CAA2016 has ended
Back To Schedule
Friday, April 1 • 13:30 - 13:55
S10-07 The lives of digital machines: Evaluating the significance of historic computing machinery

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

The Lives of Digital Machines: Evaluating the Significance of Historic Computing Machinery

Gareth Beale, John Schofield

Innovation has been a central concept in the formation of histories of digital technology. The significance of computing machinery is often defined in terms of innovation with comparatively little attention paid to the role which these technologies have played in the lives of users. The prevalence of this mode of historical narrative can at least in part be attributed to the tendency within a commercially motivated computing industry to place an emphasis on novelty and originality. The limitations of innovation-centric histories of technology have been acknowledged within historical research (Edgerton 2006) and these critiques have sat alongside an increasingly critical approach to adoption of commercially derived technical concepts with academic research (Sterne 2003).

In this paper we will argue that archaeological approaches to the study of material culture can be utilised to build fuller accounts of the significance of digital technologies which are driven by use and impact as well as by innovation. The paper will describe the biographical and physical study of historical computers undertaken at the Jim Austin Computer Collection in collaboration with designers, engineers and users and will examine the interactions, modifications and experiences which help to define the significance and physical form of historical computing machinery. 

Edgerton, David. 2011. The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900. London: Profile Books.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. “Bourdieu, Technique And Technology.” Cultural Studies of Science Education 17 (3-4): 367–89.


Dr. Sara Perry

University of York
University of York Twitter: @archaeologistsp Personal Page: http://saraperry.wordpress.com


Friday April 1, 2016 13:30 - 13:55 CEST
Domus Media, Auditorium 13

Attendees (7)