Histories of Technology

I recently had a discussion with my department chair, and after I mentioned that I would love to teach an undergraduate course that centered on histories of technology (and STS more broadly), he expressed interest. Even though this is only in the early stages of planning (I wouldn’t teach it for over a year), today I am nonetheless daydreaming about what the syllabus would cover, what readings we’d do, and mapping out interactive projects for the students.

Laboratories of Enemy Behavior

Cold War Social Science and the Korean War Prison

I finally sent off my abstract for the AAGs. For the paper I will have to dig a bit more into a small section of my dissertation that, having recently read Rebecca Lemov’s Database of Dreams and How Reason Lost its Mind (a book she wrote with Paul Erickson, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin), I want to return to and expand.

Here’s the abstract:

The Korean War saw the capture of enemies on the battlefield become far more meaningful than simply the removal of a body from the field of war. During the conflict, the detainee body circulated in a suite of mediated spaces: in international law, at the negotiating table at the Panmunjom armistice meetings, in newspapers, and as a dynamic subject in a host of military doctrinal revisions. This period also corresponds with the emergence of a flurry of social scientific research that sought to unleash the power of rationality and modern science on complex and unruly systems. Indeed, these two narratives are intertwined, as one of the central ways that the American military came to know the cultural landscape of the Cold War enemy was through social and behavioral scientists’ use of wartime detainees as entries in a living database, and war prison space itself as a research laboratory.

In this paper, I detail a series of studies produced by teams of scientists that were dispatched to the Korean War camps to interview both prisoners and combatants, using cutting-edge research methods to generate recommendations about managing the often-disorderly practice of apprehending prisoners. As the case studies here suggest, these scholars became an integral part of the fledgling Cold War military-industrial-academic complex, and in the Korean war prisons they sought not only to calculate and quantify the vagaries of the battlefield, but also to repackage them as governable spaces that neatly reproduced the structure of a clear bipolar geopolitical narrative.

Geography, War, and the Human Sciences

Looks like I’ll be participating in this set of papers on Geography, War, and the Human Sciences (organized by Elliott Child, Matthew Farish, & Trevor Barnes) at the AAGs this spring:

With these sessions, we hope to strengthen the ties between two strands of scholarship. On the one hand, over the past two decades, geographers have contributed extensively to the nascent field of critical military studies. Much of this work has focused on the imaginative geographies and geopolitics of the U.S.-led ‘War on Terror’, and also on the relationship between geographical knowledge and the older American ‘military-industrial-academic complex’. On the other hand, during the same period, historians, anthropologists, and others from science and technology studies have carefully investigated the entanglements of militaries and the human or social sciences during the middle decades of the twentieth century, teasing out stories of military patronage and illuminating sites and networks of knowledge-production, training and experimentation

Drawing these inquiries together promises to push both histories of the human sciences and histories of geography in new directions, with additional consequences for critical military studies. Specifically, as we pursue more-than-disciplinary histories of geography, we hope to further consider the ‘geographies’ at stake in the military consideration of the ‘social’ and the ‘human’, within and beyond the United States. What geographies have animated the military human sciences, and how has geographical knowledge, in turn, been shaped by the growth of security states, demands for global and regional intelligence, and the massive sphere of defense science and contracting?

We welcome papers on the following themes:

  • Historical geographies of the military human sciences
  • Psychological and political warfare
  • Defence contracting and defence science
  • Intelligence industries and the academy
  • Interrogation, brainwashing, & spaces of military confinement
  • Counterinsurgency, policing and the human sciences
  • Military computing and quantification
  • War and area studies


After a long week scoring Advanced Placement exams in Ohio, I had the pleasure of seeing Do Ho Suh’s beautiful show Passage at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center this week. Even though I was often drawn to simply consider the exhibit’s myriad technical marvels, I think it’s so powerful a body of work because there’s so much humor and longing and hope that traces across all of the pieces. The everydayness of the objects and spaces, when recreated faithfully in a new material, truly becomes exceptional.

Suh 1

Suh 2

Global Air Traffic Map

Following up on an earlier post linking to a map of global shipping lanes, this live flightradar24 map of global air traffic just as fascinating. It offers the ability to ‘see’ a view from the cockpit of all airborne flights around the world:

On Lines

“The line may be drawn on the ground as clear as clear can be, but the quality of the space that it draws–what is on the inside and what is on the outside, and who or what governs either side–is alway in question (especially for thos who die on one side of the wire).” from Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty. 2015, page 23

The work of precision II

In writing my earlier post about precision, I was reminded of Donald MacKenzie’s incredible book Inventing Accuracy, in which he explores the following premise:

“This book reveals just how wrong it is to assume that missile accuracy is a natural or inevitable consequence of technical change. Nor, however, has it come about simply because governments, for good or bad reasons, have desired it. Rather, it is the product of a complex process of conflict and collaboration between a range of social actors including ambitious, energetic technologists, laboratories and corporations, and political and military leaders and the organizations they head. The invention of accuracy has fueled, and has itself been fueled by, the cold war. It has been a shaping force, but has itself been shaped.” from Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance. 1990, page 3

And later…

“A technology is not just social up to the point of invention and self-sustaining thereafter. Its conditions of possibility are always social.” page 4

It seems to me that despite the increasing reliance on algorithmic thinking and automation in social and political worlds, perhaps our concern oughtn’t be solely with these technologies and technological practices per se, but, continuing MacKenzie’s thinking, with the seemingly unproblematic ways in which ideas like precision and accuracy have come to define ever-smaller aspects of daily life.


Two consecutive posts about words… There are just some words that I really like, and lineament is one of them. I have only ever come across the word used in reference to lines, specifically those tracing the body or geometric forms, so I was interested when I read Alberto Toscano’s essay “Lineaments of the Logistical State,” which begins with a brief definition of the word lineament that’s tied to geological/geophysical characteristics:

Lineament. noun. GEOLOGY. A linear feature on the earth’s surface, such as a fault.

This is the definition from the OED:

Lineament, n

a. A line; also, a delineation, diagram, outline, sketch; pl. outlines, designs. lit. and fig.
b. A minute portion, a trace; pl. elements, rudiments.

a. A portion of the body, considered with respect to its contour or outline, a distinctive feature.
b. fig. in pl. Distinctive features or characteristics.

In narrower sense, a portion of the face viewed with respect to its outline; a feature.

I suppose the two definitions are similar enough, but the OED has no reference to land or geology. There’s something really nice about understanding lineaments as borders of sorts, but also having that meaning extended more explicitly to terrain, and understanding spatial or geographic contours as things that move, have traces, and have directionality as fault lines do. Fixed and distinct, yet fluid and mobile.