Volume 54 Number 3 (November 2019)

Collecting as Routine Human Behavior: Personal Identity and Control in the Material and Digital World

by Andrew Dillon

p. 255-280


The human desire to collect objects is long recognized in historical and cultural studies where emphasis has been placed on memory institutions and their role in public life. Individual collecting, however, has been addressed primarily through the lens of wealthy obsessives or hoarders. Yet between these extremes, an interdisciplinary research literature has emerged since the late decades of the twentieth century that moves our understanding and focus from the psychoanalytic study of inner drives to the empirical study of objects in identity presentation and group membership. The normalization of collecting as a human activity offers a richer understanding of our relationship to objects through time and can accommodate the emergence of digital collectibles in contemporary studies. A model of collecting is presented that treats the collecting process as normal, extended, and representative of an individual's lived experience.

Andrew Dillon is the V. M. Daniel Regents Professor of Information Science and former dean at the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches and conducts research on human-centered design and the emerging information world.

A Tale of Two Networks: The Bell Telephone System and the Meaning of "Information," 1947–1968

by Emily Goodmann

p. 281-310


This article explores a discursive debate that occurred during the mid-twentieth century among telephone users, institutional actors at Bell Telephone and American Telephone & Telegraph, and Bell Labs' engineers regarding the meaning of the term "information." Telephone subscribers' use of telephone directory formats, so-called misuse of the information operator, and resistance to all-number calling clashed with telephone system engineers' definitions of information. This article argues that the telephone system rather than computing technologies served as a primary technological site of negotiation wherein a nonexpert definition of "information" was conceived by the general public during the twentieth century.

Emily Goodmann is an assistant professor of communication at Clarke University. Her research focuses on the history of the telephone directory, network data, and information during the twentieth century. She holds a PhD in media, technology, and society from Northwestern University.

"Hemisphere Training": Exporting the Psychological Self at the Inter-American Popular Information Program

by Rob Aitken

p. 311-341


This article examines the Inter-American Popular Information Program (IIP), a midcentury attempt to apply a set of psychological techniques in mass communication practices oriented to poor and "illiterate" populations in Central and South America. I argue that this program offers an instructive contrast to conventional accounts of social reconstruction and of the history of the "social" as an analytical category. These conventional accounts often frame postwar order narrowly as a grand political-economic compromise in which the "social" is conflated with the space of domestic social stability or a reified national space. The case of the IIP, however, emphasizes the multiplicity of ways—and geographies—in which the "social purpose" of world order was imagined especially in colonial and postcolonial settings. For the IIP, "social stability" was not to be achieved through the language of social security or domestic intervention but through the construction of a particular kind of homology between self and a world order, the construction of psychological selves "fit" for the requirements of a new internationalizing world order. Drawing upon archival records, this article argues for the importance of more complex and diverse accounts of postwar order and the social purposes in which it was implicated.

Rob Aitken is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. His research interests lie at the intersection of international political economy, cultural studies, and governmentality. His most recent book is Fringe Finance: Crossing and Contesting the Borders of Global Finance.

The Literature of American Library History, 2016–2017

by Edward A. Goedeken

p. 342-380


This biennial review of the writings on the history of libraries, librarianship, and information surveys about two hundred publications that were published in 2016 and 2017. The essay is divided into a number of sections, including academic and public libraries, biography, technical services, and the history of reading and publishing. It also contains a brief list of theses and dissertations that were completed in 2016 and 2017.

Edward A. Goedeken is professor of library science and collections coordinator at the Iowa State University Library. Over the past twenty years he has maintained an ongoing bibliography of library history scholarship and every two years crafts a review essay for Information & Culture on the most recent writings in this discipline.

The Poem Electric: Technology and the Lyric by Seth Perlow (review)

p. 381-384

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 296 pp. $27.00 (paper)
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0366-4

Tanya Clement


Seth Perlow's book The Poem Electric: Technology and the Lyric is structured through oppositions and resistances: four main chapters pose characteristics of lyric poetry (namely, affect, chance, anonymity, and improvisation) in contrast to rationalism, knowledge, and information. Perlow identifies these oppositions by exploring technologies associated with four literary subperiods: romanticism and realism, modernism, postmodernism, and the Beat generation. The technologies that he considers are at times anachronistic to the poets and poetry writing that are the main subjects of each chapter, but the relationships he draws between poem, poet, and technology illustrate either the way a poet has used a technology or a scholar has used a technology to better understand a poet and her poetry.

IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon by James Cortada (review)

p. 384-386

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019. 752 pp. $45.00 (cloth)
ISBN: 978-0-262-03944-4

Jillian Foley


James W. Cortada's newly released book, IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon, is a behemoth of a book for a behemoth of a company. Over the course of 752 pages, Cortada, a technology historian who also had a long career at IBM himself, chronicles the century-pluslong span of a company that once dominated American business. As a narrative history of a sprawling business, the book succeeds, with Cortada weaving in scholarly historiographical debates and analysis as relevant throughout the book. The book is massive and exhaustively researched, but not difficult to read. Cortada's prose is straightforward and transparent, despite occasional awkward phrasing and a tendency to place perfectly ordinary words or phrases in quotes for no apparent reason. It's certainly accessible to undergraduates and nonscholarly audiences.


The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor by Jennifer Rhee (review)

p. 386-389

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 240 pp. $108.00 (cloth), $27.00 (paper)
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0298-8

Leah Horgan


We exist in a moment where attempts to know and manage the human through automated and predictive technologies are deployed at every turn and in a dangerously experimental fashion. In The Robotic Imaginary, Jennifer Rhee rejects the givenness of the human, the notion that the human is knowable or inherently recognizable. From the Turing test onward, capturing and translating human essence—discussed in the book as anthropomorphizing—became a seemingly unassailable pillar of robotic and AI development. Moves to anthropomorphize collapse "humans and machines at the site of intelligence" (10) while extending or reshaping the boundaries of what can be considered human. Crucially, the humanizing of robots comes at the expense of those whose humanity is not familiar to machine makers and their machines. With a focus on gender and race, Rhee asks of the robotic imaginary: "Who gets humanized, and how? Who gets dehumanized, and why?" (11).

The Politics of Mass Digitization by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup (review)

p. 389-391

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018. 200 pp. $35.00
ISBN: 978-0-2620-3901-7

Marc Kosciejew


The defining concept of our time is mass digitization. The world of cultural memory, for instance, has become consumed with it. Diverse kinds of cultural memory collections are being digitized on industrial scales for diverse political and cultural purposes of access, preservation, research, control, and use. These mass digitization projects, however, are not neutral technical endeavors or processes, nor are they simple continuations of existing cultural memory politics or practices. These projects instead are new sociopolitical and sociotechnical phenomena that are altering the politics of cultural memory.

Raymond Klibansky and the Warburg Library Network: Intellectual Peregrinations from Hamburg to London and Montreal ed. by Philippe Despoix and Jillian Tomm (review)

p. 391-393

Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2018. 360 pp. $49.95 CAD (cloth), $44.95 CAD (ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7735-5463-4

David B. Levy


This excellent book draws extensively on published and archival unpublished sources (found in repositories such as the Warburg Institute Archive in London, the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, and McGill University), including correspondence, memories, and diaries, concerning the Warburg library known as the Kulturwissenshaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (KBW), which was founded by Aby Warburg in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1920s. It shows how the KBW fostered intellectual exchange, transmission, and transformation in the fields of art, myth, religion, medicine, philosophy, intellectual history, and the classics. It takes the reader on a journey into almost half a century of intellectual life at one of the most important cultural research organizations. The essays explore the history of the KBW as a vital cultural institution and the personal relationships of the researchers associated with this institution. The book includes the intellectual peregrinations and dynamics of the network of scholars associated with this institution, particularly the intellectual Raymond Klibansky (1905–2005), who embodied prewar standards of European learning. Klibansky's "magnetic character" (99) also charmed those who came into his orbit, such as scholars at Oxford (84).

Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing by Rachel Plotnick (review)

p. 394-395

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018. 424 pp. $35.00 (cloth)
ISBN: 978-0-2620-3823-2

Hannes Mandel


The title of Rachel Plotnick's book itself manages to push several buttons at once. Besides the felicitous main title, the subtitle in particular flicks on one line of associations after the other, like a series of street lights, if you will. Converging at the fuse box that is Plotnick's book, they make not only for an evocative book title but also for an epistemological thesis: much can be learned and understood about modern culture and society by studying the functionality of its buttons.

Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music by Maria Eriksson, Rasmus Fleischer, Anna Johansson, et al. (review)

p. 396-398

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019. 288 pp. $19.95 (paper)
ISBN: 978-0-2620-3890-4

Nick Seaver


Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music is an ambitious, wide-ranging, and mistitled book. Studying firms like Spotify is notoriously challenging: it is practically impossible for researchers (especially those with critical orientations) to gain access to the code or the offices that we might envision as the "insides" of such organizations. The present book is no exception: in spite of a large, prestigious grant from the Swedish government, the authors found their early entreaties to Spotify rebuffed and ignored (1, 182). Undaunted, they embraced what they call an "attitude of outsideness" (190), reframing their lack of access as a virtue, avoiding "a formal procedure of gatekeeper introduction" that, they claim, "would have limited and biased the research" (2). The result is a methodological commitment to exteriority, which pays off in the form of delightfully inventive methods that reimagine the nature of the thing we call Spotify. Thus, if I suggest that this book should be subtitled "Outside the Black Box," it is no insult: its greatest contribution may be demonstrating how important the "outside" is both to Spotify's functioning and to what we understand it to be.

The Scientific Journal: Authorship and the Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century by Alex Csiszar (review)

p. 398-400

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. 368 pp. $45.00 (cloth)
ISBN: 978-0-226-55323-8

Jonathan Tennant


Many scholars might like to believe the notion that scientific research and publishing are both divorced from the messy world of politics. They might also like to believe that scholarly publishing is largely immutable and that the way things are is the way things have always been. The reality, however, could not be further from the truth. In The Scientific Journal: Authorship and Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century, Alex Csiszar takes us on a grand tour of the intersection between politics and scholarly communication over a crucial period in the recent history of western Europe. This fascinating past reveals much about how we arrived at the present state, where scandal, political drama, and scientific egos play prominent parts in the complex evolution of the publishing press. Each page contains eyebrow-raising and illuminating tales that demonstrate just how important an academic understanding of the history of scholarship is. At a time when just about every aspect of scholarly publishing is experiencing strong reforms, this book could not be better timed to help us recognize just how adaptable this fragile ecosystem can be.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (review)

p. 400-402

New York: Abrams, 2019. 432 pp. $27.00 (cloth)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-2907-2

Christine T. Wolf


Invisible Women is an extensively researched new monograph by Caroline Criado Perez on gender data gaps, far-reaching gaps in data collection practices across domains, industries, and geographies that render the experience of women invisible and subsumed in the "male default." A feminist activist and journalist, Criado Perez sets out an ambitious program for the book, which she describes as "an exposé of how the gender data gap harms women when life proceeds, more or less as normal. . . . Invisible Women is a call for change. . . . It's time for a change in perspective. It's time for women to be seen" (25). This timely and compelling book offers an impressive array of empirical cases that demonstrate the prevalence of gender data gaps—and the harm they make possible.

The full issue can be found on Project Muse