digital Humanities debates and expand curricular offerings at the undergraduate level. Jillana and Katrin will address benefits and challenges of trying to jumpstart and sustain digital humanities projects and curricular efforts, such as such as NUDHL, MMLC, CSCDC and the AVD Summer Fellowship.

2. October 21st: Kevin Baker & Andrew Keener, graduate student co-conveners of the Northwestern DH seminar.

“How to ‘Do DH’ with Others: Digital Methods in Philology and Book History”

Andrew Keener will talk about collaborative digital methods in graduate humanities research through discussing the “Spenser Engagements” project and his work on a Humanities Without Walls grant that is registering Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings with a digitally accessible bibliographical catalog (the ESTC) for the use of scholars around the world. Kevin Baker will discuss his experiences as a co-convener of the Northwestern DH seminar and offer a critical view of the institution-building involved in Digital Humanities, using insights from the field of Science and Technology Studies.

3. November 18th: Lisa Massengale and Devin Savage from Galvin Library

“Structured Collaborations: How Libraries are supporting Digital Humanities Initiatives”

Devin Savage and Lisa Massengale will give a brief talk on how academic librarianship has sought to encourage and support research and teaching for Digital Humanities initiatives. They will then lead a discussion on how the Galvin Library might create local opportunities for collaboration across disciplines.

Cool Code, Bro: Brogrammers, Geek Anxiety and the New Tech Elite

Journalist Nick Parish recently published an e-book on privilege, sexism, and heteronormativity in high tech called: Cool Code, Bro: Brogrammers, Geek Anxiety and the New Tech Elite. In it, he discusses how the changing landscape of the American economy has helped shift the culture of tech.

Image by babyborg (Rene C.):

In the past three decades, we’ve seen the leading edge of the software industry go from privileging whiz kids to bad boys. In our attempts to come to grips with the new postindustrial age as workers and consumers, we’ve found that we’re becoming more and more wary of the hero stories coming out of Silicon Valley. What once seemed like boyish irreverence for social etiquette now seems an antisocial force that may be inimical to the very industry our economy relies upon. As the model of geek-chic has changed, so has the meaning. Or has it? Parish tries to figure all of this out, while giving a brief primer on how high technology and privilege interact in some disturbing ways.

His e-book is free to download today. Full disclosure: I was interviewed by Parish for this work and several of my articles are referenced within it, which how I know about it. You can read my writings on the subject here, here, and here. I’d also recommend the work of several others referenced in Parish’s e-book, particularly Kate Losse and Sapna Cheryan.

Presentations for STS Final Projects

Post a link to your prezi in a comment here no later than April 28 at 6pm. Make sure that your prezi is set to be publicly viewable.

Comic based on the book Cybernetic Revolutionaries, by Pooja Agarwal, using images from Medina’s book and ComicBook! iPad app.

You will hand in the paper portion of your final project on April 29 in class and give an oral presentation (using your prezi) in class. Remeber that your presentation must be no longer than 6-8 minutes. I will enforce this time limit in order to give everyone time to speak—so be sure to practice your talk before class and stick only to the most important evidence you have to present: your presentation should not just be a sped-up description of what you wrote in your paper. Rather, it should focus on one point that gives us a new insight into your topic.

Global English, Political Speech, and Public Humanities

One of my great pleasures over the course of this semester was being able to introduce undergraduates in my Filming the Past class to the amazing work of graduates in the Humanities Department’s Technical Communication program within the Program in Technology and the Humanities. My class not only teaches students through the medium of oral history and documentary film, but asks them to actively engage the public by creating in these mediums and sharing the products of their intellectual development. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight two “podcast-style” interviews students did with young faculty in the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Humanities Department.

One group of students interviewed recent Ph.D. and current Visiting Assistant Professor, Halcyon Lawrence, who works on speech intelligibility. Specifically, Prof. Lawrence asks the question: why do so many of our new, convenience-enabling technologies make life harder for the majority of English speakers? Speech recognition systems deployed worldwide, from Siri to your credit card’s voice prompts, are modeled on, and take for granted, American English or British accents as “standard English”–despite the fact that most English speakers today do not learn English in America or the UK. As English becomes our economic and technological “lingua franca,” how can we solve problems of speech intelligibility that are increasingly becoming embedded in our global technological infrastructure? Prof. Lawrence’s work offers a window into this fascinating problem and potential solutions:

Direct link to interview

Graduate Student Andrew Roback focuses on a different kind of speech: political speech on twitter. In particular, he asks, how do organizations wield 140 characters and what do they expect to get out of social networking? Though much lauded in the popular press for being a political game changer (cf. the conversations about Twitter in the “Arab Spring”), what exactly do we know about political influence on Twitter and about who has control and who doesn’t?

Direct link to interview

Applying STS theories to contemporary issues

In this course, we’ve talked a lot about how to use qualitative evidence and sociotechnical theories as tools for further intellectual insight into large, complex, systems that span both the technical and the social realm. In order to think about how technical artifacts work with and within political, cultural, economic, and environmental spheres, we’ve tried to systematize ways of looking at power and agency when it comes to technology. No two technological case studies are exactly alike, but there are enough historical similarities for us to apply past evidence to present situations.

In an essay of 400-600 words, discuss one issue or theory that you found most important and useful to your intellectual development over the course of the semester. Apply this knowledge to a contemporary issue in order to show what you’ve learned. (Note: this contemporary issue should not be the same topic that you’re focusing on for your final paper.)

In your essay, make an argument that is new and original–in other words, one that we wouldn’t already agree with before reading your essay and seeing your evidence. If your argument seems like something most people would agree with without seeing your evidence, then you need to go back to the drawing board and revise your argument–we

Amusingly(?) heteronormative 1940 ad for another essential tool for IIT students, from the IIT News digital archive, IIT Archives, Galvin Library

don’t need to prove the obvious. The emphasis in this essay is on showing us something new and backing it up with evidence from the course readings and lectures. Think historically and make comparisons. Try to put things together in an original way that represents your particular take on the course materials.

Due by 5pm on 4/20. Post your essay in a comment and remember to leave an extra line between paragraphs for formatting reasons. As usual, your essays will not show up immediately–I will approve the best ones after the deadline has passed.

Racism, Community, and Healthcare

This week my STS students read Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson. Professor Nelson, who teaches sociology at Columbia University, delves into the history of healthcare reform through the healthcare initiatives of the Black Panther Party–with fascinating results.

Prof. Nelson’s book cover (image from her website)

Below, the students in the class have aimed to summarize the salient points of this important new book, while adding their own insights and questions.