This book is a useful introduction to information ecosystems and infrastructures, informed by the work of JoAnne Yates, Paul Edwards, Susan Leigh Star, Geoffrey Bowker, and others in business history and the history and sociology of technology. Cortada universalizes his proposed method of understanding information ecosystems as a historical approach by presenting case studies in computing, diplomacy, rural life, and genealogy, and by identifying six questions for historians to ask. These include considering the "vessels ... used to collect and store information in many different societies and times"; the types of information "collected, used, and shared" by and about people; "the patterns of adoption and use of information over time"; how "the use of information [has affected] the work and lives of specific individuals and ... groups"; "what other historical discourses should be viewed as information history"; and "the intrinsic features of facts themselves and how [they] affect the creation and use of other facts" (pp. 9–13). The book’s strengths are its focus on users and the author’s considerable expertise in business and computing history. Recommended.— Choice Reviews
Information history is an emerging academic discipline. It is a field that applies not only to understanding what has been called “the Information Age” but also provides a new lens to understand traditional historical topics such as technological, political, and cultural history across many centuries. In earlier writings, Cortada introduced the concept of information ecosystem as a way to understand the information content in people’s work and everyday lives. This book provides his first full-scale attempt to demonstrate the versatility and value of this concept, not only to information history but also to many other areas of history.
Using seven wide-ranging case studies (from salespersons within a single company, to competition of firms within an industry, to communities of farmwives), Cortada demonstrates the value of information ecosystems to general historical understanding. This is an important book not only for helping to solidify the nascent field of information history but also to test its value in more general historical study.— William Aspray, Emeritus Editor, Information & Culture; Senior Research Fellow, Charles Babbage Institute
Cortada expertly explores how to study the sprawling topic of information, a book certain to be valuable to historians, social scientists, scientists, and managers alike. His fascinating cases—from 1950s homemakers and international diplomats to genealogists and IBM sales managers—yield countless insights and deftly advance his thesis of infrastructures and ecosystems at the heart of it all.— Jeffrey R. Yost, author of Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry
Cortada’s work provides a much-needed introduction to the historical analysis of information.— Journal of Interdisciplinary History