The way we manage information today — web bookmarks, favorites lists, blogging, Lexis/Nexis, Google searches — has deep roots in the past. This talk connects three pioneering New York groups whose innovative ways of managing information helped change the world. First, abolitionists Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and Angelina’s husband Theodore Weld, who used the Southern slaveholding press against itself in 1839. Much like present-day hackers, they discovered that putting information in new contexts gave it new power.
Next, an African American man known as Back Number Budd opened a business in the 1870s in NYC’s Tenderloin and then in Queens, sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to journalists and lawyers. Was it because he was black that buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for old newspapers elsewhere considered trash? Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, and, finally, competition from a new way of managing newspapers also took over from it: clipping services. Squads of women marked keywords in thousands of newspapers, and clipped them for subscribers. Users hailed the services in utopian terms, just as people have greeted the Internet: Anyone, even in a remote town, could receive up-to-date information on new scientific and political developments.
This talk and discussion invites the audience to reflect on their own use of the Internet and social media, and their ancestor technologies. As we sit in front of computers today, engaged with the Internet, we rarely consider how people had to think differently about information to make our Google searches possible.
This program requires a projector for a laptop. I can supply the laptop, or bring the images on a flash drive.
This presentation can also focus more specifically on women’s work or on African American business.