[Humanist] 24.719 images of computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Feb 18 07:18:38 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 719.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2011 23:48:48 -0800
        From: Russell Horton <russ at artfl.uchicago.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.718 images of computing?
        In-Reply-To: <20110217062309.E77A0EF47C at woodward.joyent.us>

[from a private note --WM]

Your query regarding computer-related imagery reminded me of a presentation I saw recently at THATCamp San Francisco. Megan Prelinger gave a slide show of 50s and 60s advertisements from chemical and aerospace companies. Computers and robots figured in some of these images as well. Evidently the fashion was to hire modern artists to create all sorts of publicity, from magazine covers to humble help wanted ads. The work is really quite amazing.

So although it's not exactly what you are after, I think it might interest you. They certainly have that wondering, imaginative quality you describe.


Thanks again for the list, and have a great winter.

Russell Horton

Graduate Student, Linguistics, The University of California San Diego
Computational Linguist, Wordnik.com
Programmer, The ARTFL Project, The University of Chicago

On Feb 16, 2011, at 10:23 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 718.
>      Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                      www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>            Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
> Date: Thu, 17 Feb 2011 06:16:28 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
> Subject: images of computing?
> Sometime in 1948 or the few years following, Shell Oil Company (which
> supplied the libricants for IBM machines) took out an advert in the Saturday
> Evening Post, an American popular magazine, entitled "Oracle on 57th
> Street". The address referred to the IBM World Headquarters, then at the
> corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue, which from 1948 to sometime
> between 1952-53 exhibited the IBM Selective Sequence Automatic Calculator
> (SSEC) in its front window. Passers-by nicknamed the machine "Poppa". The
> advert shows an enormous Sibylline figure sitting atop the building, holding
> a long scroll of computer printout. We have abundant evidence to support the
> notion that this Sibyl accurately represents computing in the popular
> imagination of the time.
> Eventually I will track down the issue of the Post in the British Library
> and obtain a better image of it than the one I managed to find online. But
> meanwhile I would like to know of any other images from the time when people
> allowed themselves so spectacularly to dream of what computing had come into
> the world to do. I think I have all of the Time Magazine cover-images. Any
> others anyone here knows about, please tell me.
> Such images are fascinating in their own right. Their significance for us
> comes from the fact that since they were published in mass-circulation
> venues they were undoubtedly in the homes and hands of (at least American)
> academics at the time, being looked at by the children and spouses of
> scholars as well as by scholars themselves (in their off moments,
> naturally). When you put the professional writings of these scholars up
> against the public dreaming, some interesting questions fall out, don't you
> think? And when you find some of these scholars accusing others of a lack of
> imagination in their uses of computing, these questions gain some force. One
> finds such sober figures as Herbert Simon and Allen Newell publishing some
> highly imaginative claims (packaged as firm predictions) a few years later,
> but in general we were quite an unimaginative lot then. Different now, of
> course.
> Images and clues to more, please. Comments on all this as well, if you are
> so inclined.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, www.mccarty.org.uk;
> Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
> www.uws.edu.au/centre_for_cultural_research/ccr/people/researchers;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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