Volume 55 Issue 3 (October 2020)

Arguing against Graphic Ambivalence: What Earth Modeling Reveals about Visualization in Scientific Computing

by Nicole Sansone Ruiz

p. 204-225


Computation in the sciences does not sufficiently account for aesthetics, which prevents information from being corroborated. This argument is made through a comparison between virtual earth modeling communities and epistemic culture and an elaboration on modeling methods as exemplary of the negotiations between scholarly knowledge, aesthetics, and computer resources necessary for visualization. The salience of these negotiations to institutionalized epistemic practice is reinforced through three histories of visualization in the sciences: computation in ecology, empirical modeling and physically based rendering, and visualization in scientific computing. The article flags the significance of this argument for its role in shaping public policy.

Nicole Sansone Ruiz lectures on public policy, art history, and cultural studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Fairfield University. Her current research focuses on the techne of immigration policy and algorithmic governance. She received her PhD in cultural studies from Goldsmiths, University of London.

The Evolution of the Ethnographic Object Catalog of the Canadian Museum of History, Part 2:  Systematizing, Communicating, and Reconciling Anthropological Knowledge in the Museum, ca. 1960–2018

by Heather MacNeil, Jessica Lapp, and Nadine Finlay

p. 226-251


This article reports on the second part of a two-part study tracing 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 second part, we trace the catalog’s evolution from internal management tool to public access tool between 1960 and 2018 and examine how it participated in the actions of systematizing, communicating, and reconciling knowledge within the museum during that time period.

Heather MacNeil is a professor 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.

Creating the Twentieth-Century Literary Archives: A Short History of the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo

by Alison Fraser

p. 252-270


This article describes the unfolding idea of the literary archival collection through the early history of the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo (UB). The influence of founder Charles Abbott’s innovative idea on special collections libraries, literary study and pedagogy, and book history helped to change these fields in dramatic and unforeseen ways, most provocatively by insisting that materials that were once assumed by librarians, scholars, and university administrators to be trash had the potential to be some of the most valuable artifacts for scholarly pursuit and collegiate education. The Poetry Collection was assembled from the efforts of its staff and the cooperation of its authors rather than from the tastes of an individual collector, demonstrating what it means for an institutional repository to design and compile its own collection democratically.

Alison Fraser, PhD, is assistant curator of the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo. She is the editor of The Collages of Helen Adam and a junior fellow of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

Politics, Privilege, and the Records of the Presidency

by Bradley J. Wiles

p. 271-293


The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 established public ownership over records created by the executive branch to ensure permanent preservation of historically valuable materials. The law resulted from an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis spurred by the Nixon administration’s assertion of executive privilege during the Watergate investigations, a series of events that finds many similarities in the current Trump administration’s efforts to control records and information it produces. This article examines the politicization of presidential records in the intervening decades, particularly the problematic relationship between the PRA, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and executive privilege in shaping the historical record.

Bradley J. Wiles is a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies. Wiles has over a decade of experience in library and archives administration. His research interests include the social and political dimensions of archives and the sustainability of cultural institutions.

How We Became Our Data:  A Genealogy of the Informational Person by Colin Koopman (review)

p. 294-296

How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person
by Colin Koopman
PAPERBACK, $30.00.
ISBN 978-0-226-62658-1

Rebecka Taves Sheffield


Colin Koopman’s How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person offers a sustained critique of deterministic thinking. Writing in the tradition of a critical history of technology, Koopman adopts Foucault’s genealogical method to explore the conditions that aided in the creation of information theory. To do this, he traces the process of how we have become “inscribed, processed, and reproduced as subjects of data,” or what he calls “informational persons” (4). This process began, Koopman argues, in the late nineteenth century when certain practices and institutions attached personal data to individuals that they, in turn, reattached to themselves as means of identification, social location, and privilege. The implication of becoming informational persons is that we cannot function in an increasingly bureaucratic society unless we are informational. Bureaucracy, Koopman shows, can only address us as the data that we have become. And those data and the processes by which they are collected, ascribed, and reascribed are value-laden practices.

Documentarity:  Evidence, Ontology, and Inscription by Ronald E. Day (review)

p. 296-297

Documentarity: Evidence, Ontology, and Inscription
by Ronald E. Day
MIT PRESS, 2019, 200 PP.
PAPERBACK, $35.00.
ISBN 978-0-262-04320-5

Brian Justie


A book about the philosophy of evidence should be best evaluated by taking stock of the evidence it presents in support of its argument. Ronald E. Day’s newest manuscript, his third installment in a series on the metaphysics of information, compiles a sprawling docket of evidence striking in its scope and variety. Like a steadfast detective, Day follows promising leads and gathers clues from all corners of the academic humanities, weaving together a convincing case about the unsteady ontological identity of information. But while Day deftly dances between comparative literature, the philosophy of language, critical animal studies, human rights law, semiotics, science and technology studies, art history, and phenomenology, there is relatively little hand-holding offered along the way. To this end, Documentarity is an ambitiously and holistically conceived book clearly driven by the inclinations of a generalist, but it is a book whose constituent parts will likely find greatest resonance with the domain specialist already steeped in one of the many distinctive discourses Day engages across each chapter. Ironically, however, this lightest of criticisms accords nicely with Day’s overarching argument regarding our shifting informational paradigms, which have tended to increasingly privilege “powerful particulars” as the catalyst of meaning-making, as opposed to universal, transcendent, or essentialist frameworks (30).

Reluctant Power:  Networks, Corporations, and the Struggle for Global Governance in the Early 20th Century by Rita Zajácz (review)

p. 298-299

Reluctant Power: Networks, Corporations, and the Struggle for Global Governance in the Early 20th Century
by Rita Zajácz
MIT PRESS, 2019, 392 PP.
HARDCOVER, $40.00.
ISBN 978-0-262-04261-1

Jasmine E. McNealy


Rita Zajácz's Reluctant Power: Networks, Corporations, and the Struggle for Global Governance in the Early 20th Century is a deep examination of the historical roots and political economy of communications and communication policy. Using archival records and multidisciplinary research, Zajácz challenges our understandings of communications history, the major players, and the questions fundamental to the communications network struggles between 1899 and 1934. In doing so, she explicates matters of foreign policy, networks, network governance, and the multinational corporation (MNC), among other significant topics. Of particular importance is Zajácz’s theory of network control.