I am a historian of science and technology at Harvard University. My work centers on the following question: How have information technologies contributed to the constitution of the modern economy?
My dissertation, "Engineering Capital: Computers, Statistics, and the Making of Modern Finance, 1929-1976” responds to this question by studying one exemplary case: the history of the stock market in the United States. Following the use of human, mechanical and electronic computers in the analysis, management, and regulation of the stock market from the crash of 1929 to the rise of computerized markets in the 1970s, it argues that technology changed the way capital markets were understood as economic phenomena, epistemic devices, and objects subject to political governance. Technology altered the way money was invested but, in a more profound sense, how the United States as a society came to invest trust in markets as mechanisms for managing the affairs of a capitalist democracy.
However, the effect of technology on these historical developments was neither simple nor monodirectional. The history tacks between two frames of analysis: one emphasizing the explicit and implicit technical supports for economic knowledge and financial practice; and one emphasizing the economic imaginaries shaping the programming, deployment, and promises of computers themselves. Mechanical calculators, the human institutions that gathered and prepared data for them, and the electronic devices that began to manage financial markets in the 1960s—these were things shaped by the very economic conditions and managerial strategies they helped bring into being.
In particular, the history emphasizes the way computers were once capital: large pieces of equipment subject to managerial rationalization schemes that programmed their costly time for efficient use, and economized their expense through corporate investment strategies that commoditized their time and work. My dissertation argues that the transformation of computers into the pervasive technology of everyday mediation and the virtualization of capital through the expansion of financial markets were fundamentally related historical processes. This project unwinds the tight binding between the history of markets and the history of machines to reveal the stepwise but mutually supporting historically relationships between the 20th century’s defining technology and its persistent economic legacy.
I have published on the history of the first computer system at the New York Stock Exchange, and am currently developing two articles based on the dissertation research: one on the commoditization of computer-time in "spare-time" markets in the 1960s and 1970s; and another on the history of the "job shop scheduling problem" in computer science and operations research in the 1950s and 1960s.
My second project, tentatively titled "Tracing Capital," examines the technologies and mathematical practices underlying global capitalism after World War II. A multi-site history of consolidation and economic intensification, it explores the history of logistics as a technical practice and the effect of shipping routes, distribution center practices, and supply-chain management on the remapping of global economic power and inequity.
My research is supported by the generosity of the IEEE Fellowship in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology, the John E. Rovensky Fellowship for US Business and Economic History, the Erwin Hiebert fund for research and conference travel at the Department of the History of Science, Harvard, and the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.