Per una storia culturale della rete. L'idea di "open source" dalle prime comunità informatiche alle discipline umanistiche, 1970 - 2011


The digital technologies have undoubtedly had a deep impact on the humanities as a whole; while the practical effects of the “digital shift” on these disciplines are well known to any humanist that ever used a search engine or a digital archive, the investigation on its cultural and epistemological effects has just begun. This project aims to trace the genealogy of one of the most original cultural phenomenons linked to the digital technologies, what has come to be known in the 90s as “open source” (the practice, initially limited to software programmers, of freely sharing the programming codes with their colleagues, in order to allow the modification and the improvement of the final product - the software). Born as a a mere professional practice, limited to software developers and with no explicit definition, the idea of a free and “open” collaboration between computer users gradually assumed a political and ideological value, quickly becoming one of the hallmark values of several computer-related communities. The research will follow the evolution of the idea of “open source” from its origin in the first american hacker and “hobbyist” (computer enthusiasts) communities in the end of the 70s, until its recent and still uncertain extension to the humanistic field - a transition testified by new research methodologies (crowd sourcing, data mining), new tools (open archives and open softwares) and new policies of cultural divulgation (i.e. those put forward by the Open Access movement). In order to describe the discourse in which the concept was born and evolved, the researcher will have to investigate the history of the communities that rallied around the use of the first personal computers, those self-proclaimed “hackers” that saw in their ability to modify the machines and in their willingness to share the result of their efforts a distinctive characteristic of their community. The researcher will have to analyze the newsletters created by the first “virtual communities” at the beginning of the 80s, the specialized magazines for hobbysts and hackers, as well as to gather original interviews in order to locate the idea of open source inside the wider context of the early computer-related communities. In doing so he will use this same idea as a trait d’union to investigate the cultural history of a social movement that, probably due to its fragmentation and its “virtual” nature, has rarely been object of an historical analysis. The successful candidate will be experienced in cultural history through textual analysis and will have an acquaintance with the tools of oral history. He will have a knowledge of the relevant technologies deep enough to understand the possibilities given to the social actors at each stage and to understand the technical language used by the sources. He will have a deep knowledge of the functioning of the Internet and of the possibilities it offers to historians and humanists.

2011 - 2013

Federico Mazzini

Responsabile per il Dipartimento
Carlotta Sorba

Carlotta Sorba
Maristella Agosti
Marco Aime (Università degli Studi di Genova)
Tommaso Detti (Università degli Studi di Siena)
Patrick Joyce (University of Manchester)
Serge Noiret (Istituto Universitario Europeo)