History Workshop

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The history workshop

Ben's Paper

a draft syllabus on new media and history

Monday, approximately 3:00, Main room (Austin East)


Bibliography and References

Add your favorite works to our HISTORY BIBLIOGRAPHY (if appropriate, followed by a brief description)

1. Siegert, Bernhard. Passage des Digitalen (in German), Brinkmann U. Bose, 2003. A brilliant deep history of digits, from 16c. bureaucracy in Spain to Leibnitz, to 1900. European media history.

2. Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Writing Science), Stanford UP, 1999. Close reading of early twentieth-century European media history, from the weaponry implicit in cameras to the feminine gender of typewriters. European media history.

3. Starr, Paul. The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Modern Communication. Basic Books, 2005. The post-office, the press, and the telegraph as constitutive moments in understanding the political stance of America toward media. American media history.

4. Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, U of Chicago P, 2006. History of computer social movements in 1960-1990. Bay Area media history.

5. Johns, Adrian. “Intellectual Property and the Nature of Science,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2-3. (2006), pp. 145-164. Three mid-20th century thinkers (Arnold Plant, Michael Polanyi, Norbert Weiner) write against patents. (The whole CS issue is devoted to critical IP issues. Also watch for Johns' forthcoming book on history of piracy.) Intellectual patent history.

6. Debora L. Spar, Ruling the Waves, Harcourt, 2001. History of the cycle of (1)new technology, (2) adventurers, pirats and early visionary entrepeneurs, (3) commercialization and (4) call on government to protect established interests.

7. Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom. Harvard University Press, 1983. A historical plea for a stress of freedom of speech in the context of new communication technologies.

8. Marvin, Carolyn, When old technologies were new: Thinking about electronic communication in the 19th Century. Oxford UP, 1990. Great attention to women's uses of "old" technology like phones.

9. Innis, Harold. Empire and Communications (1950) and The Bias of Communication (1951). Read the conclusions to these books first, and they will make a whole lot more sense (for the first time reader). Innis is a Canadian God that we all must bow down to...  :-)

10. Warner, Michael. _The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America_. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Very good.

11. Alford, William P. _To Steal a Book Is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization_ (Stanford University Press 1995). [Also: “Don’t Stop Thinking About... Yesterday: Why There was No Indigenous Counterpart to Intellectual Property Law in Imperial China.” 7 J. Chinese Law 3 (1993).]

12. Bracha, Oren. Owning ideas: A History of Anglo-American Intellectual Property (Thesis (S.J.D.)--Harvard Law School, 2005).

13. Hesse, Carla. “The Rise of Intellectual Property, 700 B.C.--A.D. 2000: an Idea in the Balance.” _Daedalus_ (Spring 2002): 26-45.

14. Rose, Mark. _Authors and Owners: The Invention of copyright_ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

Note: For those interested in new media history, please see also literature review section of linked paper above.

For those interested in (playful) history of piracy

15. Bey, Hakim. /T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone./

16. Fuller, Buckminster. /Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth/, cf. ch. 2 esp, 1970.

Note: See also Bodo's reading list on piracy history: http://www.warsystems.hu/?p=67

Draft Conference Proposal


(Working title #2: paths untaken and histories untaken: what history of the internet and intellectual property has to offer the digital age)


With 2008 marking the 10th anniversary of the Berkman Center, the 40th anniversary of the contracting of ARPANET (1968), and almost the 300th anniversary of the Statute of Anne (1709/10), we propose a timely conference devoted to offering a forum for showcasing work loosely triangulated within the history of these three institutions. Such a conference would offer a much-needed, if not altogether unique, forum for the collaboration of top scholars and students interested in sharpening, sobering, and enriching debate on present-day copyright and related conundrums through the lens of history. The driving theme—from 'whence' to 'whither' intellectual property—invites work attempting to trace unexpected arcs of the historically understudied topic before and during the internet. Specifically, we hope history will help open the debate to a whole horizon of fields capable of rethinking the internet and intellectual property not only as an unregulated medium and a corresponding set of regulatory apparatuses but, most broadly, as multifaceted means for reorganizing and coordinating human creativity, control, and meaning.

The framing question of the conference “why history?” comes with many answers and at least one major admission. To start with the latter: it is not, as George Santayana said, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it but that those who do history well are condemned to admit its ambiguity. In fact a craft of drafts, which gets rewritten—according to late historian Ken Cmiel at least—every 20 years or so, history gives us no assurances about avoiding repeating the past. It may be at best a tool for telling us how little we know about ourselves.

Nevertheless, consider in balance a few possible answers to the vexing question “why history?”: one, because revisiting ignored elements of our own contingent genealogy can shake long-held assumptions, contextualize change, and challenge complacencies that may otherwise linger. Knowing what we do not know is a strength, a weapon against sides too convinced of their own lineage and right to being right. Since in terms of historical stature the internet is an embryo to intellectual property's aged tradition, those lacking the brute force of centuries of supposedly accepted convention should turn to the much older stream bed of new media history for insight into challenging those conventions and toward considering a fuller spread of options presented by our own present moments for change (“conjunctural" or "constitutive” moments).

Why history? Two, because it occupies a rare kind of intellectual commons—a concern for what came before—shared among otherwise isolated fields. As all academic disciplines must make some claim to identify change or affirm continuity, the faded remnants of this basic act of history pops up thinly veiled in many templates for scholarship. Even the most streamlined study gestures--with the help of literature reviews, panel data, or precedent--toward satisfying the human curiosity for change. Not only do most fields employ remnants of historical study, many fields have the historical subfields themselves in need of a common forum (legal history, media history, art history, etc.). History then sets a broad, open stage for scholarly performance from all kinds of disciplinary conversation. As the backdrop to much academia, history also offers the best (i.e., perhaps only) response to the moving-target problem possessing internet studies (i.e. we must study the internet historically to understand its own transformation from apples to oranges: try to understand change without a time axis, we dare even post-Einsteinian physicists).

Why history? Three, because it lets us tell stories that set the tone and trajectory for thinking about such subjects in the future. By this we mean not so much that history lets us peer into the future but that it lets us influence the way others in the future will think about us. The stories we tell about others will narrate those told about us. In a strong sense, history must exist for its own sake.

Why history? Lastly, because history is fun—and the few that agree are invited to take part in the festivities.


Is precedent itself an importantly impoverished form of history? A legal citation style that privileges the first and most recent cases excludes de facto from practical consideration the very 'midstream' legislative debate (everything inbetween the bookend cases) most likely to suggest constitutive moments. We write about law with stylistic habits costly to other thinkable historical alternatives. In terms of trying to find thinkable historical alternatives, the two least useful case studies may in fact be the earliest case, which, since it has no precedent itself, can shed little light on how to shift policy midstream and the most recent case, which is often too close to suggest fresh alternatives. (Historical freshness lies in the places least visited.) Rehabilitate the historical middle.

History may in fact be the /best worst/ predictor of the future, as at least we know historical data cannot directly apply to the future. History as a negative check on the future has a useful certainty to its uncertainty.

Peter Drahos says that philosophy depends on history—without it philosophy is lost in abstraction. Yet it pretty much seems the case that without philosophy, most argument is empty. Activism by argument (i.e. scholarship?) demands historical understanding.

The idea of internet and history asks a lot of its students: first, a good sense of humor, second, a sophisticated sense for fact as well as a supple imagination for possibility (making historical alternatives thinkable), and third, a scientific skepticism that suspects even (especially?) its own method and a broad literacy at home in certain uncertainties.

However under-discussed, one part of what’s so new about the internet is that it’s just new. As Yochai Benkler put it at the end of public lecture last year, these issues are important because ‘it is now.’ Novelty—and its conjunctural moments—is perhaps the most ancient of human fascinations, and actually suggests questions about the stakes of history writing generally: since technologies are new before they are old, the history of new technologies (like the internet today, or the graphite pencil in 1600) is actually older than the history of old technologies. Can the new really be older than the old? (At least its history can be.) This too suggests that the new ideas about intellectual property we are so desperately looking for may be found in the old records of change. Novelty as a leading, or at least traceable, idea in media history.

What could we study? Pre-digital networks for source material to help rethink economic conventions about creative production? Histories of piracy and literacy (British novels in America, Windows in Romania: both increased media literacy)? Histories of the signature, the honorarium, or the certificate as a legal means of ensuring author authenticity? What about font homogenization of foreign languages in domain names? What the founding fathers did (or didn’t) say about IP—and how may that affect our public debate on the subject? What does Chinese or Soviet history have to tell us about creative cultures burdened by sets of creativity restraints other than today’s IP? What about a tracing of the flattening of the term ‘information’ or the rise of the term ‘content’ over the last twenty or 200 years?

Making sure that we bring people into the tent! Thinking of, for example, the collection of essays on 'residual media' edited by Charles Acland (2007), New Media: 1740-1915 (ed. Gitelman, 2004).

POET, MIT: history of the internet modularity informing synthetic biology, Professor Rose-Smith.

International IP students and scholars, absolutely!

Zuckerman on the internet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2QdEj8UjBc


  • Berkman Center faculty
  • OII SDP Students
  • Museum curators/library archivists
  • International scholars/students


  • Berman Center?
  • OII?
  • In association with or after the next OII Institute (to offer the students another means to explore these issues, or simultaneously to be able to take part in key note sessions)
  • Columbia University, Communications Program?


  • Berkman Gala Festivities, May 2008
  • One-day conference, Fall 2008


  • Main conference driver: Ben Peters
  • Working organizing committee (open): Bodo Balazs, Daithí Mac Síthigh, Joris van Hoboken

Technology History Reading List

Hacking, Ian. Taming Chance, on the history of uncertainty, cf. the following essay against interdisciplinarity (http://www.interdisciplines.org/interdisciplinarity/papers/7).

Carr, E. H. (1962). What is history? New York,, Knopf. A classic (or very short) on epistemology of history. (read this first, if you are not a historian)

Abbate, J. (1999). Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press. Perhaps the best reference on the history of the Internet.

Aitken, H. G. J. (1960). Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal; scientific management in action, 1908-1915. Cambridge,, Harvard University Press. A great example of how a historian can write a history book as if he lived in this era.

Angevine, R. G. (2004). The railroad and the state : war, politics, and technology in nineteenth-century America. Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press. Mostly just factual. Not as exciting as its title.

Cronon, W. (1991). Nature's metropolis : Chicago and the Great West. New York, W.W. Norton. A great book on the rise of Chicago (or any other upcoming megapolis – Bangalore?)

Hounshell, D. A. (1984). From the American system to mass production, 1800-1932 : the development of manufacturing technology in the United States. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. A great reference on the history of gun-making, sewing machines, furniture industry, bicycle and automobile.

Maines, R. (2005). Asbestos and fire : technological trade-offs and the body at risk. New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press. A good reference for understanding his the interface of technology and law can be understood from historical perspective.

Mindell, D. A. (2002). Between human and machine : feedback, control, and computing before cybernetics. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. History of control systems and analog to digital transition.

Vincenti, W. G. (1990). What engineers know and how they know it : analytical studies from aeronautical history. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. A great reference of the cognitive psychology of an engineer and how engineering is different from science.

NOTES from History Workshop, 07/23

Introductions. Project thoughts on an alternate history of the ideas of copyright, piracy, and property in (post) Soviet Russia and Ukraine (Ben Peters); on a history of Franklin, Madison, Jefferson and other foundational thinkers' protocols around intellectual property as a way of recovering a conversation absent in the 1990s copyright extension debate (Lewis Hyde); on the short history of the term 'information' (all); on historical alternatives literature and the ideas of intellectual property in social theory and political philosophy, particularly post-liberal theory which looks to pay attention to values such as meaningful work and plasticity instead of only the traditional liberal values of equality, efficiency, and autonomy (Talha Syed); and on the history of search in the exploration of search engine liability (Joris van Hoboken).

It's not that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana) but that those who actually do history are condemned to admit its ambiguity. History gives no agenda to its peruser but instead demands of the historian a fixed approach, an idea of what one is looking for.

According to Talha Syed, there are at least three presentist motives for a historical approach:

1. To shake the illusion that [fill in the blank (say, the term 'information')] has always been what it is today. To show that our state of being has a contingent genealogy.

2. To show that the present politics and world vision is contestable. To show that there were historical opportunities for politics and vision, besides the causality of technology and efficiency.

3. To validate or challenge contemporary arguments with historical ancestors. To place a certain argument within a richer, normatively charged tradition. To show an element of what we once were but are now ignoring.

Actionable proposals: (1) combine bibliographies (the greatest hits of helpful works on the internet and IP, see above), (2) write a conference call proposal, and (3) write a journal proposal.


I. What can history offer students of the internet, anyway? What chances do we have of defending some answer other than "nothing"?

II. Can history teach us not to repeat past mistakes? If yes, how? If no, what's it good for?

III. Is the internet subject to the similar media law as other older new media cases? Why?

IV. What does intellectual property history contribute to the study of the internet?

How to include it?

I. Comparative institutional histories of how the novelty of a medium has been differently institutionalized (sociological perspective)

II. Histories of ideas about the use and purpose of media and communication technologies across different new media (philosophical)

III. Media metaphors help find insight in unexpected places (creating perspectives)

IV. Narrative, biography, story

Examples of different ways to include history:

I. Institutional histories: (a comparison across space) the evolution of the internet in the US and Brazil, or (a comparison across time) the US history of the public interest in spectrum regulation from 1921 to present

II. Idea histories: History of the telegraphic idea (i.e. distance writing) embedded in genealogy of technology from sign language to computers

III. Media metaphors: XML (heir to HTML and the code behind RSS feeds and interchangeable online text) that draws grammatical insight from the strict syntax in cuneiform, an enriched genealogy of hypertext linking from Talmudic page layout, and respectful caution from mid-twentieth century predictions about the memex (a portmanteau for a microfilm “memory extender” system).

(feel free to ask Ben Peters to unpack these, especially number 3)

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