Information History: A Subject in Search of an Identity
Dr. Alistair Black
Professor, ISchool at Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Thursday, April 24, 2014
3:00 - 4:30 pm
UWM Union 181
2200 E Kenwood Blvd • Milwaukee, WI 53211
In response to the arrival of what some see as a new age, a digital age, historians have begun to study its roots, antecedents, and pre-computer heritage. The past is replete with the introduction, demise, and transformation of systems of information (not to be confused with the narrower computer-mediated world of information systems). The history of systems of information, which for digestibility we can be label "information history," is deficient in neither scale nor scope. Systems of information have played a critical role in major developments in human organization and thinking, including: the transition to, and subsequent evolution of, capitalism; the growth of the modern, nation-state; the rise of modernity, science, and the public sphere; and the origins and spread of imperialism. Given the momentous importance of systems of information in history, it is curious that the engineering and shaping of information history “as a subject” has mostly occurred in the modestly-sized domain of education for information professionalism. Yet information historians exist in a wide range of disciplines, even if they are not conscious of such an identity. This fractured identity is detectable in attempting to categorize some of my own “information history” research, an example of which will be provided in the form of the history of the staff newsletter and magazine in corporations and other organizations in the first half of the twentieth century. Such a topic could arguably find a home in a number of disciplines, something that prompts consideration of the future of history in i-Schools.