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Past History Events

Learning to Code: From Information Theory to French Theory

Tuesday, April 18th, 2023
Time: 5:30 - 7:00 PM
Krannert Auditorium, Room 140 
   How and why, in the latter half of the twentieth century, did theories of “code” developed around cybernetics and information theory take root in research settings as varied as electrical engineering, Palo Alto family therapy, Parisian semiotics, and cultural theories taking root at US liberal arts colleges? Drawing on his recently published book “Code: From Information Theory to French Theory” (Duke UP, 2023) this talk explores how data-driven exercises from Dutch Bali to MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) inspired these varied and diverse audiences in a common dream of “learning to code.” The result is a new history of the obscure ties linking Progressive Era technocracy and the prestige of engineering to the rise of “theory” in the humanities and social sciences.

    In Code Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan reconstructs how Progressive Era technocracy as well as crises of industrial democracy and colonialism shaped early accounts of cybernetics and digital media by theorists including Norbert Wiener, Warren Weaver, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roman Jakobson, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, and Luce Irigaray. His analysis casts light on how media-practical research forged common epistemic cause in programs that stretched from 1930s interwar computing at MIT and eugenics to the proliferation of seminars and laboratories in 1960s Paris. This mobilization ushered forth new fields of study such as structural anthropology, family therapy, and literary semiology while forming enduring intellectual affinities between the humanities and informatics. With Code, Geoghegan offers a new history of French theory and the digital humanities as transcontinental and political endeavors linking interwar colonial ethnography in Dutch Bali to French sciences in the throes of Cold War-era decolonization and modernization. 


American Political History Conference 2022:

The Past, Present, and Future of American Democracy

At a moment when democracy is under assault in the U.S. and abroad, and when grassroots activism is rapidly and radically altering the terms of political debate, U.S. political history has been thriving, both inside the academy and in the wider world of activism, journalism, and politics. This conference aimed to bring together cutting-edge scholarship with new forms of public engagement to use historical research and thinking to understand and address twenty-first century political challenges. This event brought political historians into conversation with one another and the broader public and grapple with the idea of what it means to study American political history. It created opportunities to build networks, share new research, debate ideas, think about the implications of this research in our contemporary setting, and discuss strategies for public engagement. This conference aimed to encourage expansive reassessments of the parameters of American political history and the ways in which we disseminate historical scholarship within and outside the academy.

This conference was held in person, but there were options to participate virtually, including a Saturday Keynote Lunch Conversation on “Reproductive Rights and Politics,” with Gillian Frank, Jennifer Holland, Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, and Mary Ziegler.

A copy of the program can be found here


Women in the White House - 2018

Former First Lady Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna visited Purdue University's Elliott Hall of Music on Oct. 18, 2018 for the Sears Lecture Series event, "Women in the White House and Beyond." The Bush women discussed life in politics and their advocacy since President George W. Bush left the White House with associate professor of history Kathryn Brownell. Presented by College of Liberal Arts and Department of History.