CBI Research Fellows' Authored/Edited Books

For more than three decades, three of our Senior Research Fellows Prof. William Aspray, Prof. Sir David Nye (Knighted by Danish Crown), and Dr. Jim Cortada have been publishing books, and our fourth, MIT’s Prof. & Dir. Jennifer Light, has been doing so for more than a decade and a half. These Sr. Fellows’ early books are classics in the history of technology and information technology, Aspray’s John Von Neumann and the Origin of Modern Computing (MIT Press, 1990); Nye’s Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1980-1940 (MIT Press, 1990), and Cortada’s Before the Computer IBM, NCR, Burroughs, & Remington Rand & the Industry They Created, 1865-1956 (Princeton University Press, 1993). Aspray’s book is unparalleled as a biographically oriented, intellectual history of digital computing. Cortada’s book provided a critical understanding of the office machine industry and the organizational and technological continuities into computer industry. Nye’s book was monumental in transforming our understanding of electricity, complementing Thomas P. Hughes very different focus on politics and systems, in Networks of Power… (MIT Press, 1993), to understand electricity’s social history, cultural history, and consumption. It and Jennifer Light’s From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005) are among my favorite books in the history of technology.

These four fellows, since their early books above, have published many tremendous works—literally dozens, too many to mention. I, however, will call attention to just a few before turning to discuss in greater depth two very recent books by our fellows. Jim Cortada’s The Digital Hand trilogy and The Digital Flood (Oxford University Press) provided rich surveys of user industries and segments of the economy, and diffusion of digital computing globally, and his volume with Alfred Chandler A Nation Transformed by Information is a fantastic book also (all Oxford University Press 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2000, respectively). Martin Campbell-Kelly and Bill Aspray’s Computer: A History of the Information Machine (Basic Books, 1996) is a stellar textbook, the most assigned work in history of computing worldwide with over 50,000 copies sold in various editions. I (along with Nathan Ensmenger) was lucky enough to become a co-author on its 3rd edition, and again on its 4th, which Martin, Bill, Con Diaz, Honghong Tinn and I are finishing up now.

Our first two Tomash Fellows Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi teamed to design and recruit an impressive team of authors (feel fortunate to be included) on this wonderful volume, The Internet and American Business (MIT Press, 2007). Daniel Allen and Jennifer Light, likewise, brought together a great group for From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age (University of Chicago Press, 2015). I particularly like the depth of understanding Allen, Light, and chapters authors brought to the understanding of “slactivism,” online versus robust and deep political activism (whether offline or on).

I will turn now to two new books with 2022 imprints, one out for months now by Bill Aspray and literally hot off the press in May 2022 by David Nye. William Aspray’s edited volume Information Issues for Older Americans is path-breaking scholarship on a social group often ignored in social history, especially in America, elderly people. Aspray assembled a talented team of top authors from leading information schools as authors for this book. They explore devices, domains, and dimension of our digital world and older American’s information seeking strategies in navigating the continuously changing technology of our digital world. The topics and themes are wide, ranging from genealogy and health insurance literacy to AARP and competitors (Aspray’s chapter) and leveraging information experience in our own minds. It is a book on the contemporary environment, but one also rich in recognizing historical contexts and change over time. The book examines new technologies as well as traditional information institutions such as social clubs, libraries, and museums. More broadly, it is an important reminder that social history and especially social history of technology should include older people, along with the important categories of race, class, gender, disability, and intersections.

David Nye followed his award-winning Electrifying America, with a wide range of books contributing to the social, cultural, and intellectual history of technology—from image worlds and blackouts to assembly lines, digital humanities and much more. After Electrifying America, perhaps my favorite book of David’s is American Technological Sublime. In this book Nye creatively proposes the sublime itself has a history. He explores how sublime experiences are emotional configurations emerging from new social and technological conditions, where newer version displace older versions over time.

Nye has just published a new book, Seven Sublimes (MIT Press, 2022), which revisits and expands upon this important theme. In it he focuses on seven forms of the sublime: natural, technological, disastrous, martial, intangible, digital, and environmental. Richly exploring the digital sublime, and importantly, understanding it within the context of other sublimes contributes fundamentally our understanding and placement of digital history within larger social, environmental, and cultural and intellectual histories.

I was also privileged to receive an advanced manuscript copy of a wonderful, forthcoming book by William Aspray and James W. Cortada, Authenticity: Understanding Misinformation Through the Study of Heritage Tourism, which will be out later this year and I will be publishing a short article on it in the next Bits & Bytes.

Jeffrey Yost

Twtr: @JustCodeCulture


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