Black and Witt present at Penn Libraries symposium

Posted: March 1, 2017

Professor Alistair Black and doctoral student Steven Witt discussed their research at the Penn Libraries symposium, The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age, which was held February 23-25 at the University of Pennsylvania and the Beckman Center at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. 

Black presented, "'All information flows toward it, or returns to it in a form worked up into shape': The Intelligence Branch and Libraries of the British War Office, 1873-1914."

Abstract: Intelligence has always been an aspect of organized warfare. It was not until the 1873, however, that the British Army effectively recognized this formally by establishing a dedicated division, under the auspices of the War Office, named the "Intelligence Branch," whose work was to be supported by collections of printed materials in libraries spread across a number of locations. Based on documents held in the National Archives (UK), this paper explores the ways in which the work of the War Office Intelligence Branch developed before the First World War in response to imperial and foreign-military challenges. Specifically, attention is paid to the type of information management methods that were employed. Significantly, these methods pre-dated those that emerged around the turn of the century in the first large multinational corporations, in counter-intelligence agencies like MI5 (1908) and in the Board of Trade, which inaugurated a Commercial Intelligence Branch in 1899. They also pre-dated, though subsequently paralleled, the late-nineteenth century emergence of a science of management, which included an identifiable information dimension.

Witt presented, "Creating the International Mind: Promoting Peace and the Global Society through Books, Dialogue, and Cultural exchange 1917-1938."

Abstract: In 1918, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) worked to disseminate legal, cultural, and historical knowledge throughout the world. These efforts aimed to put an end to war by encouraging international understanding and developing cosmopolitan perspectives that emphasized transnational connections and de-emphasized nationalism. This global educational program was part of a well-funded and highly organized operation aimed to universalize global perspectives through an internationalism that would yield peace through cultural understanding and new forms of global governance. This paper will examine the role of the CEIP in developing transnational networks through libraries, publishers, and universities, anticipating the rise in the power of information networks and civil society groups to effect change on a global level.

Black has been a full professor at the iSchool since 2009 and was named an iSchool Centennial Scholar for 2014-2015. He is the author of A New History of the English Public Library (1996), The Public Library in Britain 1914-2000 (2000), and Libraries of Light: British Public Library Design in the Long 1960s (2017). He is coauthor of Understanding Community Librarianship (1997); The Early Information Society in Britain, 1900-1960 (2007); and Books, Buildings and Social Engineering (2009). Among his current research projects is a study of the architecture of the new British Library in the context of the "two cultures" debate in Britain initiated by C.P. Snow in the late 1950s.

Witt is director of the Center for Global Studies, and associate professor and head of the International Studies Library at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on the trajectory and impacts of international developments in library and information science, placing global trends in librarianship and knowledge production in the context of wider social and technological developments.

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