New Issue: Volume 55 Number 2 (June 2020)

From Programming to Products: Softalk Magazine and the Rise of the Personal Computer User

by Laine Nooney, Kevin Driscoll, Kera Allen

p. 105-129


In the 1980s, the user emerged as a distinct class of personal computer owner motivated by instrumental goals rather than the exploratory pleasures of hackers and hobbyists. To understand the changing values and concerns of microcomputer owners, we analyzed 1,285 reader letters published in Softalk magazine between 1980 and 1984. During this period, a preoccupation with programming was displaced by discussions of software applications, products, and services. This transition illustrates the separation of users from hobbyists, reflecting changes in the software industry and attitudes toward amateurism, professionalization, gender, and expertise.

Laine Nooney is an assistant professor of media and information industries in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her research specializes in the social, labor, and economic history of the computer and video game industries.

Kevin Driscoll is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. He coauthored Minitel: Welcome to the Internet, and runs the Minitel Research Lab, an online archive dedicated to the French videotex platform.

Kera Allen is a PhD candidate in the School of History and Sociology at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on the history of computing, with an emphasis on the workplace, spreadsheet software, and transnational adoption of early personal computers.

Becoming Socialist: Print Culture and the Global Revolutionary Moment, 1880–1914

by Brendan Fay

p. 130-148


While socialist movements at the turn of the twentieth century emerged in distinctive contexts and faced unique challenges, they were bound together by the importance each attached to literacy and reading as the best means to awaken socialists' class consciousness and win new adherents. Through an examination of both flagship socialist newspapers and the memoir literature, this article traces the global emergence of socialist movements during the period 1880–1914, analyzing the role of both books and reading in the making of socialism, as well as government responses to the threat posed by socialist thought, from censorship and imprisonment to exile.

Brendan Fay is assistant professor in the School of Library & Information Management at Emporia State University. His work has appeared in the journals Library and Information History, Current Musicology, and Cultural History, and his first book, Classical Music in Weimar Germany: Culture and Politics before the Third Reich, was published in 2019 by Bloomsbury.

Deliberation or Manipulation? The Issue of Governmental Information in Sweden, 1969–1973

by Fredrik Norén

p. 149-168


As the first nation in the world to introduce a freedom of information policy, Sweden has attracted relatively little attention in the historiography of information. This article analyzes conflicting ideas of governmental information in public discussions in Sweden between 1969 and 1973. The purpose is to highlight alternative ideas that challenged the government's notion of governmental information. Findings show that the main conflict concerned the interpretation of the desired level of citizen participation and the degree of equality between bureaucracy and citizen, which also caused differing opinions of goals and methods related to governmental information.

Fredrik Norén has a PhD in media and communication. His research interests concern primarily two areas: governmental communication in the 1960s and 1970s and digital text analysis. Together with Emil Stjernholm, he has recently edited a volume on propaganda and information in the Swedish postwar era.

The Evolution of the Ethnographic Object Catalog of the Canadian Museum of History, Part 1: Collecting, Ordering, and Transforming Anthropological Knowledge in the Museum, ca. 1879–1960

by Heather Macneil, Jessica Lapp, Nadine Finlay

p. 169-191


This article reports on the first part of a two-part study that traces the evolution of the Canadian Museum of History's catalog of its ethnological collections from 1879 to the present day. Drawing on the insights of rhetorical genre studies, we examine how the catalog has been implicated in the formation and shaping of anthropological knowledge in the museum over the course of its history. In this first part, we focus on the ledgers that served as the catalog between 1879 and 1960 and examine how they participated in collecting, ordering, and transforming knowledge within the museum during that time period. In specific terms, we explore the sociohistorical context in which the ledger catalog emerged, the kinds of knowledge it communicated through its structure and content, and the particular understanding of Indigenous material culture as embodied knowledge it communicated and perpetuated over time.

Heather MacNeil is professor and associate dean of research in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on histories and theories of knowledge organization in archives and museums.

Jessica Lapp is a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on archival feminist protest collections and the types of labor that trigger their creation and use.

Nadine Finlay is a double master's candidate in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Her professional focus is in museum studies and archives, with an emphasis on Indigenous materials and the relationships between institutions and source communities.

Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency by Finn Brunton (review)

p. 192-194

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 272 pp. $26.95 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-6911-7949-0

Gili Vidan


[Digital Cash] follows the story of digital cash into a web of academic researchers, cryptography hobbyists, and technology entrepreneurs, beginning as early as the 1970s with developments in public-key cryptography. It is an important book because of its insistence that the cryptocurrency revolution was far less sudden than has been captured in the popular press discourse. These innovations, which place Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on such a historical trajectory, cannot so easily be dismissed as a solution in search of a problem or as simply the latest tech bubble. They are instead the most recent chapter in the entanglement between political economic dreams and cryptographic technologies and have actively shaped the digital age.

The Joy of Search: A Google Insider's Guide to Going beyond the Basics by Daniel M. Russell (review)

p. 194-195

Cambridge, MA: Mit Press, 2019. 336 pp. $29.95 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9-780-2620-4287-1

Cai Fan Du


This is not a book of facts, scientific knowledge, or scientific methods. Neither is it a set of instructions or principles dictating how to conduct web searches. Instead, The Joy of Search is a lively collection of snapshots from Dan Russell's daily search practice and observations. Holding the title of Senior Research Scientist for Search Quality and User Happiness at Google for about thirteen years, Russell tells his search anecdotes from a user's perspective in the real-life setting just like everyone else's. [...] What Russell has done is document the path of each search he completed. By unfolding these usually invisible processes happening in our computing devices every day, Russell shows readers that search techniques could be much more than they have thought.

Numbered Lives: Life and Death in Quantum Media by Jacqueline Wernimont (review)

p. 196-197

Cambridge, MA: Mit Press, 2019. 240 pp. $32.00 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-2620-3904-8

John Henry Adams


Jacqueline Wernimont's Numbered Lives: Life and Death in Quantum Media serves two main purposes. First, it analyzes the use of mathematics to mediate human behavior, and second, it examines how quantum media are not universal but rather take men (in particular, white Christian men) as their baseline. Literary or historical scholars interested in the history of quantum media will be interested in the book based purely on its subject matter, but the book is also particularly strong as an introduction to the problems inherent in data collection and as such is an essential book for students and scholars making their first forays into digital humanities.

The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 5, US Popular Print Culture to 1860 ed. by Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray (review)

p. 198-199

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. 736 pp. $135 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-1987-3481-9

Tracy Bonfitto


The most recently released volume of the nine-volume series The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture will likely serve as an excellent resource for scholars of print culture for years to come. The forty essays in the present volume, which is focused on print culture in the United States from that nation's colonial beginnings through its antebellum period, aim to provide "a people's history of popular print culture" (4). As such, the focus is on "imprints" in their many varied forms, that is, essentially anything a press might produce (5). The volume's authors contextualize reading cultures within their broader interaction with the written word, including, for example, oral performances and larger social, production, and circulation environments, as well as the ways in which nonliterate populations have interacted with and been affected by print. The resulting volume is a broad-reaching resource that greatly contributes to our understanding of popular print culture even as it opens innumerable paths for further research.

The full issue can be found on Project Muse