Historiographic Approach

"Making the Macintosh" is principally an effort at documentation. Its electronic archive consists of material from collections at Stanford, and newly-published material from the private collections of people involved in the history of the Macintosh. But even archival projects have historiographic assumptions: in making choices about what facts and materials are worth preserving, archivists make judgments similar to those made by historians while writing. The reasoning behind the specific choice of subjects covered in Release 1.0 is discussed elsewhere; the purpose of this document is to explain the theoretical premises underlying this project.

A Social History of Computers

One basic premise of this project is that technologies must be understood as devices that have social, cultural, and symbolic lives. The history of a popular technology like the Mac has to include the perspectives of its designers; the people who write about it; its early users; and creators of supporting technology, like software and peripherals. This means that many different kinds of documents need to be preserved: technical specifications, project reports, source code, drawings and schematics, but also marketing plans, focus group studies, commercial storyboards, product reviews, and user manuals.

The project is a social history in another respect. Since the 1960s, social historians of work, warfare, and gender (among others) have proven the value of paying attention to people who had not traditionally been included in academic history. Military historians John Keegan and Steven Ambrose have shown that it is impossible to understand the nature of combat-- and hence the essential nature of warfare-- without writing about soldiers in the field as well as the generals. Labor historian E. P. Thompson's classic studies of the English working class not only revealed much about the dynamics of the Industrial Revolution; they also uncovered rich intellectual traditions from (as Thompson put it) "the enormous condescension of history."

Earlier work on the Macintosh has focused on Steve Jobs and a small group of software and hardware developers who were featured in the computer's advertising campaign. Everyone who received attention deserved credit; but there were others who contributed to the project who have been overlooked. This project seeks to tell the stories of people who have not been included in earlier account: technical writers who created the documentation for the Mac; marketing people who developed the advertising messages for Mac promotions; enthusiasts who organized user groups around the Mac; industry analysts and journalists who wrote about it; and others. By doing so, we will learn things about the way the Macintosh evolved.

An Electronic History

The exhibit also uses the multimedia capacities of the World Wide Web to present the diversity of sources and voices available to historians writing on the recent past. This gives readers the chance to see the primary materials for themselves, and allows the sources-- both the artifacts and the people who created them-- to speak for themselves. It also provides a chance to experiment with ways historical practice can be improved by giving readers access to primary material along with finished analyses.

Document created on 14 July 2000;