The Past Futures of the History of Science: the Many Worlds of Nikolai Vavilov

11 Oct 2018
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Elena Aronova
Assistant Professor of History of Science

The International Geophysical Year or IGY (1957–8), conceived against a background of nuclear secrecy intensified by Cold War political tensions, enabled the distinct data regime that took hold in Soviet and American World Data Centers in the 1950s and 1960s—a regime that turned data into a form of currency, traded by the political players of the Cold War. This essay examines this data regime in detail, considering, in turn, the issues of secrecy and access, sharing and exchange, accumulation and archiving, and, finally, handling and use of the IGY data. Features of the IGY’s data centers, such as the notion of centralized storage of open data, freely accessible to users from around the world, played an important role in establishing the practices of data governance that continue today. These practices, however, were outcomes of the politics, visions, and accompanying technologies that were embedded in a supportive political culture of the Cold War. By revisiting the drawbacks and challenges that accompanied the Big Data moment in the early Cold War, this essay explores multiple meanings of data, and the ways in which data participated in a subtle Cold War political economy, beyond their use (or the lack thereof) in the production of knowledge.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS