Victorian Technologies of Memory: Prehistories of Computing and Historical Memory
North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) 2023 Panel
November 9-11, 2023
Inspired by calls for nineteenth-century scholarship to revise typical Victorian approaches—especially by attending to Black Studies, African American studies, and postcolonial studies—the proposed panel asks participants to re-centralize discussions of race, Atlantic slavery, and reform to traditional histories of Victorian technology, computing, and mathematics during the nineteenth century. Drawing upon Christina Sharpe’s call to “become undisciplined” in In the Wake, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong challenge Victorian Studies to “radically renovate, rethink, and even un-make . . . Victorian Studies itself,” by recentering race, histories of racial difference, slavery, and colonialism (p 371). For this panel, the organizers seek to situate the computational inventions of the Victorian period in the context of Britain’s abolitionist discourse and its movement from a westward focus to eastward imperial expansion (attempting to consign its Atlantic colonial history to the past). Through this panel the organizers hope to shift historical narratives around technology that focus on the originary ‘genius’ or strictly technical and scientific histories of technologies, to think more expansively and even interdisciplinarily about the emergence, and formation, of technologies of memory and computation.
What does it mean to approach a conventionally technical history through this historical context, as well as our own–a present where algorithmic philosophies (if not ontologies) permeate big tech and technical solutions are proposed for the long histories of social inequality, racial inequality, and racial difference? What emerges by approaching these histories, texts, and figures from our 2023 context, a period of ideological and technological extremes (from extreme Christian nationalism and white supremacy to AI and Chat GPT)? Such efforts might, for example, rethink computing pioneer Charles Babbage’s place in traditional scholarship on the history of computing; discuss the relationship between nineteenth-century technologies and memory and memorialization; or examine the role of certain technologies as liberatory forces during the period. How might these contexts re-position our understanding of historical memory; of Charles Babbage and the mid-nineteenth century; of how we do the work of memorialization; of the very history of memory technologies and practices?
The organizers welcome submissions for a 15–20 conference talk from eighteenth-and nineteenth-century scholars working on any topics or questions related here.
- Memory in a variety of contexts (historical, technical, computational, psychological)
- Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, George Boole, William Whewell, Henri Bergson, etc.
- Victorian computation and Victorian media
- Histories and cultures of computation
- Histories of race and racialization; race and technology
- Victorian mathematics
- AI & critical software studies
- Digital humanities & digital research methodologies
- Literary form and the Industrial Revolution
- Statistics, insurance, speculation, quantification, ontologies of number
- Literature and science; media histories, media infrastructure