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Paperback | $21.95 Trade | £15.95 | ISBN: 9780262524896 | 280 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 19 illus.| February 2008

Memory Practices in the Sciences


The way we record knowledge, and the web of technical, formal, and social practices that surrounds it, inevitably affects the knowledge that we record. The ways we hold knowledge about the past—in handwritten manuscripts, in printed books, in file folders, in databases—shape the kind of stories we tell about that past. In this lively and erudite look at the relation of our information infrastructures to our information, Geoffrey Bowker examines how, over the past two hundred years, information technology has converged with the nature and production of scientific knowledge. His story weaves a path between the social and political work of creating an explicit, indexical memory for science—the making of infrastructures—and the variety of ways we continually reconfigure, lose, and regain the past.

At a time when memory is so cheap and its recording is so protean, Bowker reminds us of the centrality of what and how we choose to forget. In Memory Practices in the Sciences he looks at three "memory epochs" of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries and their particular reconstructions and reconfigurations of scientific knowledge. The nineteenth century's central science, geology, mapped both the social and the natural world into a single time package (despite apparent discontinuities), as, in a different way, did mid-twentieth-century cybernetics. Both, Bowker argues, packaged time in ways indexed by their information technologies to permit traffic between the social and natural worlds. Today's sciences of biodiversity, meanwhile, "database the world" in a way that excludes certain spaces, entities, and times. We use the tools of the present to look at the past, says Bowker; we project onto nature our modes of organizing our own affairs.

About the Author

Geoffrey C. Bowker is Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine.


"Bowker offers a playful and richly textured look at the way we maintain records of the past and the multitude of purposes such memory practices can serve in the present. In so doing he reminds readers that the context in which we record the past shapes the stories we can tell.", Stephanie Young, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences

"Every reader will find much to ponder in this provocative exploration of the relationship of the present to the past." , Jean Alexander, College and Research Libraries


"With a sharp new perspective grounded firmly in a deep knowledge of both the natural and social sciences, Bowker reimagines the ancient topic of memory, showing us how our physical and social practices shape what we remember and thus what we know."
Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds and Outsiders

"A brilliant and subtle analysis that uncovers and explains how conventions of naming, classifying, recording, and remembering create and preserve human knowledge. This book is required reading for all who do science or want to understand it—a real tour de force."
John Leslie King, Dean and Professor, School of Information, University of Michigan


Awarded "Best Information Book 2006" by the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).

Awarded "Best Information Science Book 2006" by the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).