Abstracts of Papers and Panels
Technologies, Technologists & Networks
A Symposium on the History of Communication Technologies
October 17, 2007
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
"e-Archipelago: Socio-Political History of the Internet in Indonesia"
Merlyna Lim, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University
By exploring the social and political history of the development of the Internet and its uses in Indonesia, this paper entangles the complex relationship between the Internet and politics. Locating the Internet within the context of social, political and cultural characteristics of the Indonesian governance system from the New Order to the current one, the paper will show that the Internet in Indonesia has emerged as a technology with a unique socio-political configuration. In contrast with political context of the earlier/more traditional media and communications technologies in the country, the political landscape during the period of the initial development and the convivial characteristics of the Internet technology allowed it to provide spaces for a much more democratic development in Indonesia. Using various cases from the New Order and post-New Order eras, this paper will show how cyberspace has become a contested sphere where politics of multiple voices has emerged. The paper will also show that the unique societal configuration of Internet technology is amplified via intermodal linkages between this new and the pre-existing media networks.
"The Internet: On its International Origins and Collaborative Vision"
Ronda Hauben, Journalist
This paper explores the collaboration between researchers from the U.S. and several European countries in the early development of the Internet. Both Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, Internet researchers who are credited with the invention of the TCP/IP protocol, have noted that the Internet was international from its very origins. It would have been impossible to have achieved the development of an international network of networks, of the Internet, without the international participation and collaboration to build the prototype and the functioning implementations of the needed technology.
"'The Computer as a Communications Device': Looking Back Almost 40 Years Later"
Jay Hauben, Library Systems Office, Columbia University
In this paper I will analyze JCR Licklider and Robert W. Taylor's insights into the needed technological and social developments to create "interactive multi-access computer communities" and put them in historical context from Norbert Wiener"s effort to automate anti aircraft fire in the early 1940s to the first trans-continental computer to computer communications experiment in 1967. I will also relate Licklider and Taylor's 1968 article, "The Computer as a Communications Device," to the emergence, more than 15 years later, of the Internet as a new communications technology building on and integrating other technologies including software but also expanding the meaning of communications and communications technology.
"The Victorian ‘Local Area Network’"
Trudy E. Bell, Science Journalist
This paper will discuss the designs of the local telegraphic circuits, the methods of observation, various technical challenges, and changes in an astronomers’ nightly work as a result of automation. It will also mention how the telegraph and chronograph sparked astronomers’ discussions on quantifying personal equation and reaction time, techniques that ultimately made their way into instrumental psychology.
Communication Technologies from Cradle to Grave
"Toward a History of New Media: Novelty"
Benjamin Peters, Doctoral Student, Columbia University
My paper intends to enrich historiography of technologies with an emerging topical approach: the history of new media (or for my purposes, communication technologies), I argue, emanates from the history of technologies as an analytic prism that at once usefully narrows the scope of study to media in their earliest stages of development while broadening analysis of the changing social meanings in a technology’s lifespan. Marked by an incomplete social integration, noticed presence, and innovative and variable uses, new media poses particularly interesting issues for historical study.
"Tesla, Marconi, and the Race to Develop Wireless Telegraphy, 1890-1905"
W. Bernard Carlson, Professor, University of Virginia
Much of the early history of radio has been written in biographical terms, focusing on exclusively on the work of either Guglielmo Marconi or Nikola Tesla. No one has, to my knowledge, considered how these inventors may have been in a true race, with each closely watching the other and shaping his actions in response. In this paper, I will recount the rivalry between Marconi and Tesla, arguing that Tesla’s decision to conduct experiments in Colorado Springs in 1899 was in response to Marconi’s success in transmitting signals across the English Channel. At the same time, I will suggest that Marconi decided to attempt to send a message across the Atlantic in response to Tesla’s bold prediction in early 1901 that he would send a transatlantic message within a few months. Overall, this paper should serve to remind us how key communication technologies are not the product of lone genius but rather a social process involving competition and interaction among several talented individuals.
"Who Rang the Changes? User Creativity vs. Intellectual Property in Early Telephonic Imaginings"
Graeme Gooday, Senior Lecturer, University of Leeds
I explore contemporary journalistic responses to Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, from safety-oriented deployment of it in coal-mining, to more extravagant imaginings by the Times for a portable form that could tap into telegraph wires, and by the satirical magazine Punch magazine for its use in downloading and storing remote sources of music. Generalizing from these extraordinary quasi-inventions of uses for the telephone by the non-patenting majority, I argue that the radical strategy of encouraging multiplying both uses and users for a telecommunications technology was as critically important for Bell (like any other inventor) as the more conservative strategy of vigorously contesting any attempts to multiply claims to intellectual property. After all late nineteenth century telephone users saw little incongruity in both respecting the intellectual property claims of inventors, such as Bell, while over-riding prescriptions for usage laid down in formal patent specifications and licences. We thus see how understandings of the telephone as individual physical property and as individual intellectual property were inter-connected by multi-levelled forms of creative human communication.
"Where do Communications Technologies Go To Die?"
Jonathan Coopersmith, Texas A&M University
To better understand the decline of technologies, this paper will examine the demise of telex and the decline of facsimile. Both suffered from the rapid rise to domination of rivals. Both responded with spurts of technological innovation to take advantage of the same developments in electronics and computer-based communications that empowered their successors. Their fates diverged: Telex essentially disappeared while facsimile remains an important communications tool.
"Experiments in Radio Telephony in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during the First World War"
Elizabeth Bruton, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
The experimentation and development of radio telephony in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), later the Royal Air Force (RAF), is an area of study under-examined and, for the most part, over-looked in scholarly and popular histories of communication technologies. The limited number of publications discussing wireless communication and aircraft in the First World War generally focus on the use of wireless telegraphy in artillery-spotting by the RFC; the development of radio telephony and its role in the war are minor footnotes to this main narrative. While it is generally agreed that wireless telegraphy was more commonly accepted and used in the RFC and RAF during the war, it would be radio telephony which would have a significant and meaningful influence on post-war radio communications and broadcasting. This paper will study the parallel uses and development of wireless telegraphy and radio telephony in the RFC and RAF, and also discuss the reversal of roles and importance in the post-war climate.
"Forgotten Pioneers of FM: Eugene F. McDonald, Jr. and Zenith Radio Corporation"
Harold N. Cones
Most accounts of the development of FM radio broadcasting and the sets to receive the new medium are dominated by the larger than life personalities of electronic wizard Major Edwin Armstrong and RCA’s David Sarnoff. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the important contributions of pioneer broadcaster and manufacturer E.F. McDonald, Jr., and the Zenith Radio Corporation that he founded and led, have, until very recently, been lost to history. Extensive details from the private unpublished papers of Commander McDonald along with contemporary accounts are used to illuminate the pioneering role of the Commander and Zenith in early FM development.
"Improving the Noise Performance of Communication Systems: 1920s to early 1930s"
Mischa Schwartz, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
This paper discusses the early pioneering work of both telephone and radio engineers in effecting improvements in the noise performance of communication systems. This work led ultimately to the explosive growth of communication activities following WWII. Radio engineers during the 1920s were most concerned with reducing the impact of externally-generated “static”, and showed this could be accomplished by the use of directional antennas and by moving to higher-frequency transmission. Telephone engineers during that period of time, most prominently John R. Carson of AT&T, were led to include the impact of “fluctuation noise” (shot and thermal noise) as well. Carson, using the novel concept of noise frequency spectrum, showed how the appropriate choice of bandwidth and frequency of transmission could be used to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, anticipating the concept of “matched filter” introduced 20 years later during radar developments of WWII. We conclude this discussion of this early period of improvement in system noise performance by describing the spectacular leap ahead made by Armstrong with his 1933 patent for noise-reducing FM, that radio engineers began to take fluctuation noise into account in the design of systems.
"‘Cross-talking’: Signal and Noise in the History of Greek Telecommunications"
Aristotle Tympas, Mihalis Tsarapatsanis, and Sotiris Vernardos, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and National Technical University of Athens
Doubling (and further multiplying) the signal-carrying capacity of existing lines without building new lines started with the telegraph and continues with present day telecommunications technology. Conceptual discontinuity has obscured the similarity of telecommunications circuits known as ‘duplex’ (and ‘multiplex’ in general), ‘superimposed’, ‘plus-plus’, ‘carrier’, etc. The use of different terms to describe contrasting experiences with these circuits -e.g., ‘duplex’ by headquarters engineers and managers, ‘phantoms’ by regional technicians and operators- has also obscured this similarity. This similarity has been further obscured by competing diagrammatic and other graphical representation of such circuits by different communities, with the one side placing the emphasis on techniques, profits and double signals, and the other on skills, risks, and noise. According to this second side, telephone phantoms were, for example, chronically susceptible to ‘cross-talking’, that is to undesirable mixing of more than one conversation. In the past, we have written on aspects of the history of phantoms and related telecommunications techniques in countries from the center of technological developments. In this paper, we present our findings in regards to a telecommunications network from a more peripheral context, that of Greece.
Technologies, Technologists, and Networks
"The 'Araldo Telefonico'. Origins, Structures and Models of the Italian Broadcasting"
Gabriele Balbi, Doctoral Student, University of Lugano
In 1910, 15 years after the main European countries and the USA, in Italy the first “pleasure telephone” (see Briggs 1976) service was born. The idea was very easy: sending out entertainment, informative, social programs via telephone lines. The “spoken newspaper” was imported in Italy by an engineer, mr. Luigi Ranieri, and was originally established only in Rome: the subscribers knew it as the “Araldo Telefonico”.
Until the First World War, the schedule of the “Araldo” was based on that of its most famous ancestor model: the Hungarian “Telephone Hirmondò”. This was the most important example of telephone newspaper all around the world: it started in 1893 in Budapest and, in few years, collected more than 6.000 subscribers.
In Italy the enterprise was much more limited: it had a lot of financial problems and, probably for the low diffusion of the telephone too, it collected only 1.300 subscribers in 1914. The “Araldo” had to stop its broadcasts before the war and, after the end of the conflict, it appeared again, extending its programmes to other Italian town: for example Milan and Bologna.
Our thesis wants to focus on two main aspects of this technology. On the one hand, we’d like to remember that the “Araldo telefonico” constituted the basis for the broadcasting origin in Italy and, tout court, the basis for the Italian mass media system in XX century. On the other hand, we’ll try to understand the reasons why a medium similar to the “Radio Music Box” didn’t find a conspicuous number of listeners, or better, of subscribers.
"British Imperial Postal Networks, 1815-1914"
Daniel R. Headrick, Roosevelt University
This paper will analyze the evolution of Britain’s overseas and imperial postal communications from 1815 to 1914. In the first period, from 1815 to the 1830s, overseas mail went Post Office or Admiralty packet ships, except for mail to the United States, which went in privately-owned ships, and to India, which was sent in the lumbering East Indiamen of the East India Company. In the 1830s, the introduction of steam engines gave rise to a number of steamship lines, in particular the Peninsular and Oriental (or P&O) that served the Mediterranean and, after 1844, India as well. Meanwhile, on the Atlantic, the Cunard Line got the first mail contracts. From then on, certain steamship lines were awarded mail contracts, in exchange for purchasing ships and setting schedules that met the needs of the British Post Office and Admiralty. From then on, the shipbuilding and shipping businesses were enmeshed in politics, while the British government became enmeshed in the technological and business aspects of the world’s means of transportation and communication.
“'I have in mind. . . ' David Sarnoff, RCA, and the Arc of the American Century"
Alexander B. Magoun, David Sarnoff Library
This presentation aligns the span of David Sarnoff's career in electronic communications and his dedication to expanding their capabilities to the relative rise and decline of American power in the twentieth century. It begins by explaining the motivation for Sarnoff's commitment to communications from his childhood in Byelorussia to his start at the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America in 1906. While rising within the British-owned company's ranks, Sarnoff promoted new markets for spark-based radio from railroads to broadcasting. The formation of the Radio Corporation of America from American Marconi coincided with the end of World War I, and Sarnoff exploited RCA's government-sanctioned monopoly for what he saw as the greater good in American society, business, and technology. In the middle of the century, as the United States asserted its power globally, he sponsored the expansion of broadcast technologies through electronic color television, initiated the concept of consumer electronics, and promoted the application of electronics to TV-guided missiles. With his promotion to chairman in 1950, Sarnoff played two roles in defining the Asian domination of consumer electronic technologies a generation later. He pushed RCA's researchers toward radical inventions in color videotape and flat-panel video displays, while playing a personal role in the cultivation of commercial and technical relations with Japan. With RCA's leadership in disarray in the fifteen years between Sarnoff's death and the company's sale to General Electric Company, the U.S. lost much of its manufacturing base in consumer electronics and with them a rising real income for most of its citizens.
Space and Communication
"Negotiating a Worldwide Space Communications Network: NASA’s Discussions with the Australian and South African Governments for the Establishment of Overseas Deep Space Instrumentation Facilities, 1958-1960"
Craig B. Waff, Staff Historian, Air Force Research Laboratory
Before NASA and JPL could initiate construction of proposed Deep Space Instrumentation Facility (DSIF) stations in Australia and South Africa, the governments of the United States and the host countries had to negotiate, to their mutual satisfaction, formal agreements that would govern their installation, operation, and maintenance. Several factors would complicate the process by which such agreements were negotiated in the 1958-1960 period. The length of the negotiating process was determined by considerations both internal (the concerns of other agencies of the governments of the host countries) and external (the state of bilateral relations existing between the United States and each host country). This paper will discuss the nature of these considerations, particularly as they concerned the establishment of DSIF (later Deep Space Network) facilities at Woomera, Australia, and Hartebeesthoek, South Africa.
"Sputnik and Satellite Communications"
David J. Whalen, University of North Dakota, JDOSAS, Space Studies Department
Prior to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, there had been “visions” of satellite communications—at least since 1928—but these had never been taken seriously. Within eight years more than a half-dozen military, commercial, and NASA experiments had been launched and an operational satellite was providing commercial services to an international consortium. Part of this surge was due to the sudden arrival of launch capability. But part was due to the nature of Sputnik’s launch vehicle, the R-7 ICBM.
"Live from the (Project) Apollo: Technology’s Influence on How CBS Reported the Moon Story"
Kathy Keltner, Lecturer, Vanderbilt University
Television technologies progressed with the U.S. space program. In an age before VCRs and computer-aided design, television networks such as CBS were forced to create special effects as they went along in order to explain hard-to-understand physical laws of space travel to the general public. This paper examines the technologies created in order to tell the Apollo story. CBS’s developing of technologies enabled it to lead in ratings for the Apollo missions. More importantly, this I suggest that those same technologies actually influenced the content of its newscasts, which in turn persuaded Middle America to support the Moon shots. Using the Pamela Shoemaker and Stephen Reese Model of Media Content, this research shows how CBS Evening News’ technological innovations followed the model’s five factors in shaping CBS content: individual, media routines, organization, external, and ideological.
"Re-touching the Void: The Airbrush in Photographic History"
Gina Giotta, Doctoral Student, University of Iowa
This paper explores the early history of the airbrush—a device whose significance (appropriately enough) has been effaced by most historians of both visual culture and technology. In exploring the invention and popular uptake of the airbrush in the late 19th century through a reading of photographic trade publications and popular press magazines of the time, I engage questions of labor, aesthetics and culture. Such points of departure ultimately converge in a narrative of early image manipulation that implicitly troubles contemporary ‘rupture’ stories concerned with the shift from analog to digital photography, insofar as I demonstrate that the airbrush has been implicated in a series of similar debates since its introduction.
Technologies and their Users
"Representations of the Electric Telegraph in The Popular Press and Literature"
Heidi Gautshi, Doctoral Student, University Paris X-Nanterre
With the introduction of the electric telegraph, long distance communication became invisible, fast and mediated. Consequently, certain aspects of society were modified, such as, communicational norms, sentence structure and the landscape. Drawing upon the works of Carolyn Marvin and Jacques Perriault, among others, I have chosen to look at the types of negotiations taking place in both France and the United States regarding the place of the telegraph. My analysis is based on representations of the telegraph found in short stories, poetry, theatre and newspaper articles written for the lay audience. My hypothesis is that the representation of the telegraph not only illustrates negotiations within a given society, but also shows how the introduction of a same technology in two different countries led to different types of negotiations. In other words, certain negotiations were present in France, for example, but not in the United States. These differences highlight the complexity of technology adoption on a worldwide level.
"The Public Service Ethic in Early Ham Radio"
Duncan Fisher, Lecturer, Telford College
What of the intervening 25 or so years, from Marconi's test transmissions of 1904 to the rise of commercial radio in the late '20s? Ham activity in this period, especially in the public interest, is a scholarly vacuum. Long before 1930, hams were trying hard, as individuals and in cadres, to establish themselves as a corps of public servants. They meant to be adjuncts to interests as diverse as the military, law enforcement, and even the Post Office. Not surprisingly, there was important legislation to try to accommodate them. Where did hams' zeal for public service come from, then? What technical forms did it take? And was it always successful?
"IT and Public Record Management in the United States: From Hierarchical Control to Decentralized Empowerment"
Umaru Bah, Morgan State University
My proposed paper traces the historical trajectory of IT in the United States, in the context of its impact on public record management. It argues that IT is shifting personal data-gathering and sharing operations from a hierarchical approach that keeps data subjects passive and often ignorant of the processes and consequences of such activities, to a decentralized, user-centered system that empowers individuals as chief creators and distributors of their personal information.