Gender, Technocracy, and Economic Decline: The Failure of Computing in Britain

Thursday, May 4, 2017

4:15 pm

Building 200, Room 307 Map

Sponsored by:
History Department

In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. While the British case might seem like a simple example of a nation losing out to international competition, the reality is much more disturbing. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation discarded the majority of its trained technical workforce—simply because they were women. Drawing connections between the UK experience and the US, this talk highlights the mechanisms of structural discrimination by which nations undercut their own prosperity and power. Britain’s failure in computing after a strong start contains lessons for all similar postindustrial superpowers and helps shed light on how discrimination in high technology fields affects the fortunes of entire countries. Addressing the fiction of meritocracy and the paradox of technological utopianism, this talk explains how neglecting civil rights is in fact often a precondition for technological “progress.”

About the Speaker

Marie Hicks is an assistant professor of history of technology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. She received her BA from Harvard University and her MA and Ph.D. from Duke University. Hicks researches how gender and sexuality help us better understand the hidden dynamics of technological systems. Her new book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing (MIT Press) investigates how women's experiences change core assumptions in the history of computing and alter what we think we know about technological progress. Hicks teaches courses on the history of computing, disasters, and gender and sexuality studies. Before entering academia, she worked as a UNIX systems administrator. For more about her work, see her website, or her book website,

Thursday, May 4, 2017
4:15 pm – 6:00 pm
Building 200, Room 307 Map

Free and Open to the Public