Volume 47, number 3 (August-September 2012)

Modularity: An Interdisciplinary History of an Ordering Concept

By Andrew W. Russell

pp. 257 - 287


In the final decades of the twentieth century, experts in a wide variety of disciplines—such as computer science, evolutionary biology, management studies, and educational theory—introduced the concepts of modular design into their professional discourses and practices. In each of these disciplines, modular systems called for standardized, interchangeable components (or modules) that could be recombined within a predefined system architecture. This article explores the modern history of modularity as it was imagined and applied in two specific settings: the architectural theories of Albert Farwell Bemis in the 1930s, and the construction of electronic computers in the 1950s and 1960s. By framing this account as a history of an ordering concept, I hope to persuade information historians to look across traditional disciplinary boundaries and examine the more general set of concepts, strategies, organizations, and technologies that humans have used in their unending efforts to order and make sense of information.

The World as Database: On the Relation of Software Development, Query Methods, and Interpretive Independence (288-311).

By David Gugerli

pp. 288 - 311


In the early 1970s, conventional database management systems were challenged by relational database models. Relational search procedures, as proposed by Edgar F. Codd, offered both improved data independence and an enhanced combinatorial freedom for the user. At the same time, late modern concepts of an open text boosted a reader’s interpretive independence, bringing to an end the heyday of hermeneutics. This politically significant change of techno-cultural patterns led to wild debates, and not only among intellectuals. Likewise, the change meant big trouble for software engineers. Advocates of user independence tried to promote their concepts, destabilize adversative suggestions, and gain allies by aggressive claims, heroic narratives, and cooperative publication strategies.

Structuring Information Work: Ferranti and Martins Bank, 1952-1968

By Ian Martin

pp. 312 - 339


The adoption of large-scale computers by the British retail banks in the 1960s required a first-time dislocation of customer accounting from its confines in the branches—where it had been dealt with by paper-based and mechanized information systems—to a new collective space: the bank computer center. While historians have rightly stressed the continuities between centralized office work, punched-card tabulation, and computerization, the shift from decentralized to centralized information work by means of a computer has received little attention. In this article, I examine the case of Ferranti and Martins Bank and employ elements of Anthony Giddens’s structuration theory to highlight the difficulties of transposing old information practices directly onto new computerized information work.

The Contribution of Ægidius Fauteux and Edmond Desrochers to Quebec Librarianship in the Twentieth Century

By Marcel Lajeunesse

pp. 340 - 357


At the start of the twentieth century, Quebec libraries had a different look from those in the rest of North America. The Catholic clergy, whose power extended over all aspects of Quebec society, had imposed a parish library on a population learning to read, which inhibited the development of public libraries for French speakers in Quebec. The head of the Saint-Sulpice Library in Montreal (both a research- and a public library), Ægidius Fauteux, gave this institution a large cultural influence from 1915 to 1931. In the third quarter of the twentieth century, a Jesuit librarian, Edmond Desrochers, became a leader in the development of libraries in Quebec. The impact of his work was felt in professional associations, in the university training of librarians, and in the promotion of public, college, and university libraries for French speakers. Fauteux and Desrochers represent two generations of librarians who had an outstanding influence on the development of libraries in Quebec throughout the twentieth century.

From History to Library and Information Science: A Case Study of Archival Education at Wayne State University

By Joseph M. Turrini

pp. 358 - 380


This article provides a case study of the development of archival education at Wayne State University. The study investigates the emergence of an archival concentration within the Department of history and the transition of that concentration to a jointly run interdisciplinary program more closely aligned with the School of Library and Information Science. This progression demonstrates both the challenges and the benefits that a lack of independent institutional home had on the development of archival education, particularly in regards to curriculum development and administration. It argues that the transition has been especially difficult because different groups involved with the administration and growth of the archival curriculum had varying notions of the primary purpose of archival education.

This issue can be found on Project MUSE