Reading List Archive

20 February 2017

Bernstein, A., DeGrasse, B., Grossman, R., Paine, C., & Siegel, L. (1980). Silicon Valley: Paradise or Paradox. In Mexican Women in the United States. Chicano Studies Research Center Publications.

Chiu, H.-M. (2011). The Dark Side of Silicon Island: High-Tech Pollution and the Environmental Movement in Taiwan. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 22(1), 40–57.

Pellow, D. N., & Park, L. S.-H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. NYU Press.

Matthews, G. (2003). Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream: Gender, Class, and Opportunity in the Twentieth Century. Stanford University Press.

As you might be able to tell, I am currently interested in questions of labor, gender, and the environment as they play out in Silicon Valley. As the Pellow & Park book reminds us:

Next to the nuclear industry, the largest producer of contaminants in the air, land, and water is the electronics industry. Silicon Valley hosts the highest density of Superfund sites anywhere in the nation and leads the country in the number of temporary workers per capita and in workforce gender inequities.
As part of the special issue on computing and the environment for Information & Culture that Rebecca Slayton and I are working on, Christophe Lecuyer has a piece on the toxics movement in late 1970s Silicon Valley that is just stellar. That issue should be out in the late summer/early fall.

21 November 2016

A major part of my Dirty Bits project involves following the supply chain of materials that make possible virtual goods and digital devices, from their origins in places like Petosi, Bolivia to their eventual disposal in places like Agbogbloshie, Ghana. We can follow this component materials around the globe and across the periodic table, from arsenic to zinc. There is a growing body of literature on specific elements; my task is to pull these individual stories together into a coherent environmental history.

Veronese, K. (2015). Rare. Prometheus Books.

Fletcher, S. (2011). Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sheller, M. (2014). Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity. The MIT Press.

Robins, N. A. (2011). Mercury, Mining, and Empire the Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes. Indiana University Press.

Ingulstad, M., Perchard, A., & Storli, E. (2014). Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of "the Devil’s Metal". Routledge.

05 June 2016

One way of thinking about the role of geography in the environmental history of computing is to think about information technology as a form of infrastructure. The key idea here is that infrastructures are critical enabling technologies; their primary purpose is to make other technological and commercial activities possible. As a result, as Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder have reminded us, infrastructures are intended not to be seen. Technologies become infrastructure only after they are perfected to the point of being routine. We notice them only when they fail.

The global Internet is in that respect the perfect infrastructure: it is omnipresent and invisible; everywhere and nowhere. Using it we can connect to anyone, anywhere, from anywhere, but it does not otherwise intrude on our material reality.

One of the aspects of the Dirty Bits project that has received the most attention is the section that challenges this notion of an “immaterial” infrastructure.

When we look closely at the flows of material that make the virtual possible, we discover that many of most significant social and economic nodes of the Information Society sit at the intersection of traditional, material infrastructures like railroads, power grids, and river systems. The Information Infrastructure of the 21st Century is built around the bones of the 19th century transportation and communication network. These were in turn constructed along river beds and mountain passes. Geography shapes technology, and vice versa.

There is a large and growing literature on infrastructure. Here is what I have been grappling with lately:

Starosielski, N. (2015). The Undersea Network. Duke University Press.

Hecht, J. (2004). City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics. Oxford University Press.

Jackson, S. J., Edwards, P. N., Bowker, G. C., & Knobel, C. P. (2007). Understanding Infrastructure: History, Heuristics and Cyberinfrastructure Policy. First Monday, 12(6).

Edwards, P. N. (2010). A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming.

White, R. (2011). Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. W. W. Norton & Company.

Jones, C. F. (2014). Routes of Power. Harvard University Press.

Preda, A. (2009). Framing Finance: The Boundaries of Markets and Modern Capitalism. University of Chicago Press.

As you can see from the inclusion of books like the Preda, I am adopting a very broad understanding of what constitutes infrastructure.

21 March 2016

This month I have mostly been reading about Bitcoin and other virtual currencies, as well as some larger economic history for context.

Popper, N. (2015). Digital Gold. HarperCollins.

Castronova, E. (2014). Wildcat Currency. Yale University Press.

Golumbia, D. (2015). Bitcoin as Politics: Distributed Right-Wing Extremism. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Malone, D., & O’Dwyer, K. J. (2014). Bitcoin Mining and Its Energy Footprint. In Irish Signals & Systems Conference 2014 (pp. 280–285). Institution of Engineering and Technology.

27 January 2016

I am reading up on the intersection of the history of technology and environmental history. This includes some classics by Tarr & Stine as well as works by up-and-comers like Dolly and Finn Arne Jørgensen.

Stine, J. K., & Tarr, J. A. (1998). At the Intersection of Histories: Technology and the Environment. Technology and Culture, 39(4), 601.

Reuss, M., & Cutcliffe, S. H. (2010). The Illusory Boundary: Environment and Technology in History. University of Virginia Press.

Steinberg, T. (2004). Nature Incorporated : Industrialization and the Waters of New England (Studies in Environment and History). Cambridge University Press.

Pritchard, S. B. (2011). Confluence. Harvard University Press.

Jørgensen, D., Jørgensen, F. A., & Pritchard, S. B. (2013). New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies. University of Pittsburgh Pre.


© 2015 Nathan Ensmenger