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Circuits of Practice’s research is organised within three groups (called “Circuits”) each consisting of the university-based Research Team (The PI Simone Natale, co-I Ross Parry and RA Petrina Foti), two Partner Museums and one International Partner Museum. Each Circuit is led by a different member of the Research Team.

Circuit 1: TIME

How can museums narrate the development of computers through time?

Popular narratives about the emergence of computing often privilege linear trajectories of evolution, presenting the contemporary media configuration as an inevitable consequence of past developments (Flichy, 2007; Mosco, 2004). By presenting more nuanced and sophisticated narratives of technological change, museums have the opportunity to provide audiences with tools for questioning the role of computing technologies in social change (Blyth, 2013; Weber, 2016). Drawing from ongoing debates in media history that challenge rigid trajectories from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’ (Sterne, 2016; Peters, 2016) and from ‘old’ to ‘new’ media (see Natale, 2016a for an overview of the debate), as well as from recent contributions in media studies unveiling neglected aspects in histories of computing (e.g. Broussard, 2018), the project will explore how the emergence and development of computing can be narrated in museum environments.

Lead: Professor Ross Parry 

Partner Museums: The Centre for Computing History; The National Science and Media Museum

International Partner Museum: National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation “MIRAIKAN” (Japan)

Circuit 2: OBJECTS

How can hardware and software artefacts be mobilized by museums to narrate histories of modern computing?

Due to their material character and their relevance in human culture, artefacts are a key component of museum exhibitions (Tatnall and Davey, 2013). Yet, artefacts related to the history of computing pose a key challenge to museums: on the one side, software has an uncertain and inherently unstable status which poses a number of problems in terms of how to collect and “narrate” digital-born objects (Foti, 2018); on the other side, it is difficult to integrate hardware of historical relevance without risking to “make computers boring” (Sumner, 2016) or insignificant to the public’s experiences (Holdsworth, 2013). Drawing from insights in media theory about the status of digital objects (e.g. Hui, 2016) and the materiality of digital media (e.g. Kirschenbaum, 2008), the project will explore how digital objects, both hardware and software, can be mobilized in museum environments to construct narratives about computing.

Lead: Dr Simone Natale

Museum Partners: The National Museum of Computing, Victoria & Albert Museum

International Partner Museum: National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci (Italy)

Circuit 3: DATA

How can museums narrate the role of information and data in computing histories?

The key role played in contemporary societies by algorithms processing huge amount of data with an extremely vast range of applications has been recently at the forefront of public debates (Holmes, 2017). Literature in media history has unveiled the long historical trajectory through which data have become central to the functioning of modern societies (Gitelman, 2013). Critical scholars such as Hicks (2017), Tufekci (2017) and Noble (2018) have argued for necessity to include alternative narratives and more diverse voices to unveil the circumstances and implications of the emergence of “data societies.” Drawing on this literature, the project will interrogate how such narratives can be incorporated into museum environments, giving particular emphasis to people’s experiences and to the close intertwining between social and technical processes.

Lead: Dr Petrina Foti

Museum Partners: Bletchley Park, Science Museum

International Partner Museum: Computer History Museum (USA)