Joy Lisi Rankin: A People's History of Computing in the United States

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This idea that only a few people—who happen to be white men—created change, to me that was a pretty limiting history. So I was really writing against this ‘founding fathers’ story of digital culture.
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Joy Lisi Rankin discusses her book A People’s History of Computing in the United States with Chris Richardson. When a new acquaintance recently asked Rankin how long she had been a writer, she says that her answer surprised them both. “I responded, without much thought, ‘Oh, since fifth grade.’ She chuckled with a hint of disbelief, and I paused, struck by the honesty and earnestness of my response. Dorothy Gombas, my fifth-grade teacher, nurtured and encouraged my writing. She submitted it for publication, for awards. Most importantly, she convinced me that dedication to writing – and to learning – was worthwhile.”

Rankin has loved learning – and writing – since then, but traditional disciplines and boundaries never quite applied. She was equally engaged whether she was pouring through 19th century women’s letters in the quiet, lovely archives at Girton College, University of Cambridge or whether she was working through theoretical statistics problem sets and pizza with her math-major peers. Rankin’s path after college meandered, but she continued to write: through the tech start-up, through launching programs, and especially as she pursued a master’s degree in Liberal Studies at Duke and then a doctorate in History at Yale. “I could say, now, that I’m a historian, a scholar. Or a partner or a parent, a former dancer or an active yogi. But I prefer the doing, the emphasis on the action. So, I love writing and learning. I take pride in working as a Contributing Editor for Lady Science. I think of my PhD as a license to learn, and to write – very worthwhile endeavors, indeed.”


“I am a feminist. The Unladylike podcast is a lifeboat of like-minded women interested in questioning and overturning the status quo that is our contemporary racist, sexist patriarchy. I recommend both the podcast, hosted by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, and their new book Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space.”


Franchesca Ramsey, a comic and activist, spoke with Unladylike about her experiences before and after her viral YouTube video, "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls.” Ramsey also wrote a book, Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist – on my reading list to learn more about her journey to activism, and her reflections on racism, sexism, and online identity.”


“The intersectionality of race and gender is exquisitely, elegantly, heart-breakingly rendered in Not Quite Not White by Sharmila Sen. Sen considers race as something that was bestowed upon her 12-year-old self when she arrived in the United States as an immigrant from India. Sen’s is a powerful, provocative memoir and meditation on whiteness, womanhood, and the acrobatic contortions of self and identity required of immigrants. Also – full disclosure - I love this book because Sharmila Sen is my outstanding editor at Harvard University Press.”


“In her new book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, the philosopher Kate Manne argues that misogyny is the police force of the patriarchy. She examines recent and current events to show how misogyny works to patrol male dominance, to punish those who challenge it, and to uphold the ‘good girls’ who sit down and shut up. One aspect of Manne’s work that I find crucial is that she shows how women – even those who think of themselves as feminists – can exhibit misogynistic behavior.”

The Odyssey
By Homer

“A 2-for-1: Read Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey along with Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. Having been trained as a historian, I have found that reading these two works, which simultaneously dislocate me by thousands of years yet engage urgently with the present, also serve as a very stark reminder of the continuity of misogyny and the human preoccupation with differentiating between ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”