Volume 47, number 2 (May-June 2012)

James W. Cortada
Shaping Information History as an Intellectual Discipline (119-144).

Information is an emerging field of interest and concern to citizens, public officials, and scholars in many disciplines. This article acknowledges that problems exist in defining the subject of information history and argues the case that the topic can be addressed in a more coherent fashion. It then poses five questions for historians to investigate with respect to this field and proposes a sequence of three strategies and an agenda for what scholars can do to make this topic a new field of inquiry called “information history,” drawing upon historiographical experiences of other areas of historical inquiry.

Benjamin Peters
Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics (145-175).

Not many word pairs sound as exotic to the Western ear as “Soviet” and “cybernetics.” Yet this article argues that what may be most significant about the history of Soviet cybernetics—however full of fascinating figures and tales of an alternative imagination for a mid-century information society—is precisely how normal or representative the Soviet experience with cybernetics appears in the larger context of Soviet history. It explores how the twists and turns in the Soviet experience with cybernetics follow preexisting political dynamics, debate patterns, rituals of discourse, strategies for intellectual defense, alliance forging, institution building, and other variables. By demystifying the seemingly exotic, this article aims to help spark insight on some of the historical contingencies and conditions behind the contemporary information age.

Sara L. Wimberley and Jessica L. McClean
Supermarket Savvy: The Everyday Information-Seeking Behavior of Grocery Shoppers (176-205).

This paper examines the information-seeking behaviors of grocery shoppers. Beginning with a review of the historical development of supermarkets in America, it then synthesizes information-seeking behaviors of shoppers in grocery stores with everyday life information-seeking theories. Grocery stores and supermarkets changed dramatically over time, and business practices evolved in order to meet consumer demands for information. Shoppers’ information-retrieval behaviors, including information seeking, information gathering, and information acquisition, were employed in novel ways as information resources emerged, but remained largely unchanged over time.

Dominique Daniel
The Politics of Ethnic Heritage Preservation in Canada: The Case of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (206-232).

This article examines the constitution of the collections of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario between 1976 and 1982 in the context of the Canadian policy of multiculturalism. Set up as an independent nonprofit organization to document the history of ethnocultural communities in Ontario, the Society was funded with public money. This article considers how competition with other cultural heritage organizations and relationships with ethnic donors affected collecting strategies. While the Society’s mission was scholarly, the politicization of multiculturalism influenced its collecting process in significant ways. This case study illustrates the importance of understanding contextual factors when assessing the scope, content, and limitations of library, archive, or museum collections.

Jeff Loveland
Why Encyclopedias Got Bigger . . . and Smaller (233-254).

This article will show that the European encyclopedia’s critical period of growth took place from 1690 to 1840; the size of the largest printed encyclopedias declined or stabilized thereafter. Having established this pattern of change and its importance for encyclopedism, the article will then evaluate the factors determining the change. The early growth of encyclopedias was above all a consequence of competition, perceptions of the market for encyclopedias, and publishers’ and contributors’ psychology, while the most important causes for encyclopedias’ lack of growth after 1840 were the standardization of encyclopedias as products, the cost of compilation, and financial conservatism among encyclopedia-makers.