Charles Babbage Institute for Computing, Information, and Culture—A Major Interdisciplinary Turn

Jeffrey R. Yost, David Walden
2021 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing  
W hat is in a name (change)? A great deal if it reflects an institutional transformation, and a revised and extended set of goals, values, and commitments. In early 2020, the Charles Babbage Institute for the History of IT became the Charles Babbage Institute for Computing, Information, and Culture. This new full name reflects a greater interdisciplinary commitment in our core mission. Through our research, facilitating the research of other people (CBI archives users, fellows, travel grant
more » ... pients), and disseminating research (in publications, editing, workshops, symposia), CBI is leading and partnering to lead the study and understanding of computing globally. The change is not backing away from history, but reflects our embrace of the many valuable ways that content, method, and theory in sociology, STS, anthropology, social informatics, communication, geography, and policy and media studies informs and enriches our comprehension of the recent and more distant past (and what historical perspective adds to these fields. CBI held an online symposium "Just Code: Power, Inequality, and the Political Economy of IT," on October 23 and 24, 2020. I organized the event with Prof. Gerardo Con Diaz of the University of California, Davis and the Annals EIC. The symposium focused on how code-construed broadly, from software routines to bodies of law and policy-structures and reinforces power relations. It explored the ways that individuals and institutions use software, algorithms, computerized systems, and associated law, policy, and practice to establish, legitimize, and reinforce widespread social, material, commercial, and cultural inequalities and power imbalances. The response to the call for papers was tremendous and the resulting highly competitive program had a notable and diverse group of top interdisciplinary scholars from many standout universities worldwide. Most of the talks focused on race, ethnicity, gender, class, disability, and intersectionality and the ways computing/software/networking fosters and/or extends inequalities. Among the topics and themes explored were databases, AI and predictive policing; platforms, power, and resistance in China; postcolonial computing in India; surveillance capitalism; political economy and IT in Brazil; coding in Mexico; coding education; gender and labor; computing and psychopathology; character cultures in Japan; and landscape, water, algorithms, AI, and environmental racism. Just Code was a great success by all measures. In our postevent survey (65 responses) the intellectual content averaged 4.7 of 5.0, with more than 75% rating it excellent. We were above 4.5 in all categories. The event was attended by 345 people (from more than two dozen countries) with the median attendance time of 5 to 7 hours of the 12-hour total, and more than a quarter attending all or nearly all 12 hours, all during a devastating and worsening global pandemic. As a one-time thematic scholarly symposium, it had the largest attendance of a multiday event that I am aware of in the 100-year history of science or 70-year history of technology. Con and I will edit a Just Code volume of revised papers from the event to be published by a leading university press. CBI is also advancing the interdisciplinary study of computing through editing. In June 2020, Curator of Manuscripts/Archivist Amanda Wick and I launched a new electronic journal, Interfaces: Essays and Reviews in Computing and Culture. It 1058-6180 ß 2021 IEEE
doi:10.1109/mahc.2021.3050697 fatcat:nztao3ox65he3jchsyqpbrdryy