Thomas S. Mullaney

Thomas S. Mullaney is Professor of History at Stanford University and the author of Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China and The Chinese Typewriter.

  • Your Computer Is on Fire

    Thomas S. Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks, and Kavita Philip

    Techno-utopianism is dead: Now is the time to pay attention to the inequality, marginalization, and biases woven into our technological systems.

    This book sounds an alarm: after decades of being lulled into complacency by narratives of technological utopianism and neutrality, people are waking up to the large-scale consequences of Silicon Valley–led technophilia. This book trains a spotlight on the inequality, marginalization, and biases in our technological systems, showing how they are not just minor bugs to be patched, but part and parcel of ideas that assume technology can fix—and control—society.

    The essays in Your Computer Is on Fire interrogate how our human and computational infrastructures overlap, showing why technologies that centralize power tend to weaken democracy. These practices are often kept out of sight until it is too late to question the costs of how they shape society. From energy-hungry server farms to racist and sexist algorithms, the digital is always IRL, with everything that happens algorithmically or online influencing our offline lives as well. Each essay proposes paths for action to understand and solve technological problems that are often ignored or misunderstood.

    • Paperback $35.00
  • The Chinese Typewriter

    The Chinese Typewriter

    A History

    Thomas S. Mullaney

    How Chinese characters triumphed over the QWERTY keyboard and laid the foundation for China's information technology successes today.

    Chinese writing is character based, the one major world script that is neither alphabetic nor syllabic. Through the years, the Chinese written language encountered presumed alphabetic universalism in the form of Morse Code, Braille, stenography, Linotype, punch cards, word processing, and other systems developed with the Latin alphabet in mind. This book is about those encounters—in particular thousands of Chinese characters versus the typewriter and its QWERTY keyboard. Thomas Mullaney describes a fascinating series of experiments, prototypes, failures, and successes in the century-long quest for a workable Chinese typewriter.

    The earliest Chinese typewriters, Mullaney tells us, were figments of popular imagination, sensational accounts of twelve-foot keyboards with 5,000 keys. One of the first Chinese typewriters actually constructed was invented by a Christian missionary, who organized characters by common usage (but promoted the less-common characters for “Jesus" to the common usage level). Later came typewriters manufactured for use in Chinese offices, and typewriting schools that turned out trained “typewriter girls” and “typewriter boys.” Still later was the “Double Pigeon” typewriter produced by the Shanghai Calculator and Typewriter Factory, the typewriter of choice under Mao. Clerks and secretaries in this era experimented with alternative ways of organizing characters on their tray beds, inventing an input method that was the first instance of “predictive text.”

    Today, after more than a century of resistance against the alphabetic, not only have Chinese characters prevailed, they form the linguistic substrate of the vibrant world of Chinese information technology. The Chinese Typewriter, not just an “object history” but grappling with broad questions of technological change and global communication, shows how this happened.

    A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian InstituteColumbia University

    • Hardcover $34.95
    • Paperback $29.95