Presentation by John Laprise (Northwestern University-Qatar).
The White House is arguably the preeminent focus of political power in the United States. It lies at the center of vast array of networks and is a member of countless others. Many of these networks are open to scrutiny but far more are hidden from view. It is unsurprising that the White House used computers to manage many of these networks at the end of the Cold War. Startlingly, the records and information surrounding the White House’s adoption of computers is accessible in archives and presidential libraries, if you know where to look. This paper traces the author’s surprising archaeological expedition through the records of four presidents, one vice president and one private company along with a few oral histories as he struggles to piece together the important untold history of the computerization of the White House. Beginning with an accidental encounter with “information automation” and ending(?) with the chance discovery of the corporate records of the former telecommunications giant MCI, this archaeological study explores the hidden recesses of administrative documentation, the frontiers of online location of living historical actors, and the wisdom of archivists. It also asks serious historiographical questions about the nature of knowledge, doubt and secrecy in an information environment littered with classified information. How do we really know what we think we know?
John Laprise is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar. His work examines the convergence of computers, national security, and communication technologies within the federal government, focusing specifically on information policy and technology adoption. He is an alumnus of Miami University (class of ’91), where he received a BPhil (Interdisciplinary Studies) [Western] and a BA (History, Religion).