Preserving Hybrid Objects: Brutal lessons from contemporary art

David Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In August 2015, a minor furor broke out on the SIGCIS and Humanist discussion forum about the merits or otherwise of Tara McPherson's essay "Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation." McPherson's attempt to knit together "discussions of race (or other modes of difference) with our technological productions within the digital humanities (or in our studies of code)," depends on drawing parallels between the development of MULTICS (and then UNIX) and the more or less contemporaneous Civil Rights events of the 1960s. Her case rests strongly on the notions of modularity and encapsulation, which she presents as something akin to code apartheid. McPherson opines "I am not arguing that the programmers creating UNIX at Bell Labs and in Berkeley were consciously encoding new modes of racism and racial understanding into digital systems." She states her purpose as showing "the ways in which the organization of information and capital in the 1960s powerfully responds—across many registers—to the struggles for racial justice and democracy that so categorized the United States at the time." In pursuit of this goal McPherson sketches two historical fragments drawn from the history of the 1960s: the first is a potted history of the development of UNIX, "well known to code junkies and computer geeks," while the second, familiar to "scholars of culture, of gender, and of race like the members of the ASA"aconcentrates on the "struggles over racial justice, [and] antiwar activism" going on at the same time2016.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-46
Number of pages3
JournalCommunications-ACM
Volume59
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016

Bibliographical note

© David Anderson, ACM, 2016. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive Version of Record was published in Communications-ACM, http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2903757

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