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I've Joined the UWM History Department!

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I've now moved faculty positions within the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, from the School of Information Studies to the History Department. That's a rather small journey geographically -- 0.3 miles or six minutes walk according to Google Maps -- but a huge shift culturally and intellectually. Thanks to all those in the history department, the College of Letters and Science, and the Provost's office who made this move possible. In particularly I am indebted to SOIS Dean Tomas Lipinski, who found a way to make it happen despite the budgetary contraints that have made such shifts almost impossible here.

The UWM history department is a vibrant and welcoming intellectual community, which I'm proud to be part of. Since my graduate student days I've always dreamed of finding ways to integrate the history of information technology into the broader history of the United States and to use the tools of social and cultural history to broaden our understanding of the digital world. UWM has some outstanding scholars working on race, ethnicity, and urban history. My initial teaching there is a popular undergraduate course on the history of race and medicine -- something of a stretch, but a fun intellectual challenge. It's also going to be good for me to immerse myself in a different, and better developed scholarly literature after focusing so much on the history of computing for the past twenty years. Over the next few years I hope to have a chance to develop courses on business history and the history of information technology, both broadly presented in a way that can draw students from a variety of fields. I also hope to use my expertise to support the department's established strengths in public history and its new focus on digital history.

This new opportunity means saying goodbye to SOIS. I'm proud of what I helped to accomplish there, particularly work to restructure the undergraduate information technology program and to establish the Social Studies of Information research group. I will be keeping in touch with my colleagues there to continue some joint project, including my wife Maria Haigh. But it was time to move on. There are many kinds of iSchool, and SOIS remains very much at the "library and information science" end of the iSchool continum. As someone who uses the tools of history to understand the subject matter of computing this particular one was never a great fit for me. In fact I managed to be an outlier on both ends of the  technical<-->humanities spectrum -- I was the only faculty member there with a graduate degree in computer sciences, as well as being one of only two people with a humantities Ph.D.. My work with the IEEE Computer Society, the ACM, and SIAM was as much outside the school's intellectual culture as my participation in SHOT, SIGCIS and the Business History Conference. History was not part of the curriculumn there, and few faculty were engaged with computing topics. My teaching opportunities consisted almost entirely of providing introductory systems analysis and project management courses to undergraduates. 

If spending thirteen years in a library school taught me anything it's that I'm a historian, having stuck stubbornly with the culture, research methods, and scholarly communities of history in an environment where this made no rational sense for career advancement. I've now moved into my new office in Holton Hall, one of the few traditional red brick buildings on what is otherwise a largely post-War campus. It's not huge, but it came with six bookcases and two file cabinets in place. Historians always have a lot of books and papers, which tended to startle people in information studies. That's one of the little ways in which the history department feels like the right place for me to be.

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