Techniques from History              Thomas Haigh             @ThomasHaigh       www.tomandmaria.com/tomAssociate Professo...
About Me• Diverse disciplinary identities   – B.Sc. & M.Eng in Computer Science (Manchester)   – Ph.D. in History & Sociol...
Structure of SessionPresentation (45 minutes)1. What Is History?   –   Core historical questions & perspectives   –   Rele...
1: WHAT IS HISTORY?                      4
The Historical Approach• Definition: History is the study of change  over time.  – What changes?  – What doesn’t?  – Why? ...
We Are Made of StoriesWhy am I me, and why not you?Why am I here, and why not there?…..How can it be that I, who I am,didn...
History is Integrative and             Interdisciplinary• History explains why things are as they are,  and not otherwise•...
Historians Like• Writing books   – Book is primary unit of scholarship   – Dissertation is a draft book. 2 for tenure.• Te...
How Historians are Different• Don’t claim/pretend to be scientific  – Talk of “craft” rather than method  – Quantitative a...
Presentism (a bad thing)• Past viewed through lens of present   – aka Whig History• Reconstruction of past actions in ligh...
Relevant Historical Subfields• Each with own journals, conferences, specialized  graduate programs, etc.• Science, Technol...
Different Historical Approaches• Intellectual history   – E.g. history of “faceted classification” concept• Social history...
Different kinds of sources• Institutional archives   – E.g. records of Association for Computing Machinery or IBM• Census ...
Archival Research• Relies on documents having already been  collected, processed & made available by an  archive• Historia...
Oral History• Interviews with people involved in topic  – Traditionally a way to preserve ordinary people’s    experience ...
2. HISTORY AND INFORMATIONSCIENCE                             16
Balkanization of Identities• History of Information Science   – ASIS&T SIGHFIS• Library History (institutional focus)   – ...
Information History – A New Identity?• Alastair Black – apparent coiner   – Nice 2006 ARIST article   – Recent books by To...
Three Key Questions1. Who writes Information History?2. Who do they write it for?3. Why do they write it?                 ...
Lessons From Other Fields• A similar pattern has been followed in   – History of Science, History of Technology, History o...
Internalism vs. Externalism• Important categories in history of science into  1980s  – Externalism began in the 1930s as a...
To Simplify SomewhatInternalist                                 ExternalistIntellectual and technical history          Soc...
Ex 1: Social & Political         Influences on Innovation• “Mutual shaping” of science/technology and  society  – Key ques...
Ex 2: History of Users and Use• Trend toward looking at USERS not just INVENTORS and  PRODUCERS of technology   – Since 19...
Ex 3: The Cold War and US Science• Unique political environment of the late-1940s and  1950s gave rise to   – Rhetoric of ...
Ex 4: Information as Actor’s Category• Historians are wary of concepts such as   – Freedom, progress, efficiency, etc   – ...
3: INTEGRATING HISTORY INTOINFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH                               27
Can History go Mainstream?• This was the topic of a panel organized at the  2011 ASIS&T meeting by Jenna Hartel, U. of  To...
Hartel’s Key Propositions1. History has long been marginal within   information science2. Information science is taking a ...
Open Questions (1)• How widespread is the social turn?   – Is this the same as social informatics?   – LIS vs iSchool• Can...
Open Questions (2)• How does this map onto the  internalist/externalist divide?  – Socially oriented history written withi...
4: WORKSHOP TASK                   32
Application of techniques            from history1. Join 3 or 4 others in the workshop to create a group of 4   or 5 deleg...
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Thomas Haigh: Techniques from History

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Presentation to the second LIS DREaM workshop held at the British Library on Monday 30th January 2012.

More information available at: http://lisresearch.org/dream-project/dream-event-3-workshop-monday-30-january-2012/

Published in: Technology, Economy & Finance
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Thomas Haigh: Techniques from History

  1. 1. Techniques from History Thomas Haigh @ThomasHaigh www.tomandmaria.com/tomAssociate Professor of Information Studies, U. of Wisconsin--Milwaukee 1
  2. 2. About Me• Diverse disciplinary identities – B.Sc. & M.Eng in Computer Science (Manchester) – Ph.D. in History & Sociology of Science (Penn) – School of Information Studies, U. of Wisconsin— Milwaukee• Main research area is social/business/labour history of corporate IT work & institutions – Also history of data base systems, word processing, software industry, web search, web browsers, personal computer, science fiction, open source software and (non- historical) obsessive frequent fliers. – Chair of SHOT SIGCIS – Biographies editor of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 2
  3. 3. Structure of SessionPresentation (45 minutes)1. What Is History? – Core historical questions & perspectives – Relevant historical areas & approaches2. History & Information Science – “Information History” and its constituents – Internalist vs. externalist approaches3. Integrating History into Information Science Research – Challenges & Opportunities – Exercise to start thinking about this for your own researchWorkshop task (15 minutes) Start the task in this session, complete in lunch break, feedback at 15:00 in afternoon tea break 3
  4. 4. 1: WHAT IS HISTORY? 4
  5. 5. The Historical Approach• Definition: History is the study of change over time. – What changes? – What doesn’t? – Why? – How? – For Whom? 5
  6. 6. We Are Made of StoriesWhy am I me, and why not you?Why am I here, and why not there?…..How can it be that I, who I am,didn’t exist before I came to be,and that, someday, I, who I am,will no longer be who I am?Song of ChildhoodBy Peter Handke, from Wings of Desire 6
  7. 7. History is Integrative and Interdisciplinary• History explains why things are as they are, and not otherwise• Disciplines tend to fragment perspectives (within & without) – History can integrate perspectives• Bad history is everywhere – Historical claims as “straw man” for new approach – Usually they’re gratuitously ill-informed – This leads to some dumb decisions 7
  8. 8. Historians Like• Writing books – Book is primary unit of scholarship – Dissertation is a draft book. 2 for tenure.• Telling stories – Emphasis on craft, not science – Method is for footnotes, “historiography” article, or not at all – No literature review, research question, or method sections at start of papers • This is either implicit or in footnotes 8
  9. 9. How Historians are Different• Don’t claim/pretend to be scientific – Talk of “craft” rather than method – Quantitative approaches our of fashion• Archival work is favored. – Every statement must be supported.• The 1950s are unusually recent.• Work as individuals, set own agendas – grants & collaboration rare 9
  10. 10. Presentism (a bad thing)• Past viewed through lens of present – aka Whig History• Reconstruction of past actions in light of current paradigm – Implies that what people thought they were doing is not what they were really doing, thus – devalues and ignores ideas that did not take hold.• Professional historians hate this! – They prefer to ground in earlier events, not later; – also to tie to broader social/intellectual developments, and – explore the “paths not taken”. 10
  11. 11. Relevant Historical Subfields• Each with own journals, conferences, specialized graduate programs, etc.• Science, Technology and Society – History of Technology – History of Science• General Historical Specialties – Social/Labor History – Business History (overlaps with business school) – Economic History (overlaps with economics)• Museums & Public History 11
  12. 12. Different Historical Approaches• Intellectual history – E.g. history of “faceted classification” concept• Social history – E.g. role of libraries within working class “mechanics institutes”• Cultural history – Changing depictions of libraries in popular culture• Institutional history – E.g. history of the British Library or ASIS&T• History of practice/labour – E.g. history of how cataloging was actually done 12
  13. 13. Different kinds of sources• Institutional archives – E.g. records of Association for Computing Machinery or IBM• Census or survey records – E.g. “Current Population Survey” statics on IT workers• Newspaper, magazine & newsletter reports – E.g. New York Times, Business Week• Diaries & personal papers – E.g. John von Neumann papers at Library of Congress• Technical documents – E.g. journal articles, technical reports, patents• Oral history interviews – E.g. with Charles W. Bachman, conducted for the ACM. 13
  14. 14. Archival Research• Relies on documents having already been collected, processed & made available by an archive• Historians generally travel in person – Request appropriate boxes with paper slips – Sit and read them in a reading room• Fairly low tech – Finding aids are increasingly available online – Visits shortening now digital photography permitted in archival reading rooms – Significant online archival collections are starting to appear 14
  15. 15. Oral History• Interviews with people involved in topic – Traditionally a way to preserve ordinary people’s experience – Can be used with “elite” figures as a supplement to traditional historical sources• Conversation may be transcribed and added to archive/online repository• Scope and format varies widely – Full career interviews tend to be 5 to 8 hours of tape 15
  16. 16. 2. HISTORY AND INFORMATIONSCIENCE 16
  17. 17. Balkanization of Identities• History of Information Science – ASIS&T SIGHFIS• Library History (institutional focus) – Library History Roundtable – Library History -> Library & Information History – Libraries & Culture -> Libraries & the Cultural Record – Professional historians absent in field (Black, 2006)• Communications History• History of the Book• History of Computing/History of IT – SHOT SIGCIS (www.sigcis.org) – IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 17
  18. 18. Information History – A New Identity?• Alastair Black – apparent coiner – Nice 2006 ARIST article – Recent books by Toni Weller• Includes – History of libraries books, reading, publishing – History of “Information Disciplines” – History of Information Society – History of MIS, etc. etc. etc.• More a perspective than a topic – Daunting scope, but can “place an information spin on particular past events or topics” (Black, 2006)• Follows inevitably from shift to iSchools? 18
  19. 19. Three Key Questions1. Who writes Information History?2. Who do they write it for?3. Why do they write it? 19
  20. 20. Lessons From Other Fields• A similar pattern has been followed in – History of Science, History of Technology, History of Computing, Business History, History of Medicine• This is – Pioneers have avocational historical interest – Early work targeted within community – Gradual shift to younger scholars with Ph.D. training within a historical discipline – Gradual shift in questions, methods, audience, journals• Will information history remain an exception? – Alasdair Black called it “History without historians” in ARIST. 20
  21. 21. Internalism vs. Externalism• Important categories in history of science into 1980s – Externalism began in the 1930s as a Marxist critique of the idea of science as operating outside societal influence – Now rather quaint, but useful in this context• I have a chart…. 21
  22. 22. To Simplify SomewhatInternalist ExternalistIntellectual and technical history Social and cultural historyFramed with concepts from technical Framed with concepts from historicaldiscipline fieldsNarrative of logical progress Narrative of historical contingencyAuthor from inside discipline Author from outside disciplineDeep understanding of technical material Variable understanding of technical materialIntended to be read within the discipline Intended to be read by historical specialists(Old School) Science Studies orHistory and Philosophy of Science History & Sociology of ScienceCelebrates heritage & pioneers Questions and problematizes received assumptions 22
  23. 23. Ex 1: Social & Political Influences on Innovation• “Mutual shaping” of science/technology and society – Key question in science studies• Are cultural values built into technological artifacts and systems? – Do these favor some social groups over others?• Concepts/vocabulary such as – Technological closure – Social construction of technological systems 23
  24. 24. Ex 2: History of Users and Use• Trend toward looking at USERS not just INVENTORS and PRODUCERS of technology – Since 1980s in history of technology and science studies – Parallel to studies of information use?• Key insights – Use is how technology has an influence – Users make their own meanings • Rarely those anticipated by inventors – Users select which innovations are successful• Issue for history of information science – Scope of practices vs. recognition 24
  25. 25. Ex 3: The Cold War and US Science• Unique political environment of the late-1940s and 1950s gave rise to – Rhetoric of “pure” and “applied” research and the pipeline from science to technology – Expectation of constantly expanding government funding for pure science – Rapid development of computer technology• Similar driving force behind establishment of “information science” – Some work by Colin Burke on intelligence aspects of Cold War – Less on Cold War as structural framework behind the entire scientific and economic infrastructure 25
  26. 26. Ex 4: Information as Actor’s Category• Historians are wary of concepts such as – Freedom, progress, efficiency, etc – Claimed by different groups, change over time, so “actors categories” rather than analytical ones – Look at their histories• Information clearly fills a similar role – Rhetoric of “information age” etc. – Word adopted since 1950s by different groups, implicitly defined in different ways to further their own interests – Terms like “information technology,” “information system” are thus embedded in particular historical perspectives• What does the social history of information look like? 26
  27. 27. 3: INTEGRATING HISTORY INTOINFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH 27
  28. 28. Can History go Mainstream?• This was the topic of a panel organized at the 2011 ASIS&T meeting by Jenna Hartel, U. of Toronto• Discussion inconclusive then – This workshop offers a great chance to address 28
  29. 29. Hartel’s Key Propositions1. History has long been marginal within information science2. Information science is taking a social & cultural turn – At least within Information seeking behavior/use research3. Therefore there has been a “recent breakthrough” of history into the mainstream of information science research – Part of broader research projects – Undertaken by people without history Ph.D.s 29
  30. 30. Open Questions (1)• How widespread is the social turn? – Is this the same as social informatics? – LIS vs iSchool• Can history compete with more explicitly theoretical disciplines in legitimating a social turn? – Craft practice, aversion to explicit presentation of theory and method – No claims to scientific status – Less highbrow than philosophy – Less professional-sounding than ethics 30
  31. 31. Open Questions (2)• How does this map onto the internalist/externalist divide? – Socially oriented history written within the discipline by untrained historians• What place do historians have in iSchools? – Loss of traditional place of library history within librarianship – Will a new kind of history find a new place? 31
  32. 32. 4: WORKSHOP TASK 32
  33. 33. Application of techniques from history1. Join 3 or 4 others in the workshop to create a group of 4 or 5 delegates.2. Identify a member of the group who is actively engaged in a research project that could make use of one of the historical approaches outlined on slide 12.3. Identify a research question of relevance to the project that might be answered through the deployment of (an) historical technique(s).4. Suggest possible sources that might support this research.5. Fill the details in on the task form and pass this to Thomas by the end of the lunch break at 13:45.6. Thomas will provide feedback on the ideas in the afternoon tea break at 15:00. 33
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