Material culture studies of the 19th and 20th century computing in the Science Museum, London

Material culture studies of the 19th and 20th century computing in the Science Museum, London

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Abstract

This study examines computing material culture, as it was developed from the 19th century, onwards. A series of case studies on selected computing artefacts from the computing collection of the Science Museum in London, is creating the argument on the demonstration agenda that it is followed from technological museums, in preserving contemporary electronic artefacts.
The essay continues in the identification of social meanings that computing artefacts can hold in the opposition of an approach based on technological progression. The historic background of each artefact and the lives or their inventors are being examined for an interpretation which aims to be multi-dimensional and not always technology-oriented.
Other aspects such as the enchanting qualities created by the performance of obsolete technology contribute to a dialogue on the function and relative value of computing artefacts and the impacts of those aspects on computing devices that have become museum exhibits.
The notion of the authenticity of computing artefacts is also subject of discussion, as some of them that are subjects of this research, are reproductions, or placed in an artificial “authentic” environment.
All these topics raise the emergence of historical archaeology as part of the demonstrative agenda of the technological collections, in preserving human-oriented meanings of computers and a more critical approach to technology.

Keywords
Computers, Archaeology, Material Culture, Enchantment, Authenticity, Commodity Fetishism, Surveillance, Technological Museums

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