Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 542.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2003 07:10:20 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: success forgets
The history of recent science and technology is a new field with a
fascinating set of historiographical problems, a vigorous, multifaceted
research project underway at MIT (http://hrst.mit.edu/) and an upcoming
conference, "The New Web of History"
(http://hrst.mit.edu/hrs/public/conference/). This activity is very much of
concern for us -- we share several of the problems, and the particular use
of the Web by the MIT project is worth paying close attention to.
From what would appear to be the major book in this new field I quote the
following, about the effects of progress-talk. It could be extended, I
think, to the focus on success in the applications of computing, which are
all very recent. And it could be related -- thoughts on this also most
to the ancient Greek idea of hybris.
"The process of forgetting the past is aided by the way our language is
constructed and how we domesticate human-made artefacts with cultural
metaphors like progress. On the basis of my experience working on a
commissioned history of the electrification of Iceland I would argue that
progress talk in all of its forms is a major reason for the difficulty one
encounters when one tries to unearth the recent technoscientific past;
progress talk induces forgetfulness. Gillian Beer notes: 'One of the most
remarkable powers of the human mind less often commented on than its power
to proliferate senses is its power to exclude, or suppress, feasible
meanings'. Progress with its deterministic connotations enshrines the
present at the cost of the past and naturalizes the omnipresent
technological environment in which we live. Here one might extend a concept
which Ian Hacking has advanced and think of the styles of reasoning that
accompany technological systems and contribute to their self-authenticating
character. Styles of reasoning are also styles of forgetting."
Skuli Sigurdsson, "Electric Memories and Progressive Forgetting", in Thomas
Soderqvist, ed., The Historiography of Contemporary Science and Technology.
Studies in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, ed. John Krige.
Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997: 130.
Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 || email@example.com
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