Prof. Russell on Innovation and Standardization in the Monopoly Bell System

11/8/2012

 

Prof. Andrew Russell, Director of CAL's Program in Science & Technology Studies, traveled to Baltimore on October 27, 2012, to present a paper at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIST). Russell's presentation, "Bancroft Gherardi and the Monopoly Bell System: Pioneers in Information Technology Standardization," was one of 19 papers included in a special day-long session on the history of information science and technology, organized as part of ASIST's 75th Anniversary celebrations.

In his paper, Russell examined the career of Bancroft Gherardi, AT&T Vice President and Chief Engineer from 1920-1938.  In contrast to histories that celebrate the inventive traditions of Bell Labs, Russell showed how standardization - the process by which a novelty is transformed into an everyday technology - was a practice that sustained AT&T's ambition to provide "Universal Service" for the American public.  As AT&T's Chief Engineer, Gherardi used standardization as a key component of his broader strategy to tame, shape, and direct innovation to meet the needs of the nationwide Bell System.  Russell's account of Gherardi's career emphasizes a broader point: innovation in information technology is not always a desperate dash to capitalize on research and invention; rather, those who innovate succeed only when they understand the broader social and technological systems that surround them.  

Russell's paper was published in the peer-reviewed conference volume edited by Toni Carbo and Trudi Bellardo Hahn, International Perspectives on the History of Information Science and Technology (Medford, New Jersey: American Society for Information Science & Technology, 2012). Research for the paper was supported in part by ASIST's History Fund, which awarded Russell a Research Grant in 2010.

For more information or a copy of the paper, contact Prof. Russell.