SHOT 2009 in Pittsburgh

SHOT – an acronym for Society of the History of Technology – held its annual meeting in Pittsburg from Oct. 15-18. The last day was dedicated to the late professor of history at Princeton Mike Mahoney who passed away last year. In the last decades he has done a tremendous effort to increase the interest in history of computing. [His excellent papers can be downloaded from his webpage.]

A full day with four sessions focussing exclusively on history of computers was organized by SIGCIS [Special Interest Group on Computers, Information, and Society]. In the first, the three distinguished historians Bill Aspray, University of Texas at Austin, Thomas Haigh, University of Milwaukee, and Gerard Alberts, University of Amsterdam addressed various aspects of Mahoney’s life and work.

Aspray presented a personal account of Mahoney – at times moving, at times stunning, at times humourous – while Haigh focussed on the central contributions of Mahoney. It was interesting to see that Haigh had selected the same three papers out of Mahoney’s 19 papers on computer history as I had in my presentation “User Interface History – a Mahoneyan Perspective”.  In addition, Haigh used several of the same citations as I, for example regarding the state-of-art in history of computing in 1988: “There historians stand before the daunting complexity of a subject that has grown exponentially in size and variety, looking not so much like an unchartered ocean as like a trackless jungle. We pace on the edge, pondering where to cut in.” This quote describes precisely my situation in user interface history in 2009!

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