16.542 success forgets

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Mar 10 2003 - 02:24:43 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 542.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2003 07:10:20 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             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
    welcome --
    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 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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