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History of Technology

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The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program

In July 1969, ninety-four percent of American televisions were tuned to coverage of Apollo 11’s mission to the moon. How did space exploration, once the purview of rocket scientists, reach a larger audience than My Three Sons? Why did a government program whose standard operating procedure had been secrecy turn its greatest achievement into a communal experience? In Marketing the Moon, David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek tell the story of one of the most successful marketing and public relations campaigns in history: the selling of the Apollo program.

Primed by science fiction, magazine articles, and appearances by Wernher von Braun on the “Tomorrowland" segments of the Disneyland prime time television show, Americans were a receptive audience for NASA’s pioneering “brand journalism." Scott and Jurek describe sophisticated efforts by NASA and its many contractors to market the facts about space travel—through press releases, bylined articles, lavishly detailed background materials, and fully produced radio and television features—rather than push an agenda. American astronauts, who signed exclusive agreements with Life magazine, became the heroic and patriotic faces of the program. And there was some judicious product placement: Hasselblad was the “first camera on the moon"; Sony cassette recorders and supplies of Tang were on board the capsule; and astronauts were equipped with the Exer-Genie personal exerciser. Everyone wanted a place on the bandwagon.

Generously illustrated with vintage photographs, artwork, and advertisements, many never published before, Marketing the Moon shows that when Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind, it was a triumph not just for American engineering and rocketry but for American marketing and public relations.

The Making of Light Modernity

Aluminum shaped the twentieth century. It enabled high-speed travel and gravity-defying flight. It was the material of a streamlined aesthetic that came to represent modernity. And it became an essential ingredient in industrial and domestic products that ranged from airplanes and cars to designer chairs and artificial Christmas trees. It entered modern homes as packaging, foil, pots and pans and even infiltrated our bodies through food, medicine, and cosmetics. In Aluminum Dreams, Mimi Sheller describes how the materiality and meaning of aluminum transformed modern life and continues to shape the world today.

Aluminum, Sheller tells us, changed mobility and mobilized modern life. It enabled air power, the space age and moon landings. Yet, as Sheller makes clear, aluminum was important not only in twentieth-century technology, innovation, architecture, and design but also in underpinning global military power, uneven development, and crucial environmental and health concerns. Sheller describes aluminum’s shiny utopia but also its dark side. The unintended consequences of aluminum’s widespread use include struggles for sovereignty and resource control in Africa, India, and the Caribbean; the unleashing of multinational corporations; and the pollution of the earth through mining and smelting (and the battle to save it). Using a single material as an entry point to understanding a global history of modernization and its implications for the future, Aluminum Dreams forces us to ask: How do we assemble the material culture of modernity and what are its environmental consequences?

Aluminum Dreams includes a generous selection of striking images of iconic aluminum designs, many in color, drawn from advertisements by Alcoa, Bohn, Kaiser, and other major corporations, pamphlets, films, and exhibitions.

Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism

In Networking Peripheries, Anita Chan shows how digital cultures flourish beyond Silicon Valley and other celebrated centers of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The evolving digital cultures in the Global South vividly demonstrate that there are more ways than one to imagine what digital practice and global connection could look like. To explore these alternative developments, Chan investigates the diverse initiatives being undertaken to “network” the nation in contemporary Peru, from attempts to promote the intellectual property of indigenous artisans to the national distribution of digital education technologies to open technology activism in rural and urban zones.

Drawing on ethnographic accounts from government planners, regional free-software advocates, traditional artisans, rural educators, and others, Chan demonstrates how such developments unsettle dominant conceptions of information classes and innovations zones. Government efforts to turn rural artisans into a new creative class progress alongside technology activists’ efforts to promote indigenous rights through information tactics; plans pressing for the state wide adoption of open source–based technologies advance while the One Laptop Per Child initiative aims to network rural classrooms by distributing laptops. As these cases show, the digital cultures and network politics emerging on the periphery do more than replicate the technological future imagined as universal from the center.

A History of American Engineering Education for Women

Engineering education in the United States was long regarded as masculine territory. For decades, women who studied or worked in engineering were popularly perceived as oddities, outcasts, unfeminine (or inappropriately feminine in a male world). In Girls Coming to Tech!, Amy Bix tells the story of how women gained entrance to the traditionally male field of engineering in American higher education.

As Bix explains, a few women breached the gender-reinforced boundaries of engineering education before World War II. During World War II, government, employers, and colleges actively recruited women to train as engineering aides, channeling them directly into defense work. These wartime training programs set the stage for more engineering schools to open their doors to women. Bix offers three detailed case studies of postwar engineering coeducation. Georgia Tech admitted women in 1952 to avoid a court case, over objections by traditionalists. In 1968, Caltech male students argued that nerds needed a civilizing female presence. At MIT, which had admitted women since the 1870s but treated them as a minor afterthought, feminist-era activists pushed the school to welcome more women and take their talent seriously.

In the 1950s, women made up less than one percent of students in American engineering programs; in 2010 and 2011, women earned 18.4% of bachelor’s degrees, 22.6% of master’s degrees, and 21.8% of doctorates in engineering. Bix’s account shows why these gains were hard won.

Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile

In Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Eden Medina tells the history of two intersecting utopian visions, one political and one technological. The first was Chile’s experiment with peaceful socialist change under Salvador Allende; the second was the simultaneous attempt to build a computer system that would manage Chile’s economy. Neither vision was fully realized--Allende’s government ended with a violent military coup; the system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented--but they hold lessons for today about the relationship between technology and politics.

Drawing on extensive archival material and interviews, Medina examines the cybernetic system envisioned by the Chilean government--which was to feature holistic system design, decentralized management, human-computer interaction, a national telex network, near real-time control of the growing industrial sector, and modeling the behavior of dynamic systems. She also describes, and documents with photographs, the network’s Star Trek-like operations room, which featured swivel chairs with armrest control panels, a wall of screens displaying data, and flashing red lights to indicate economic emergencies.

Studying project Cybersyn today helps us understand not only the technological ambitions of a government in the midst of political change but also the limitations of the Chilean revolution. This history further shows how human attempts to combine the political and the technological with the goal of creating a more just society can open new technological, intellectual, and political possibilities. Technologies, Medina writes, are historical texts; when we read them we are reading history.

Representation in Scientific Practice, published by the MIT Press in 1990, helped coalesce a long-standing interest in scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science and remains a touchstone for current investigations in science and technology studies. This volume revisits the topic, taking into account both the changing conceptual landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume.

The essays consider the ways in which viewing experiences are crafted in the digital era; the embodied nature of work with digital technologies; the constitutive role of materials and technologies—from chalkboards to brain scans—in the production of new scientific knowledge; the metaphors and images mobilized by communities of practice; and the status and significance of scientific imagery in professional and popular culture.

Morana Alač, Michael Barany, Anne Beaulieu, Annamaria Carusi, Catelijne Coopmans, Lorraine Daston, Sarah de Rijcke, Joseph Dumit, Emma Frow, Yann Giraud, Aud Sissel Hoel, Martin Kemp, Bruno Latour, John Law, Michael Lynch, Donald MacKenzie, Cyrus Mody, Natasha Myers, Rachel Prentice, Arie Rip, Martin Ruivenkamp, Lucy Suchman, Janet Vertesi, Steve Woolgar

The Ethical Choreography of Stem Cell Research

After a decade and a half, human pluripotent stem cell research has been normalized. There may be no consensus on the status of the embryo—only a tacit agreement to disagree—but the debate now takes place in a context in which human stem cell research and related technologies already exist. In this book, Charis Thompson investigates the evolution of the controversy over human pluripotent stem cell research in the United States and proposes a new ethical approach for “good science.” Thompson traces political, ethical, and scientific developments that came together in what she characterizes as a “procurial” framing of innovation, based on concern with procurement of pluripotent cells and cell lines, a pro-cures mandate, and a proliferation of bio-curatorial practices.

Thompson describes what she calls the “ethical choreography” that allowed research to go on as the controversy continued. The intense ethical attention led to some important discoveries as scientists attempted to “invent around” ethical roadblocks. Some ethical concerns were highly legible; but others were hard to raise in the dominant procurial framing that allowed government funding for the practice of stem cell research to proceed despite controversy. Thompson broadens the debate to include such related topics as animal and human research subjecthood and altruism. Looking at fifteen years of stem cell debate and discoveries, Thompson argues that good science and good ethics are mutually reinforcing, rather than antithetical, in contemporary biomedicine.

A History of Blackouts in America

Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power outages in America from 1935 to the present not simply as technical failures but variously as military tactic, social disruption, crisis in the networked city, outcome of political and economic decisions, sudden encounter with sublimity, and memories enshrined in photographs. Our electrically lit-up life is so natural to us that when the lights go off, the darkness seems abnormal.

Nye looks at America’s development of its electrical grid, which made large-scale power failures possible and a series of blackouts from military blackouts to the “greenout” (exemplified by the new tradition of “Earth Hour”), a voluntary reduction organized by environmental organizations.

Blackouts, writes Nye, are breaks in the flow of social time that reveal much about the trajectory of American history. Each time one occurs, Americans confront their essential condition—not as isolated individuals, but as a community that increasingly binds itself together with electrical wires and signals.

Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012

In a rapidly changing world, we rely upon experts to assess the promise and risks of new technology. But how do these experts make sense of a highly uncertain future? In Arguments that Count, Rebecca Slayton offers an important new perspective. Drawing on new historical documents and interviews as well as perspectives in science and technology studies, she provides an original account of how scientists came to terms with the unprecedented threat of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). She compares how two different professional communities—physicists and computer scientists—constructed arguments about the risks of missile defense, and how these arguments changed over time. Slayton shows that our understanding of technological risks is shaped by disciplinary repertoires—the codified knowledge and mathematical rules that experts use to frame new challenges. And, significantly, a new repertoire can bring long-neglected risks into clear view.

In the 1950s, scientists recognized that high-speed computers would be needed to cope with the unprecedented speed of ICBMs. But the nation’s elite science advisors had no way to analyze the risks of computers so used physics to assess what they could: radar and missile performance. Only decades later, after establishing computing as a science, were advisors able to analyze authoritatively the risks associated with complex software—most notably, the risk of a catastrophic failure. As we continue to confront new threats, including that of cyber attack, Slayton offers valuable insight into how different kinds of expertise can limit or expand our capacity to address novel technological risks.

Myth, Power, and Cyberspace

The digital era promises, as did many other technological developments before it, the transformation of society: with the computer, we can transcend time, space, and politics-as-usual. In The Digital Sublime, Vincent Mosco goes beyond the usual stories of technological breakthrough and economic meltdown to explore the myths constructed around the new digital technology and why we feel compelled to believe in them. He tells us that what kept enthusiastic investors in the dotcom era bidding up stocks even after the crash had begun was not willful ignorance of the laws of economics but belief in the myth that cyberspace was opening up a new world.Myths are not just falsehoods that can be disproved, Mosco points out, but stories that lift us out of the banality of everyday life into the possibility of the sublime. He argues that if we take what we know about cyberspace and situate it within what we know about culture -- specifically the central post-Cold War myths of the end of history, geography, and politics -- we will add to our knowledge about the digital world; we need to see it "with both eyes" -- that is, to understand it both culturally and materially.After examining the myths of cyberspace and going back in history to look at the similar mythic pronouncements prompted by past technological advances -- the telephone, the radio, and television, among others -- Mosco takes us to Ground Zero. In the final chapter he considers the twin towers of the World Trade Center -- our icons of communication, information, and trade -- and their part in the politics, economics, and myths of cyberspace.

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