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Historical Studies in Computing, Information, and Society

William Aspray, ed.
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
History of Computing
[Reviewed by
Scott Guthery
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The book is part of Springer’s History of Computing series which is characterized as including “high-quality books which address the history of computing, with an emphasis on the ‘externalist’ view of this history, more accessible to a wider audience.”  The Flatiron Lectures referred to in the title of this book were given at a conference held in the spring and fall of 2018.  There are seven papers in the book, each of about twenty-five pages. The index spans one and one-third pages with forty-four spare entries.

The papers concern themselves primarily with the sociology of the computer science community in the last quarter of the twentieth century, as seen through the lens of the latest theories of cognitive science. A selection of the keywords of the papers fairly captures the scope and perspective: temporality, ontology, modem, AT&T, computer time-sharing, gamification, cyberinfrastructure, genre repertoire, genre theory, curation, gender, cognitive frames, creative destruction, SHARE.

Of course, we don’t know what wider audience Springer had in mind when they conceived the History of Computing series, but judging from this book the intended audience does not extend beyond the graduate seminar or classroom. All of the papers assume a conversational familiarity with the latest trends in social science discourse. Lacking this, the reader can be forgiven for wondering “Just what’s the point here?’

While thoroughly earnest, the book will be mostly of interest to scholars in media studies and the behavioral sciences. Not so much, I think, to mathematicians or historians of mathematics.

Scott Guthery is the founder and editor of Docent Press and co-founder of Life-Notes.