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About Me

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Basic things about me? Well, the resume is on-line. But briefly: I grew up in England, where my youthful passions included reading, politics, magazine editing and computers. I did two degrees in computer science, where I discovered a natural affinity for programming, analysis and design. But I found more challenged by the social and philosophical issues around technology, and in the relationship between the world of code and world of people, than in the very narrow questions addressed by most computer science projects. So I looked around and decided to come to America and to do a Ph.D. on these topic. I was able to win a Fulbright award, which from the British point of view is like a Rhodes or Marshall to an American. I found myself in the History and Sociology of Science department at the University of Pennsylvania. Over six great years in Philadelphia, I slowly became an historian specializing in 20th Century America, in the history of technology and in the social history of work and business.

I was also able to educate myself in the theory and sociology of organizations through work with the Wharton school.  For a change of pace, and a better standard of living, I worked for three or four months every year as a computer consultant, tackling a number of database and internet-related development projects. I also taught a course of my own at Penn on the cultural history of the PC and the Internet, and another at Drexel (just round the corner) on data base management. From 2001 to 2003 I was at Colby College in Maine, first as a visiting instructor and then as a visiting researcher. Syllabi and resources for the courses I created there are available from my website teaching section. During the fall of 2003 I taught in the Informatics school of Indiana University, and from 2004 to 2007 I was working as consultant on an historical project to capture the history of software packages and libraries for numerical mathematics on behalf of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics via my partnership, The Haigh Group. The Haigh Group has been active since then on a number of other projects, including prior art research for several software patent lawsuits and the ENIAC project described below.

From 2004 to 2017 I was a faculty member in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, promoted to associate professor in 2010. My wife, Maria Haigh, is also an associate professor in the school. While the benefits of both finding academic jobs in the same place was considerable, this wasn't the best fit for me. My teaching was largely confirmed to teaching project management and systems analysis to undergraduates in the applied IT program, though I was occasionally able to offer a seminar on IT and Organizations.  In the academic year 2008-9 I was a fellow of the Center for 21st Century Studies, which was a very rewarding and productive period and led to increasing involvment in digital humanities initiatives across campus. To complement these within SOIS I founded the Social Studies of Information workgroup, which ran a busy speaker and event series for several years until budget problems hit..I was selected again for a C21 fellowship in the 2015-16 academic year, on a proposal to study historicize the "digital native" concept, but the offer was rescinded after Wisconsin made crippling cuts to its university system.

My dissertation was called "Technology, Information and Power: Managerial Technicians in Corporate America, 1917-2000.” This is full of still-unpublished material, which suitably revised will make two fairly hefty books (I like to blame its inordinate length on the vagaries of US immigration law, specifically the threat of deportation upon graduation that hung over me, rather than on logophilia or egomania although others may reasonably disagree). However, the pressures on junior faculty in information science are quite different from those in history, meaning that a couple of publications a year were expected and a book would be no substitute. Hence I repeatedly put this material on one side, working on smaller projects leading to articles and chapters on topics such as (the history of) word processing, data base management systems, web browsers & email, web portals & search engines, gender and data processing, computer science, the software industry,  the political economy of the US computer industry, computer use in Mexican business, and so on. Also a big fat chapter reviewing the literature on the history of information technology, and a meditation on the relationship of science fiction to the history of technology. I did edit a book collecting the work of the late historian Michael Mahoney for Harvard University Press. These projects have increasingly been collaborative -- a relatively unusual way to work for historians but something I've come to value as a way of dealing with topics I would never have the time or expertise to master on my own. One such paper, "IBM Invents Europe: The Curious Case of the Transnational Typewriter" won both the Wilkins Prize and the Scranton Prize from the Business History Conference. More about this, and access to the final or preprint versions of most of my writing, from my research page.

From late 2011 to 2015 my main research focus took an unexpected but rewarding shift, delaying some of my other projects. I took an opportunity to focus on the history of ENIAC and the origins of modern computing, leading to an MIT Press book ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer (with Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope) and a series of articles exploring the concept of the stored program computer, the first Monte Carlo calculations, the conversion of ENIAC to become the first computer run a program coded in the modern style, and the relationship of Alan Turing to the invention of the computer. Our book tells the ENIAC story in an entirely new way, challenging a lot of widely held beliefs about the history of early computing and grounding its design in the broader development of scientific and technical practice. More on this at www.EniacInAction.com. In 2015 I began a follow on project, looking at the history of the British codebreaking machine Colossus and its place in the history of computing.

As well as the associations for history of technology and history of business I am active within the history of computing community, and served from 2003 to 2013 as editor of the Biographies Department of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing and from 2005 to 2014 as chair of the Special Interest Group on Computers, Information and Society of the Society for the History of Technology. Some of the material that used to be on this site, including the directory of historians of computing and the history of computing resource guide, are now to be found at www.sigcis.org. SIGCIS grew significantly in my years as chair, introducing an annual workshop series, an endowed book prize, online resource guides, a syllabus collection, and an active program of graduate student travel awards. In 2007-8 I also chaired the corresponding group with ASIS&T, the main professional association in the information science field. Since 2011 I've had the opportunity to contribute regular "Historical Reflections" columns to Communications of the ACM, where I've tried to give computer scientists a sense of how historians think and why what we do is important rather than just telling anecdotes about old computers.

In 2016 I accepted an invitation from colleagues at Siegen University for an ongoing (initially four year) appointment as a part time visiting professor in its new School of Media and Information. This is a joint venture between media studies and computer science, with history of computing as an important component on both sides. I won't be teaching any regular courses there, but should be participating in several major research grants, collaborating with faculty and students, providing input on program development, and organizing a series of workshops and summer schools. My time in Germany will be focused in January and June, those being the times when people are on campus in Siegen but there are no courses being taught in Milwaukee. The central activity has been a series of "Early Digital" workshops, aimed at broadening the focus of history of computing work and combining it productively with German traditions studying the historical materiality of media technology.

2017 was a year of new projects. I was able to transfer within the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee to the History Department, which offers a more supportive envionment for historical scholarship. This means a complete change in my teaching -- it feels like going back to a first job after graduate school. I also began collaborating with Paul Cerruzi of the Smithsonian to coauthor a third edition of his classic A History of Modern Computing (the most cited overview history of IT) for MIT Press. This gives us the opportunity to rethink and broaden the core history of computing narrative to reflect things like smartphones, the Internet, video games, and modern personal computers.

 

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