Day 8: Who makes history? | Finding missing names

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Sunday, December 2, 2007
How does history remember women? Think of an inventor of a modern appliance, what’s the first name that comes to your mind? Is she a woman, or a man?

Those who have access to power are the ones who write history. This is how colonial explorers are able to claim that they ‘discovered’ lands long inhabited by indigenous populations, and how male academic and surgeon, Matteo Realdo Colombo, was able to declare that he ‘discovered’ the clitoris (!)

The field of science and technology is particularly steeped in the culture of elevating ‘father figures’. Think of all the notable names in computing, and chances are, you’ll come up with Bill Gates, Richard Stallman, Steve Jobs, Charles Babbage, Alan Turing etc. It’s less likely for us to know names of women such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Betty Holberton, Kathleen Antonelli and more, who also played critical roles in the expansion of knowledge and innovation in this field. Even Alan Turing, who contributed much to development of modern computers, faced heavy censure including surveillance, being labeled as a ‘security risk’ and undergoing hormonal treatments because he openly acknowledged his homosexuality at the later part of his career. He died soon after.

There is a different way to look at how knowledge is gained and utility created. Instead of attributing genesis to a single source and investing him with godlike powers, creation is the result of input, contribution and effort by collectives, all working together and our own ways, to build from what we know. The problem is, many of the people within collectives and teams occupy relatively less powerful positions than the person who gets the final credit. They are the invisible thinkers, innovators and workers.

Shake away from this tiresome understanding of how things are made. Take a day to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse contributions by unnamed and unrecognised women and men in the development of ICT.

  • Find out the communities that developed applications that you use all the time – facebook widgets, microsoft applications, free and open source softwares, gmail etc.
  • Note their names, acknowledge their contribution
  • If there’s a woman involved, we’d especially like to celebrate her for today. Simply because we know it’s particularly hard for anyone with a ‘Ms’ to overcome multiple forms of discrimination to gain access and recognition in the field of science and technology.
  • Share it with others!
    • Send a “Did you know…” email to 10 people
    • Add it to the comment section of this site, and we’ll highlight it on the campaign website
    • Blog about it (tag “takebackthetech” to your post)
    • Write it on the walls

Name them, honor them, party in their name. Celebrate the diversity that comes with creation.