Interpreting the information age: can we avoid anglocentrism?

Bissell, Christopher (2014). Interpreting the information age: can we avoid anglocentrism? In: Interpreting the Information Age: New Avenues for Research and Display, 3-5 Nov 2014, Science Museum, London.


Much of what has been written – or exhibited in British and American museums – about the information age has concentrated on achievements by UK or US engineers, inventors, industrialists or theoreticians. We only have to think about Bletchley Park, Colossus, the MIT Radiation Lab, the Manchester ‘Baby’, ENIAC, EDVAC, LEO, Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, and so on, to appreciate what a powerful story this is. One or two outsiders do feature in the conventional account, such as the German computer pioneer Konrad Zuse, who built functioning electromechanical computers from the late 1930s onwards. Yet the first half of the twentieth century saw many other important contributors from outside the anglophone area. For example: the German Karl Küpfmüller was a major theoretician of electronics systems theory and closed-loop control in the 1920s and afterwards; the Russian Vladimir Kotelnikov published the first engineering account of the sampling theorem in 1933 and went on to make major advances in cryptography; and another German, Hermann Schmidt, developed cybernetics ideas in Germany independently of Wiener from 1939 onwards.

This paper looks at some of the most significant German and Russian contributors from the fields of electronics, communications and cybernetics in the dawn of the information age, and raises some important questions about whether we are too parochial in dealing with the history of technology.

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