Computer legacies: Narrating histories of digital media in museums

  • 27 January 2022
  • 15:30-18:30 (GMT)
  • Online event

An online symposium questioning how museums can contribute to constructing and disseminating historical narratives about computing.

As computing technologies have become ubiquitous in the everyday experience of billions of people around the world, histories of computing have become an important part of our historical heritage. It has become increasingly evident that we are living through a key stage in the formation of both scholarly and public narratives about these new technologies – narratives that will, ultimately, also inform key decisions over what counts as historically significant, and thus what should be preserved and exhibited in museum environments.

This online symposium questions how museums can contribute to constructing and disseminating historical narratives about computing through which the past, the present and the future of our societies are imagined and culturally constructed. The symposium builds on research conducted within the AHRC-funded project Circuits of Practice: Narrating Histories of Computing and Digital Media in Museum Environments and will provide a forum to explore new approaches for a historical heritage centred around the emergence and development of computing and digital media.

This online event takes place on Thursday, 27th January 2022 at 3.30pm-6.30pm BST on Zoom. Participation is free upon registration, places are limited. A livestream will be provided for those who were not able to complete the registration.

The event will feature a presentation of work conducted in the Circuits of Practice’s Digital Atelier, an ensemble developing alternative, challenging, creative ways of understanding and sharing the project’s findings. Then a roundtable will bring together researchers and practitioners from international institutions to discuss the role of museums in narrating histories of the digital. The event will be closed by a keynote held by Fernando Domínguez Rubio, author of Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

Attendance to this online symposium is free. If you are interested to join the event, please register here or via the book now button at the bottom of the page.

3:30-3:45pm GMT

Welcome and Introduction

Simone Natale, Loughborough University and University of Turin, PI Circuits of Practice

3:45-4:15 pm GMT

Presentation of Circuits of Practice’s Digital Atelier

Speakers: Elisabetta Gomelino (Loughborough University), Kimon Keramidas (New York University), Molly Shand (Loughborough University), Amelia Taylor (Loughborough University)

Moderator: Ross Parry, University of Leicester, co-I Circuits of Practice

4:30-5:15 pm GMT 

Roundtable: Narrating modern computing in museums

Speakers: Simona Casonato (National Museum Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci, Milan, Italy), Corinna Gardner (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK), Marc Weber (Computing History Museum, Mountain View, California, US)

Moderator: Petrina Foti, Circuits of Practice project


5:30-6:30 pm GMT

Keynote speech: The Unnatural Ecologies of Modern Art- Fernando Domínguez Rubio, University of California San Diego

Chair: Simone Natale

The organisers are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) UK, for its generous support of the ‘Circuits of Practice’ project 2020-22 (AH/T00276X/1).

About the Circuits of Practice project

Circuits of Practice is an AHRC-funded project that explores the role of museums in constructing a historical heritage centred around the emergence and development of computing and digital media. Taking up the metaphor of the electronic circuit, where electrical connections between diverse components enable complex operations to be performed, the project brought together curators from leading museums in the UK (Bletchley Park, the Centre for Computing History, The National Museum of Computing, the National Science and Media Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum), leading international institutions (the Computer History Museum in the USA, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation “Miraikan” in Japan, the National Museum of Science and Technology “Leonardo Da Vinci” in Milan, Italy), a company partner (BT Group), and an interdisciplinary team of university-based researchers including the Principal Investigator, Prof. Simone Natale (Loughborough University, UK and the University of Turin, Italy), co-Investigator Professor Ross Parry (University of Leicester, UK) and Research Associate Dr Petrina Foti (Loughborough University, UK).

Circuits of Practice’s Digital Atelier is an ensemble developing alternative, challenging, creative ways of understanding and sharing the project’s findings. Led by Kimon Keramidas (NYU) and Ross Parry (University of Leicester), it aims to develop alternative and challenging ways of understanding and sharing Circuits of Practice’s findings. Over the last two years, an international network of cultural organisations and scholars within Circuits of Practice has been reflecting upon the ways museums narrate computing history. Three research ‘Circuits’ have investigated the role of ‘data’, ‘time’ and ‘objects’ within these narratives. The Digital Atelier aims to generate responses to the three ‘Circuit’ themes within the project. Each a provocation, an extension, or a realisation to the theories and insights of the project, each unsettling as much as demonstrating our new understanding of computing history in the museum.

About the speakers

Simona Casonato is a curator of Media, ICT and Digital Culture collections at the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, Milan, Italy. She holds a master’s degree in History of Institutions and Social Structures (Faculty of Drama, Arts and Music Studies, University of Bologna). She has been working at the museum since 2003 as a video producer, screenwriter, content manager, historian and curator. She currently participates in academic research projects in media studies, museology and history of science and technology, in Italy and abroad.

Fernando Domínguez Rubio (PhD Sociology, U. Cambridge, 2008) is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum (University of Chicago Press), an ethnography of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exploring the technologies, climatic infrastructures, and forms of care and labour required to prevent artworks from falling apart. He has written numerous articles on material culture, art, and urban infrastructures. He is also the co-editor of The Politics of Knowledge (Routledge 2012).

Petrina Foti is a Research Associate in Museum Theory and Practice in the Circuits of Practice project and is the author of Collecting and Exhibiting Computer-based Technology: Curatorial Expertise at the Smithsonian Museums (Routledge, 2018). As a scholar of computer history in museums, her current research is focused on the rise of digital information and technology and the resulting impact on both museums and the wider world. Petrina recently completed her degree from the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies. She has taught in museums studies programs in the United States, such as the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Harvard Extension School. She has held various museum positions including a post from 2006 - 2011 in the Computers Collections at the National Museum of American History and, more recently, has worked with the Oral History Collection at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Corinna Gardner is a Senior Curator of Design and Digital at the V&A and her research focuses on contemporary product and digital design. Corinna leads the museum’s Rapid Response Collecting programme and current projects include a new permanent gallery for 20th and 21st century design and an exhibition about the promise and problem of plastic today.

Elisabetta Gomelino is a Researcher at Barker Langham, where she also works on the development of digital experiences within museums. She graduated in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, specialising in Digital. Her interest focuses on emerging technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence, and their role within museums. In different researches, she investigated approaches to the digital transformation process through the case of AI-based systems and studied the employment of these systems for audience engagement.

Simone Natale is an Associate Professor at the University of Turin, Italy and Principal Investigator of the Circuits of Practice project at Loughborough University, UK. He is the author of two monographs, Deceitful Media: Artificial Intelligence and Social Life after the Turing Test (Oxford University Press, 2021) and Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture (Penn State University Press, 2016, paperback 2017), as well as of articles published in leading journals in his areas of interest, including New Media & Society, Communication Theory, the Journal of Communication, Convergence, and Media, Culture & Society. His research has been funded by international organisations including the AHRC and the ESRC in the UK, the Humboldt Foundation in Germany and Columbia University’s Italian Academy in the US. Simone is Assistant Editor of the journal Media, Culture & Society.

Kimon Keramidas is a Clinical Associate Professor of Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement and Affiliated Faculty in International Relations at NYU. He is also Co-Director of the International Digital Humanities Research Center at ITMO University in St. Petersburg, Russia. Kimon's research and pedagogy take place at the intersection of media and technology studies, cultural history, interface design, and digital humanities. Through his work Kimon aims to develop a better understanding of how media and technology experiences influence the ways in which we work, play, learn and communicate. Along with his work at NYU, Kimon collaborates with people in a variety of interdisciplinary environments across the globe including organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, the State Hermitage, Rubin Museum, Zayed University in Dubai, and the University of Leicester. Kimon is currently working with the Rubin Museum on developing the digital portion of Project Himalayan Art, a field-defining collection of materials on Himalayan art. Previous projects include The Sogdians: Influencers on the Silk Roads a digital global art history project he co-curated at the Freer|Sackler Asian Art Galleries of the Smithsonian and The Interface Experience: Forty Years of Personal Computing, a transmediated exhibition/book/digital experience he curated on the history of personal computing at the Bard Graduate Center. Kimon is also co-founder and on the steering committee of New York City Digital Humanities (NYCDH).

Ross Parry is a Professor of Museum Technology in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. He is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a former Tate Research Fellow, and former chair of the UK’s national Museums Computer Group. He is one of the founding Trustees of the Jodi Mattes Trust - for accessible digital culture. In 2018 he was listed in the Education Foundation’s ‘EdTech50’ – the fifty most influential people in the UK education and technology sectors. His recent books include Museum Thresholds: the design and media of arrival edited with Ruth Page and Alex Moseley (Routledge, 2018); and The Routledge Handbook of Media and Museums (2019), edited with Kirsten Drotner, Vince Dziekan, and Kim Schrøder. Ross is the author of 'Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change' (Routledge 2007), and in 2010 published 'Museums in a Digital Age' (also with Routledge). Ross leads the ‘One by One’ international consortium of museums, professional bodies, government agencies, commercial partners, and academics, that together are working to build digitally confident museums.

Molly Shand is a recent MA Museum Studies graduate from the University of Leicester, with a particular interest in the ludic (playful) role of the museum. Her research is multidisciplinary, having obtained an undergraduate degree in Interior Architecture and Design from Arts University Bournemouth. Molly is hoping to progress her early career research further in the Autumn, by commencing a PhD course that will allow her to build on both her spatial and museological knowledge.

Amelia Taylor is a graduate of the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester (‘20) where she specialized in heritage studies. Her dissertation research focused on feminist interpretation and using walking tours to expand this narrative and break down barriers to the museum. Her interest in digital began with her work as Digital Project Manager for the Ottawa Museum Network where she developed the Digital Strategy and Action Plan to increase their members' digital literacy in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Image: Courtesy of the Computer History Museum/ © Studio Dizon Photography

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