In this talk, Craig Robertson provides a brief overview of the some of the themes of his recent book, The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information (Minnesota, 2021). He argues the emergence of the filing cabinet illustrates an important moment in the genealogy of the ascendance of modern information. He highlights a moment when information became a label for an instrumental form of knowledge, as information is connected to gendered ideas of efficiency and labor. Storing loose sheets of paper on their long edge in tabbed manila folders grouped behind tabbed guide cards made visible and tangible a conception of information as a discrete unit. Compared to pages in a bound book, loose paper in a tabbed folder presented information as something that was discrete, easy to extract, and easy to circulate: it was now possible to have information at your fingertips.
Craig Robertson is an associate professor of media studies at Northeastern University. For the last decade he has been researching and writing on the history of information and paperwork beginning with The Passport in America: The History of a Document (Oxford, 2010) His most recent book is The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information (Minnesota, 2021).
The following is a transcript of the video’s content, with human corrections. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig Robertson 00:48
What the filing cabinet did that nothing else had ever done before is allow loose paper to stand on its edge. I think I’ve caught you up
Craig Robertson 00:56
1890 Thank you, Heather. Invented 1890. So I’m largely talking about the early 20th century for most of this talk. So what are the advantages of storing newspaper on its edge? I’ll quickly note two. It’s easier to retrieve a piece of paper from a filing cabinet on its edge than from a pile of papers, right. And it’s also easier to find something specific. So loose paper can be grouped together with other relevant pieces of paper, regardless of when it was created. And in fact, it was the latter that first got me thinking about filing cabinet and research for my passport book. I spent weeks at National Archives in College Park, Maryland, looking for references to passports in thousands of reels of unindexed microfilm records of 19th century US diplomatic correspondence. You wish you were me. And so one day though, I arrived at records for 1906. That year is forever etched in my mind. Because that year, the State Department started using a numerical filing system. And so suddenly, every diplomatic office had the same number for passport correspondence, subdivided by specific issues and cases and applications. So rather than scrolling through formerly bound pages organized in chronological order, I could go straight to where the relevant information had been gathered in one place. So subject trumped chronology, right. And this completely changed my research and it made it possible to find documents I wanted with limited effort.
Craig Robertson 02:36
Okay, I’m just trying to get the screen going. So my epiphany at National Archives was one about classification, but later it became about storage. When I discovered that the early 20th century celebrants of classification systems that people who were excited as I was channeled their excitement into filing cabinets, right, the key was the move away from storing paper, in bound books. So to hopefully state the obvious, the filing cabinet stored pieces of paper, but paper was where knowledge was recorded, stored and circulated. So to store paper was to store information to make loose paper accessible was to make information accessible. Therefore, to use the filing cabinet was to interact with information. And that is why I argue the filing cabinet is an important object to study. The filing cabinet allows us to understand a fundamental change in the way in which information was gathered and stored and reused. A change that in its staying power continues to shape interactions with digital information. So not only through files on our computers or tabs on our browsers. But I would argue with digital digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, where women continue to assist people to find information. So I acknowledged the current contemporary stuff, but this talk is going to be pretty much a deep dive into that moment of emergence. And I do that because I think it’s important to acknowledge the power relations that are integral to infinite information technology is like the file or the tab. So rather than an infrastructural tubes and wires critique, this history makes information and data material by showing that the concepts through which we are still asked to imagine our encounters with information and data files, folders, tabs, etc, originated in highly gendered understandings of labor and information. And so in that sense, it kind of re-embodies information by showing that the properties of the information technologies associated with filing are the product of of historically specific power dynamics. So therefore, like again, general point I gave much earlier for a yes, technologies have affordances they’re designed to do some things more easily than others.
Craig Robertson 05:01
In that sense, I examine the filing cabinet as an object that is activated in particular ways it does some things and not others. And that since I don’t look at the filing cabinet has been inert or frozen, right, I think about it as an object and operation as something that is activated, right, it’s understood to have emerged as a solution to a set of problems, problems about the storage of paper. However, as a response to these problems, it generated a set of processes that affected thought and action. So therefore, the other kind of sort of idea underpinning this research is the perhaps hopefully not too radical claim that storage is not neutral, right, that storage has a politics. And of course, this raises a number of questions, including, you know, how is storage constructed as a problem, what values go into deciding what to store where to store how to store? So what were the problems the filing cabinets solved, right? Well, as I suggested, storing loose paper on its edge allowed it to be more easily retrieved both the specific content on a sheet of paper and also the sheet of paper itself. So that is the filing cabinet emerged out of a rethinking of storage. So in the 1890s, in the office, the storage of paper becomes a problem of retrieval. So storage always involves an awareness of future use, right. But it does not always prioritize the moment in the future when the store object will be accessed what we now call retrieval. So as a practice of piling or stockpiling, storage, prioritizes the allocation of space to store something right storage takes up space. In contrast, retrieval is conceived as a temporal practice, right? The focus is on a process on facilitating the act of finding something retrieval takes up time. Right. So why then is storage approached as a problem of retrieval at the turn of the 20th century? Why that change? Well, this period, so ideas of efficiency capture the US business imagination, as capitalism takes on its corporate form, and scale in this period, saving time emerges as one of the defining problems of modern Western society. Now in the book, this book, this book, and this book, I offer a detailed discussion of the stakes involved in the storage logic for the filing cabinet. I focus on three concepts, verticality, integrity, and cabinet logic as critical to understanding its development. However, all these concepts or storage logics, logics are underwritten by a concern to save time and increase productivity. So in this talk, in the spirit of efficiency, I’m simply going to use efficiency. To explain why I believe that the filing cabinet is not a neutral storage technology, arguing that efficiency is a highly gendered discourse, right? At any period, but particularly this period. So efficiency creates the problems that the filing cabinet solves. I say problems because the filing cabinet responds not only to the problem of timely retrieval, but also the need for information in the first place. So efficiency, productivity require planning, planning requires information, it requires knowing what to produce and when to produce it. Therefore, information takes on a role in business that had previously not had. And I should also note, this is the period when management emerges as a profession as well. So in the remainder of this talk, I want to focus on two ways in which via efficiency the filing cabinet shaped a particular kind of interaction with information. So first, I’m going to talk about how the filing cabinet makes pervasive a concept of information as a discrete unit is something that exists in the world. And then secondly, I’m going to focus the second part of the talk will focus on how the filing cabinet brings to the foreground a new mode of work used to handle this information. Information labor emerges is something distinct from knowledge. Okay, so the emergence of the filing cabinet provides an important site to examine a critical moment in the ascendancy of information is a defining aspect of contemporary society right. To have an information society you need to have a particular understanding of information and information becomes a name for an instrumental use of knowledge. Now, as the late Jeffrey Nunberg showed, the 19th century so removed from information as an individual mental process, to be informed to be educated to a conception of information that attaches it to something that could be possessed and obtained and received and distributed and circulated. So information increasingly becomes thought of as a discrete unit. Now to be real clear, I’m not arguing that the filing cabinet invented this conception of information. But I am arguing that it offered a way to make sense of this change, right became a way to grasp information, both physically on paper and metaphorically. So this quote up here comes from a 1912 issue of a long lost magazine called Machinery. And I like this quote, because it gives us a sense of this new conception of information. So useful information here we can see was carefully and systematically collected. And then it was classified and digested, digested, not mean, not being eaten, but put into digests broken up into pieces into book that within books, that is information emerged from knowledge through an increased specificity, right and, in further classification, objective procedure made information or allowed people to argue that this information was superior, as the quote says, to individual judgment. So this process of division took knowledge and made it accurate information easily understandable by anyone. And as the last sentence is instantly available, whenever a problem is presented to management, efficiency, timeliness. Inside a filing cabinet, a file drawer showcases this understanding of information, in part, because it used tabbed guide cards and folders.
Craig Robertson 11:32
With a prop. I have a manila folder. To make the specificity to make the specificity and classification visible. In its organizational structure, the file drawer allows information to be retrieved in its specificity, a piece of paper, or a manila folder of loose papers could be extracted. So you had all the information on a particular customer or product or passport application. Information was at your fingertips. And this is the period when that phrase takes off. So the idea that info that you could hold information not only that you could see it, but touch it as something discrete, goes a long way to explaining how the filing cabinet and tabbed folder became a conceptual gateway to understand modern information. Because of course, information is something discrete can be represented in many different ways within a statistical table, write the cells on a table, or in this period that I’m talking about the organization of a railway timetable. But these made the concept of information harder to grasp, as I’ll continue to pun on grasped. So as these quotes appear on the slide suggests this tactile articulation of paper and information frequently appeared in prescriptive literature. The attraction of the filing cabinet to the business information of the early 20th century was how quickly it allowed hands to get at information. It defined classification, therefore, as a temporal problem, as much as a spatial problem, right. Classification is about efficiency in this sense. Filing, we’ll get into that briefly. But q&a? Yes, yes, yes. lasted for four years, which comes up a few times. Yeah. Let’s let’s have a look. Basically, as I should say, every sentence in this talk is open for q&a. Right? This is a summary of my book, every source is open. Yes, but yes, but thank you for drawing attention to it. Slide. So ads claimed, a filing cabinet allowed users to find papers at a moment’s notice, or almost instantaneously. In the spirit of the time, these assertions were quickly quantified. According to one very happy customer almost instantaneously, translated to 20 seconds defined one letter and 90 seconds to file, file five folders. That’s pretty fast. And we’ll talk about the hands that are doing that in a moment. And focusing on retrieval. a filing cabinet also challenged ideas of what defined storage rather than hiding information in drawers or in pigeon holes, or lying flat in piles. This that that former storage was now understood, did storage, right? So rather than that information needed to be alive needed to be standing at attention. There is no subtlety in my archive. Storage was not dormant or dead when you use a filing cabinet. In the 1930s, celebrating the use of a decimal filing system an advertising agency president noted quote, that information does not rot in our files. It is continuously shuttling back and forth between file and everyday business use. Claiming that quote, within a few minutes, a clerk could retrieve sales presentations from 30 different companies in 30 different fields. He concluded, thus, our file lives. Now stepping away from the specifics of the file drawer, I want to note that the filing cabinet and the interior of the file drawer are examples of a key technique of efficiency, what I call granular certainty. And this is the drive to break more and more of everyday life. And its routines into discreet observable and manageable parts right granular signifies the belief that breaking things down produces a higher degree of detail or specificity. Certainty indicates the conviction that greater specificity will reduce individual discretion and increase the likelihood that a task will be completed efficiently. Now, obviously, breaking something down into small parts allowed it to be controlled by enabling it to be more easily apprehended, understood and connected to something else. This is the logic that is central to Taylorism and the reorganization of factory labor occurring according to standardized tasks occurring at the same time. Now the analytic value for me of granular certainty is that it emphasizes the overlap between efficiency’s embrace of standardization, and the particular and a conception of information as something discreet. The vertical filing cabinet and the tabbed manila folder emerged from this overlap between efficiency and this new idea of information. In the file drawer granular certainty created a particular cabinet logic and here we just have an ad for
Craig Robertson 16:32
150- and 200-division tabbed folders for alphabetical order of names so breaking the alphabet down not into 26 letters, but into 150 or 250 categories. So this cabinet logic used paper manila folders tabs to create petitions within a cabinet drawer to decrease discretion and increased certainty. In promotional literature, this cabinet logic became, quote, the intellect of the filing cabinet to help market the filing cabinet is a machine. Now, as these quotes here show ads emphasize that the filing cabinet will anthropomorphize the filing cabinet right.
Craig Robertson 17:17
As Lisa Gitelman points out, the word automatic came into general use in the 19th century derived from what automatons sorry that so that is that the increasing use of automatic carried with it, quote, lingering connotations of resolving the organic and the mechanical of human forms and functions built into machinery and of mechanical responses by human beings. So as a machine because that’s how the filing cabinet was often marketed, it took on the work of remembering, right, in her 1923 book Filing Department Operation and Control Ethel Scholfield argued that with the increased scale and expectation of 20th century corporate capitalism, an individual businessmen could no longer depend on his memory to recall all aspects of his business with the detail that 20th century capitalism demanded. Scholfield noted that replacing this memory quote presupposes a thoroughgoing automatic system for the association of ideas, close quote, posing the question, can such a thing be secured? by mechanical means she immediately answers, experience tells us Yes, therefore Scholfield calls vehicle files and automatic memory. Now automatic in this case really does mean predetermined, and taking on the role of thinking of remembering from people remembering where information was located. Office equipment identified as a machine was understood to guarantee order. This was partitions and tabs, generating granular certainty, which in the name of efficiency, and saving time, directed the user to where the needed information could be found in transitioning to the second part of the talk information labor. Now that user was understood as someone who operated a machine, hence the importance of the hands of the operator, the hands that had to pick up and hold paper and information. James McCord, who founded the New York School of Filing. Yes, they taught filing in high schools, and they were private schools in 1914. Used his textbook to stress the need for a clerk to possess physical dexterity. I’m not going to read the quote in full. But the point here is that although the filing cabinet lacked the mechanical parts that underscored scientific management celebration of dexterity in the factory, McCord’s description illustrates the importance of hands and fingers to filing in the office right filing demanded more than the mere handling of paper. It involves selecting grasping, removing, lifting, placing, fingering, drawing, putting, right so fingers, displaced objects and fingers grasp and displace objects, they isolate them and they gather them together, they manipulate and shape objects. So guided by the intellect to the filing cabinet, the hands of a file clerk manipulated information, not in the sense of falsifying information, but in the sense of handling it of moving information within the office. This is a period when the concept of workflow emerges a whole lot in the book about the granular certainty that our articulated information is a discrete object via loose paper also underwrote the labor of the file clerk whose work enabled its circulation and in fact the file clerk emerges or as a distinct occupational category because the work of the 19th century clerk, a man, was broken down into a number of distinct specialized tasks, including typing, bookkeeping, and filing to be done by a women. So filing as an example, filing was an example of clerical work that emphasized the necessity of particular bodies interacting with a machine. The action of these bodies was also separated into discrete parts to better manage the labor following the logic of granular certainty. So in the words of one filing menu, author, mind, eye and hand can soon be trained, so that they automatically act together to do the teamwork that is invaluable. And the brain is part of this team, but only because as labor historian Harry Braverman argues, to the extent that clerical work, quote, is still performed in the brain, the brain is used as the equivalent of the hand of the factory worker in an assembly line. This idea of filing is information labor, I use information labor to label office work, as it was redefined as machine work. Now, information labor is not a distinct occupational category. Rather, I used the term to refer to a type of instrumental encounter between workers and information that became increasingly common throughout the 20th century and is still with us in the 21st century. Its ideal form, this is an encounter that requires neither sought nor interpretation, and does not directly produce knowledge, a product of discourses of system and efficiency. It fits into a conception of work that depends on rational and calculated procedures. So information work is not knowledge work, and nor is information work men’s work. This is very clear in the advertisement that introduced the filing cabinet and the work associated with it. Gender underwrote the distinction between information, labor and knowledge work in the office, identifying it as woman’s work reinforced its secondary status. Men could do these tasks, but they were things that man AKA a knowledge worker could do on the side without any thought. A catalog description for a so called efficiency disk, which included file drawers may disappoint with the lack of subtlety that is critical to the genre of the trade catalogue. Quote, each compartment should represent a fixed place so that the hand of the executive will reach automatically for desired records without interrupting the continuity of brain action. In this scenario, a man filed but only while he thought about something else. He reached over to the drawer as a matter of habit, where the file drawers the machine worked to locate information for him, a file drawer remembered that allowed the male executive to keep thinking about matters deemed productive. As an executive in the gender office hierarchy, a man was employed to think his work was the priority of the office. promotions for the filing cabinet further emphasized, it was designed as an object to be used by women. Some catalogs claimed that women’s bodies affected the dimensions of the filing cabinet. So the cabinet should only be four drawers high because quote that is about as high as an ordinary girl can work to advantage. Similarly, a drawer was only 27 inches long, because it could be pulled quote by the file clerk as an arm operation any longer it would become a walking operation, meaning the clerk would have to move to the side of the drawer to reach into the back. So therefore, in case you have been wondering all your life, what is the vanishing point of utility, the vanishing point of utility is very close to 27 inches, it’s not 27 inches, but it’s very, very close. In another type of ad, manufacturers sometimes used a close-up of the interior of a file drawer to illustrate how a cabinet worked, so they could claim their folders guides and tabs and follow up blocks as unique. And in these ads a woman’s body disappeared, though her arms and hands might remain, and in this example she is literally erased from the image. Now why the close-up of the drawer was arguably necessary to show the guides and tabs, the fact they removed the body from the image mean that the pair of disembodied but gendered arms and hands not only pointed out the cabinet logic of the interior of the drawer, but also shows us show us the ideal relationship between labor and technology necessary for the cabinet to be labeled automatic. Hands or arms separated from their bodies and minds suggested that the user the users of this office equipment did not have to think as they worked, therefore, disembodied hands in filing advertisement represented work that was neither independent nor constructive. As Janet Zandy argues quote, truncated hands represent metonymically an ignored whole or lesser human element and species. Since the 17th century, this truncation has been applied to workers whether identified as hired hands, or simply hands. And in filing information labor. It was only natural in this period that these hands would belong to woman. Advocates invoked as common sense an association between a woman’s hands and dexterity to naturalize the construction of the new machine-based information work, or sorrym to naturalize the new machine based information work as feminine occupations. By 1943 Evelyn Steele, editorial director of vocational guidance research, could confidently note quote, It is generally agreed that women do well at painstaking tedious work requiring patience and dexterity of the hands. The actual fact that woman’s fingers are more slender than means makes a difference, close quote. And this idea was usually linked to to work and leisure activities the former invoke woman’s work and light manufacturing or textiles. For the latter, it was often noted that socially acceptable leisure practices provided ways for women to enhance their apparent natural dexterity, and thus gain in formal training and filing. As one manager commented, I often ask a girl if she plays the piano, or she knits, crochets, sews or does another type of work that would enable her to acquire speed with her fingers. Shockingly, despite this natural connection between feminine hands and hands and files, sometimes the automatic memory of the filing cabinet failed. When it did those hands were explicitly reconnected to a body. Misfiling was the fault of the file clerk, never the filing cabinet or the filing system. Oops.
Craig Robertson 28:01
As the mode of misuse and error misfiring is what Victoria Olwell calls a bodily malfunction. That is the cloak of invisibility covering the body drops away, the moment the body makes a mistake. So misfiling makes visible a very particular body, that of a young woman. As one company magazine asked can Miss File misfile?
Craig Robertson 28:26
The answer was yes. And it was due to her youth and her Miss unmarried status. This was the very same youth however, that was of course critical to her efficiency, or at least the cost efficiency of her labor. The work of file clerks was efficient in part because dominant beliefs about gender and sexuality lowered its cost. File clerks were poorly paid not only because they were women and young, but also because they were unmarried. What Mar Hicks calls, quote, an assumed heteronormativity created a family wage and an informal marriage bar. That is a young woman was never assumed to be a household’s main breadwinner, so it didn’t matter what you paid her. And once married, she would of course, stop working at the office either by choice or force and go and stay home and look after a husband and the kids that will inevitably follow. So this unmarried status and the assumption that all women wanted to marry men was viewed as the immediate cause of filing. So from this perspective, unmarried women who worked close to me and could be distracted while they thought about potential husbands around them. Surveys of woman office workers did support the belief that marriage was a priority for young women who worked in offices, but it is not clear if it dictated the actions in the office. Assuming that marriage dominated thoughts of female clerks, work advice literature focused on managing female desire, unwanted sexual advances and harrassment from me and when not behaviors to be managed or even publicly discussed. It was the responsibility of woman to keep their emotions and quote, the feminine instinct to attract to awaken her response, close quote, in a space where is the male manager of an employment service, possibly this guy in the photo here put it, women were hired to quote, add to the general attractiveness of the office and experienced female office manager instructed file clerks, quote, to leave fine clothes, the theater, pleasant parties, and Tom, Dick, and Harry at home, which also raises the idea that our clerks are quite […], I think with Tom, Dick and Harry with them. This was necessary because if a woman brought such thoughts into the office, it would break down the teamwork of senses and the mind. Quote, as she says here, important tasks cannot be accomplished with your hands. While unimportant details fill your head, you cannot fall amusement under work, they are at the extremes of the alphabet, she must be very proud of that line. Thus, Miss File would misfile if she failed to compartmentalize, if she failed to keep her personal concerns and work duties in the proper place and order. That is the explanation for her behavior invoke the very act of misfile, right of putting something in the wrong place. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the filing cabinet was offered as a tool to teach young women to better order their lives by controlling their thoughts and desires, especially when these women were often the daughters of immigrants working in a space coded as middle class. An office manager argued that office technologies would teach these young woman quote, the three necessities of efficiency: concentration, accuracy, and good nature. She explained concentration as the need to control your thoughts as you must your pencil with a firm grip despite outside disturbance, and inward annoyance. I think we’ve all felt that. However, it was not only office technologies, like the pencil and the filing cabinet that could teach woman the necessity of efficiency. When a woman left the office as apparently she would become a wife and mother, she used new domestic storage technologies that reinforced the value of productivity and efficiency. In the 1920s, storage in the home changed dramatically. Prior to this storage spaces were not factored into the design of houses. So for example, closets and cabinets were not designed to store specific objects. This changed as the cabinet logic of designated places and petitions and office furniture became critical to how spaces were managed and objects stored in the home. This was seen for example, in response to the early 20th century closet problem. Previously afterthoughts or a little more than wall cavities, closets became purpose built, they will organize. The enclosed spaces of closets will organize into smaller spaces just think Ikea catalog, right? However, the main action in terms of home storage was in the kitchen, as kitchen design became a thing that filled the pages of House and Garden, House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal etc. It began with standalone cabinets that turned kitchen storage into the strategic use of shelves, drawers and partitions. In this way the modern kitchen was linked to the office through a faith in a cabinet logic that prioritized meticulously organized interior storage to make things accessible. This was captured in the Hoosier cabinet, six foot high and four feet wide. Its large shelves and drawers held such items as pans, kettles and nested mixing bowls all in specially designed spaces. promotional materials claim that a Hoosier Cabinet had 400 articles all within an arm’s reach. Manufacturers and writers were keen to acknowledge the debt to the office vertical or upright petitions called files were added shelves we still see them sometimes today that allows plates and platters to be stored on its edge quote, you can pick out with one hand just the dish that you want. Ads to be expected were much more succinct the business of getting meals. The kitchen needs to be businesslike and in this ad, we can see a little cutout of an office with a filing cabinet and with the vertical verticality of the skyscraper as well. Now as implied when announcing the move from the office to the home, what I see important in these changes in home storage is that they illustrate that storage technologies require a certain form of labor performed by a particular worker. Storage is not neutral. An encounter with these technologies encourage women to understand their self worth through productivity. As the interaction between hand and object became the representation of efficient labor in the home, these economic values became a way to express identity. Addressed in these way, these women participated in a reconfiguration of attitudes towards self and work performance that helped make productivity common sense. And adjustment that Mel Gregg argues gives productivity it’s 20th century history. I want to go further and link these changes to information right to say although changes in domestic storage did not address information as a formal category, they do offer a suggestive example of how people experience modern information via the materiality of storage technologies. Right. So granular certainty, cabinet logic moved to the house and brought with it a particular form of work centered on an idea of the particular and the specific. By way of conclusion, I want to restate some key arguments by briefly discussing two of my favorite research discoveries that I couldn’t fit in the in the paper earlier. Now the first is a trade catalog from a Michigan based company called Shaw Walker. In the early 20th century, they advertise their filing equipment under the slogan built like a skyscraper. I can explain later what that means, if you really curious, the camp a campaign. The reason I’m interested in this is this campaign places filing at the center of the gender division of the modern office, albeit from the perspective of the male. The built like a skyscraper campaign constructed a series of physical encounters between male and female bodies in the company’s filing cabinets to illustrate different aspects of the essentials of office equipment, strength, rigidity, easy operation, noiselessness, economy of floor space, maximum capacity and good design. Because we always think of good design when we look at a filing cabinet. So it shows men jumping into open drawers, lifting their bodies off the ground, and hanging from open drawers, what the catalog calls handstands. The letter image we use to signify the rigidity of the drawers as opposed to the strength of the drawers illustrated by men jumping into them. I’m going to come back to this but I shouldn’t say other companies did something similar using photographs of men sitting or standing, and the open drawers or the filing cabinets. The point of this was purportedly to show that a filing cabinet was built to hold the weight of paper because four drawers, each drawer weighing 75 pounds is really is a lot is a lot of weight. And you want to know that not only will the filing cabinet fall apart, but the drawer can open smoothly in the little girl down the bottom there. But I would suggest the filing the built like a skyscraper campaign is not subtle at all in the ways that it represented these issues right? It doesn’t take much I think for anyone armed with some basic theories of gender representation to argue that as brief exercise routine, and the advertisement seem to reflect the anxiety that men felt about the arrival of woman clerical workers in offices, the phallic skyscraper, the unsheathed tip of the Woolworth building in the background there rigid and erect male lytic body also I would suggest humbly to make explicit the masculinity of the men who worked in the office. Such masculinity was not to be questioned. This is reinforced by the image the campaign uses to demonstrate the easy operation of the filing cabinet where not only do they chose to choose a woman or a female body to open the file drawer, they choose a child they choose a job child pulling on a silk thread. The idea being here that I think you know if a child can do it, anyone could operate a filing cabinet if anyone can file a filing requires any the strength and the intellect have a go, then only women should file because men can do other work that women can’t do. The second find I want to finish with is a nationally syndicated cartoon from 1921 reprinted and Heather’s favorite magazine Filing that ran for four years as part of a failed attempt to get filing recognized as a profession. The cartoon in a very odd way can be used to illustrate the effects of capitalism on information or rather the changing shape of capitalism on information. So in it we see here a male file clerk quits after his boss refuses to increase his pay before he leaves in an act of defiance. He removes the papers from the filing cabinet and throws them around the office and the final two panels the boss changes his mind And the clerk gets the news of his pay increase was surrounded by loose papers and files. This image stood out to me when I found it because when the boss makes the decision to increase the file clicks pay, he calls them Mr. Google. Right? And then the coincidence of the name Google being associated with access to information is pretty uncanny. Which and it became basically ridiculous. When it’s digit. The image itself, as we can see, is digitized by Google, right. So yes, this borders on the ridiculous this coincidence, but I also find it a useful way to illustrate that categories of information overload and information management take vastly different forms at different historical moments. At one time, as I’ve argued, the filing cabinet was the symbol of orderly information management. By the end of the 20th century, Google Search has taken that mantle. In the comic strip, Mr. Google sabotages the filing system right by spilling papers out of their proper locations. Ironically, this results in exactly the kind of giant pile of papers ie the web made up of pages that Google, th corporation is now technically Alphabet, but that ruins my point here. Google, the corporation provides access to through PageRank. The chaos Mr. Google creates is exactly the chaos that Google later on promises to manage. That is, although different, both the filing cabinet and the search engine became organizing principles for the capitalist management of information. And I will stop.
Heather Hendershot 41:42
About filing magazine, I just started one question on which is a filing cabinet makes this emergence in 1890s. At the same time that […] telephones phones, elevators, typewriters, like all the machinery and modern offices are happening at once and you think, is there a connection across these machines that you think is important? Or is the filing cabinet, a Hoover machine or he system of that moment, the most important one, and the others are sort of
Craig Robertson 42:19
I think there were connections, and there are things that make the filing cabinet, unique. So I think the connection between all of those things is that the operation of those machines is what I call information labor. Right? So this is this moment in which this, this, this very sort of instrumental encounter or interaction with information comes to define work. And you don’t have to necessarily, like understand that the context or mean or the content of what you’re doing, you just help things information circle, I think that connects them. And so next in some implicitly argue that they’re all, they’re all connected, they’re all in some way, making manifest a particular idea of information distinct from knowledge, what makes the filing cabinet a particularly useful example of that moment, is the way in which it allows us to really understand the sense of information, right, in such a significant way that the filing cabinet, the files, the tabs, the manila folders continue, as I said, at the beginning of the talk to sort of these the ways in which we’re asked to think about our encounters with information. So that to me, is what the the way the filing cabinet kind of stands out. And I think it is important. I mean, the filing cabinet is arguably more important if we think about storage and the value of storage, because that’s where information is stored, right? Like the filing cabinet becomes absolutely absolutely critical infrastructure to allow, like the, to allow the modern world to function. Right? Like it’s critical to governance, it’s critical to corporations, right? Because that’s how information is stored and retrieved. And you know, if if there was another technology that did that, then I probably would have written about that, in one sense, but the filing cabinet did. And of course, like all infrastructure, it’s kind of weird, but it’s just in the corner. And the labor associated with
Heather Hendershot 44:11
that started starts me so fascinating. Oh, yeah, that paper is like a filing cabinet and the files the people and you need that, you know that you know, you need the elevators to get people to the 20th floor so they can work so they can go in their slots for all their whatever be in their spot, afternoon.
Craig Robertson 44:30
Yeah, exactly. And that’s what I mean, like the fifth chapter of the book after the introduction is called Verticality, and it explores all those connections, right. And in fact, to the point that I sort of argue that when capitalism takes on its 20th century […], it has a vertical bias, right? You know, and I think we can see that in all the things that that you mentioned, like the skyscraper here that I’ve put up on the screen and and the elevator, but also thinking about with the filing cabinet, but also thinking about managers. hierarchy, right, the vertical ladder, like, you know, verticality, I really do think it has a vertical bias until the network arguably comes in as a hurry. Oh
Heather Hendershot 45:11
literalized various men, and she moves up in the building your camera shows outside the building goes up. It’s amazing. I will stop monopolizing here
Craig Robertson 45:25
No, no, all right, no, yeah, yeah.
Heather Hendershot 45:28
And then we have some queues,
Heather Hendershot 45:30
people queued up in our q&a as well.
Srushti Kamat 45:34
Hi. Um, so I want to talk a bit about the haptic element or […] of touch sort of storage in touch and how they’re related, and kind of bringing it to contemporary storage of the cloud and the dry, and the sort of ethereality of that right, the non existence of a touch, but in fact, there are other drives, right, that, you know, contain the data. I guess, I wonder, like, do you see the non, like verticality of contemporary […] See contemporary storage practices not have to once? I mean, do you see them as changing this, this this kind of vertical capitalism or not?
Craig Robertson 46:13
Yeah, I think that, um, I always, I always have to, you know, begin hesitantly begin these, these questions, because I, you know, I am an historian by training, right. So, like, I, obviously, I think about, and I come to this through contemporary questions and issues, but it’s not, it’s not when my head fully goes. So yeah, part of the thing of kind of the point I want to talk about here is that when I’m arguing that storage is not neutral, in the ways that you just talked about contemporary storage not being neutral, it speaks to, you know, like different values, or different ways in which storage has been defined. Right. So the notion of verticality, I think is absolutely central to how storage is understood within the context of capitalism, right, in the early 20th century, I think as capitalism changes, and I sort of, you know, just when I was talking to the responding to Heather’s point, you know, saying that, like, in the middle of the 20th century of the second half of the 20th century, the network, we can argue becomes important, and then you can think about a horizontal bias, you know, and then, you know, and then, you know, the cloud, you know, and then we can think about concepts of the cloud and that less tangible understanding of storage is another further development initially, I think it really affects how we think about storage, right? If because the things aren’t piling up, then you know, you don’t turn around and have an entire wall of CDs, or an entire wall of records, right. And so, so that lack of like that, the, the lessening of that haptic dimension, to that individual specific item of storage, I think completely alters how we think about storage, right, it makes storage live in a way that the filing cabinet, you know, is not at all, but I think you noted this, too, but there’s still we can’t deny the haptic dimension that is still the, you know, in terms of how we how we access things, but yeah, so So definitely, I mean, I think these are issues and part of what I always, you know, every story is hope, right? Is that people who are much more invested in contemporary issues can take some of the concepts that history have allowed us as historians to think about, and you know, and apply them, you know, and really develop them. Yeah, I could go on with that. And I may, if there are no
Kurt Fendt 48:32
I have a question that I missed the first couple of minutes. Oh, yeah. So, you know, I was wondering, was there a specific company behind promoting those? Because, you know, it’s connected to my real question is to what extent that system of the vertical filing the filing cabinet also translated to other countries, right. It has to do of course, with that capitalistic idea of company, you know, promoting those those ideas in terms of frequency answer.
Craig Robertson 49:06
Sure. Yeah. So so that is an American invention, right? It comes out through the 1890s. There’s not really one, there’s not you know, it’s it’s very much of its time, so there wasn’t really one inventor, per se, though, if you go to Wikipedia, there’s a nice invention story for you. And it is actually kind of appealing because they credited the company they credited to is a company called the Library Bureau, which was founded by Melville Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System, right? Even though he was no longer part of the company, when they were when when they’re attributed with inventing the filing cabinet. It also links it to the library and the card catalog and all those things. So you have to the filing cabinet really does take off as an American product and builds this office equipment company, office equipment industry, most of the companies are based either in the Midwest or in upstate New York for for a variety of reasons, by the 1920s, the vertical filing cabinet is starting to be exported. Right. And it has an impact in Europe. But, you know, you lived in Europe, you know that the vertical file there is not the vertical filing cabinet. Right. It’s the arch binder, right. And that’s the arch binder that in some ways, Cornelia Viesmann and her canonical book Files, which is sort of a media archaeology of the legal file, like she talks about vertical files, and that but they’re the binders, right? So I have not explored and I’m not going to play with stereotypes to you know, to, you know, to figure out why it is in in, in many countries, the file remains that binder concept is the if that was part of your question, I I definitely absolutely acknowledged that distinction. Yeah. Maybe it’s the lack of skyscrapers. Is there another question over there? Yeah. Hi.
G. R. Marvez 51:02
So I know that like modern filing cabinets have the safety feature we can’t open the doors at once did that like start when it was first invented? Or like that come later?
Craig Robertson 51:12
Yeah, that’s that’s a great question about sort of security and privacy right which of course is another important key aspect of storage often so what the initial initial filing cabinets didn’t come with locks and this was a concern about security locks came in but it was it was it was just simply a lock that locked all for you that locked door for drawers right um, and it’s Yeah, with sorry with that what you were asking what when they you can only pull out one at a time or
G. R. Marvez 51:43
when you open multiple drawers you risk toppling?
Craig Robertson 51:46
Oh, sorry. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So did not have that mechanism. Sorry. I missed I missed that. Yeah. So it had a lock to lock for, to lock for drawers. But now it’s well into the 20, middle of the 20th century, when you develop the mechanism to stop the more coming out and so there is that concern, right of them toppling over? Which is part of what those guys doing their their handstands, right, you know, and pull ups on the jumping into the filing cabinet is meant to say, hey, you know, look, this drawing of a man, you know, shows that all these photographs of these people sitting in show that it can take this weight and it’s not sorry, it’s not going to tip over there was that that I get to it eventually or with?
Andrew Whitacre 52:33
Someone with one word, maybe you can question from Aguinaldo Melo. Professor Craig, can you cite one example with partiality that you found
Heather Hendershot 52:50
Craig Robertson 52:51
partiality, looking at a nation stored as an example partially sorry, I I’m a little lost on that question. Can we? Yeah, I haven’t had another word to that. Bias. I know like it’s there. But ah, so ah, so okay, I’ll keep going. Yep. Okay, thank you. Thank you. Okay. Bias is that you found in looking? Okay. Maybe Maybe I kind of spoke to too loosely in the tour. Maybe this is where this question came from? I think so. Yes. I mean, cost the information within the file, that sort of file cabinets can represent multiple biases, right? The the argument about information being objective, right, is that information is something that can exist separate from the context in which it’s created. So that it can be interpreted very easily, right. So this idea of information is something different from knowledge is information having is having sort of affectivity, right, like, so it’s not data, but it has affectivity. So I was talking when I was talking about it being objective, I was talking about the conception of information, right, as an entity as a thing, not the actual, if you like, stuff on the piece of paper. does. Does that make sense? I mean, I don’t know if that makes sense. So So yeah, there’s a lot of bias in it within the information within the files and folders themselves. I’m just gonna keep moving through images. So they’re
Srushti Kamat 54:40
actually kind of origin of information. Should you expand on that? Where did you go to find that origin of information as a concept?
Craig Robertson 54:51
Right, so I’m drawing pretty heavily on the work of Geoff Nunberg. It’s an essay called farewell to the information age, and a book, he co edited with Paul Duguid, I think called the future the book that came out in the early 1990s. Right. And it says beautifully written essay that is incredibly smart and has shaped a lot of the work in media studies. But the work of people looking at the intersection of paper and information, so someone like Lisa Gitelman, for example. And so, yes, and so Nunberg is arguing that in this period, as I think I mentioned, very quickly in the talk, in the 19th century, information moves from being a process, right, being informed being educated to being a thing to being something that you can possess. And that is that it’s something that can exist, or that is an entity. And there’s also a special issue of the journal history of human sciences, I think, which goes through and talks about the development of the 19th century of the idea of data through the uses of the way in which sits the census in Europe in the United States comes to be represented. So again, you’ve got tables, right, that are all representing information, you know, as something that is discrete, right, that has, therefore some kind of presence in the world, right. And as understood that the idea is that you can look at the stuff at a glance, right meaning you, as it’s John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid put it like, you know, knowledge needs a knower. Right, it needs a subject that needs a person. But information doesn’t have a knower. Right, it doesn’t have a purpose, you know, it’s understood to be this thing that exists in the world. And so what I find fascinating about the filing cabinet, is that through the concept of the file, this kind of sort of abstract understanding of information is something distinct from knowledge that’s starting to percolate through society, from the middle of the 19th century on, suddenly, there’s a tangible way you can conceive of it, right, because now you have this loose piece of paper, you know, in a in a file folder in a drawer, and you can extract this one piece of paper versus having to get the entire, you know, big bound book, and have to look through it and scroll through it. So that it’s that idea of the particularity of paper, I think helps underscore this notion of information as a discrete unit. Now, I’m pushing it a bit further with the file cabinet. But other people have made, you know, a similar argument in that sense. And I think it’s a really attractive and appealing argument. And for me, what I find particularly fascinating is in this period, as I read, through the literature, the word information is being used, but so is knowledge. And so is data and that, and it might be like instrumental knowledge or structured knowledge or organized knowledge, there’s just the struggle, people are fumbling around to try and name something that’s new. That’s the way I read it, right? And so, and then information becomes the thing, you know, that that is the name for that kind of specificity, that isn’t numerical, right? That isn’t data. So data takes on that in the early 20th century, takes on on that name. And so, you know, like no one in the early 20th century is saying they’re living in an information age or an information society. But again, I think, you know, part of the way I locate the book is in what I call the genealogy of the ascendance of modern information. Right. So this is a very particular mark, period, and an important period in that moment, before we go to, you know, to to the middle of the 20th century, you know, and information becomes, you know, information becomes, I can’t think of anyone’s names, you know, MIT guys, I’m completely blanking, you know, where information becomes something that you? Yes, yes, these massive, huge figures where information becomes something that you can measure. And that’s another form a technical form of information, which is also part of the story. But I think this proceeding, that is an important part of the story, just to be able to think about information as a unit, even if that unit becomes something different, because of the work that happens around here.
Tomás Guarna 59:11
Craig Robertson 59:16
Yeah. So I mean, so the card catalog, right? Becomes is key to that. Right? And, and businesses a using card like that, you know, businesses still use the equivalent of a library card catalog, often to record the ledger, the bound book ledger can become a card ledger, right. I mean, there are many ways in which you know, the cabinet comes in the card, catalog cabinet or versions of it come into the office. So that’s the I think that’s the other really main sort of competing thing. The punch card, right is the other one, right? But punch cards in this period that really not in a lot of businesses compared to the filing cabinet and the card catalog, but yes, those mean those I think Those are two other few, like competing ways of, of, of conceit of thinking about this conception of information. But they definitely don’t have the sort of uptake that the filing cabinet does. And then of course, what makes the filing cabinet interesting looking back, is the fact that files and tabs etc, are how we still think about information, we don’t think about the card, right? You know, like Scrivener might want us to go back and think about, you know, the card, but we don’t think about a card or a catalog in that way. And the punch card, you know, like, whereas we do think about the file, you know, in multiple ways, both as the icon on our desktop, but also the directory system, right? And again, Vismann’s book File. It’s only if you I don’t read German well enough to read the German, the longer version where I think she expands a little bit more on this. But an English translation is just a very short nod to the current moment. But she really traces a history through legal records in the registry of the idea of the file in terms of directory nesting structure, where instead of I’m looking via the filing cabinet, more is the file is icon on the desktop, right? And folder on the desktop. So yeah.
Heather Hendershot 1:01:17
Could you talk more about the gender as a project display feminine a female sexuality as a problem. You referenced, you know, unwanted advances, yes, sort of an issue. But also you said they were undiscussed in a way. So there’s the problem that a woman naturally brings this sort of threat because she’s, she’s feminine and irresistible, and he brings it to the office and has to be managed. But it doesn’t seem to be. They’re trying, it feels like trying to downplay that. Because if you open that up, it becomes too much or too dangerous. And I’m thinking, I’m just wondering how much there is ambivalence there. But as I nearly started thinking, once again, but Hollywood films and specifically from like the 1929 to 33 period before the production code, where you do have films like baby doll that I reference where the woman who is the secretary who files […], whatever, is inherently a sexual threat a sexual danger in the workplace, then you have quite a few films that are ambivalent. And really, it has to do with like, how you script the film, the media, that sort of bad girl, the engenue, right. And so the film Skyscraper Souls is like the perfect example of this right? It starred Warren William the ultimate cad this boss figure of these are movies, right? Who, you know, you have the secretary struggling not to be raped, and then you have the old hands been through several bosses and part of the job, you know, it’s her that’s raped, and the film acknowledges it as horrific. There’s just a sort of fascinating ambivalence about women, in these corporate workplaces that you see in popular culture, and I’m just curious, how much of that really comes through in all the interesting sources?
Craig Robertson 1:03:10
Yes. So, so, that so my comments are about sort of the about the harrassment you know, which you know, the this image here right of this creepy guy just staring at this woman in here, she refusing to make this is an ad to make you want to buy a filing cabinet right, like so, but a lot, but a lot of that stuff draws from secondary sources right. So, which you may or may not be familiar with. Lisa Fine wrote a book which looks at and analyzes all of these films and other popular cultural artifacts at the time, Sharon Strom is where I took a lot the comment about about not discuss like being acknowledged, but not discussing the behavior of men. And so in the, in the sources that I found, so I was looking at vocational sources, right. So vocational literature, and all the How to Office manuals, and all this all the literature that was out there to recruit women into the office and in that there was no ambivalence, right? Like, you know, the responsibility was squarely on the shoulders of women to behave themselves and as I said, they’re quite like you know, to check their apparently you know, natural desire to throw themselves if you know at any man and this was fought through clothes, right that’s what like so what clothes were acceptable to be worn in and worn in the office right and that was in that quote about as well as leaving Tom, Dick, and Harry at home you left all your fancy clothes at home right? And so that becomes a site where people Yeah, a site of struggle over where it seems that female workers are trying to express some sense of themselves through the through the sexuality right but um, but yeah, I didn’t see I did not find that ambivalence that that you can’t You’re right that is there and in my and you know, in my limited endings of those films and that sort of whole sub genre of the office wife. Right, which, you know, is in fact, one, I think called the office wife. And then there are the, you know, that’s a recurring character, right. We, you know, she is the threat in the sense, you know, like she is she’s become his wife in the office, right. It’s not, you know, it’s not my office buddy. kind of joking thing. But you know, today, but it’s my office wife.
Heather Hendershot 1:05:22
I mean, and this is, of course, where it’s like a period, but The Apartment is exactly what you’re talking about, or what we’re talking about here with the gender issues of the boss, Secretary Secretary. Yeah. And then, you know, that secretary becomes the wife slot, and they need a new secretary, to be the office wife, like, yeah, so and so. […].
Craig Robertson 1:05:48
Yeah, yeah. No, so there’s a lot of dynamic and there, it’s a really smart histories of, of, essentially, the history of, you know, sexual harassment in the office, right, in the modern office, that had been written, coming largely coming out of lit out of English literature, but but really interesting ways where people have explored this, you know, and, and like I say, to me, in terms of that literature, this makes a very small contribution by just saying, well, in this vocational literature, we can see this is going on, right. And I think there is some connection to the mode of work, that women are doing the office.
Craig Robertson 1:06:32
The filing was a magazine published for four years that it’s published, it’s all on Google. It’s what you can, it’s all on Google Books. And it’s all been scanned. And it ran for four years, and it really was part of an attempt to professionalize filing. So librarianship had just been professionalized. Archivist work was about to be professionalized. And so people wanted filing to be professionalized. And that’s what this magazine pushed. They were filing associations founded in major cities, generally, in the Northeast that had monthly meetings, maybe 100, people would show up, maybe 20 people would show up, a guest person would go and deliver the talk on this is how we file and, you know, in the insurance company I work for, you know, this is how we file in this church, right? You know, and they would meet once a month and have a little chat. And, you know, and so that’s, you know, and so that’s where their magazine came from, but it’s all up here, if you want to read and it just, you know, it’s a clearinghouse for information about how to file. And, sadly, I thought it would play a bigger part in the book, but it’s there, when I talk about this failed campaign to professionalize.
Were their special training programs, because you mentioned that there’s a new profession emerging.
Craig Robertson 1:07:46
Yes. Yes. So there’s some. So there’s, so it fails, right? But but they are trying to teach filing, right. And so they’re the, the office equipment companies create different ways to teach filing. So this is from Lowell High School, just up the road in 1923. And they’re using Library Bureau equipment. And what the Library Bureau did, which is really radical, right, is that they reduced, right, letters down to the small sizes, right? So you would then file them in these boxes, because the problem was, it was really hard to teach filing, because filing cabinets took up so much space, and you’d have to line up to take your turn file the letter, right. And so they would the office equipment companies constructed this, these courses right there could run from 24 classes, up to 72 or 96, class one hour classes in filing. Now, I didn’t find any school or even any private school that took up 96 lessons, but they would incorporate the lessons into into the commercial education courses that girls were being channeled into. Because this is also a period like in the beginning of the 20th century, I think it’s 5% of American teenagers go to high school. So there’s this concerted effort to get kids into high school. And so this is where vocation education emerges as as something that’s taught in high schools. So filing comes in as in as part of that, right. And this is also I found, just as an aside complaints from English professors and so forth, that they were being forced to teach technical writing, and all the stuff that we maybe think of as a late ninth, late 20th century, early 21st century problem was a consequence of the success of bringing in vocational education. So by the 1930s pushed along, no doubt by the Depression, about like 70 70% of teenagers are in high school.
Heather Hendershot 1:09:44
If I’m correct in recalling that this is the same moment that home economics as a field was invented.
Craig Robertson 1:09:50
Right, wow. Really, but again, it takes off right but it says same thing about how can we keep people in high school, like we want them in high school and of course what happened? As the business community, shockingly, takes over the conversation and pushes it to a lot of commercial education, but women do filing and typing, and boy, sorry girls do woman filing and typing and boys do accounting and management, you know, program management courses, and things like this, right? So yeah, these are, again is a, this is a manual for teachers, right. And the bottom one, these are the letters. And the thing is the letters can be filed in different ways, depending if it’s subject filing, geographic filing, alphabetical name filing, right. And so it’s again, teaching their kids to very quickly look, they’re taught to read very quickly, right, they call it like the dictionary or the direct telephone directory, this is where you just look for the first three letters of the last name to know where it’s going to go. Right. You don’t have to read the whole thing again, don’t need to know, right, you’re you’re it’s this form of information labor. I could go on for hours.
Heather Hendershot 1:10:57
The ways that we find resonance with contemporary issues and the way things have bounced back and forth. And, you know, I’m thinking about big data and our sense that now we have too much data. We didn’t used to have too much data, but now it’s too much data. And the
Craig Robertson 1:11:10
Big paper, big paper, they’re a big paper.
Heather Hendershot 1:11:13
This is like, there’s just too much. I mean, there’s too much information, you need to file 40 files in 60 seconds or whatever. Yeah, or one minute, whatever it is, it’s because they’re just infathomable amount of information.
Craig Robertson 1:11:24
Yeah no, it definitely is like it’s a it’s a moment of information overload, right? You know, and that’s what I like about the Google comic strip, like these different modes of information overload. But I feel this is a really, you can call this information overload, because it’s understood, it’s what’s being overloaded is understood as information, not paper, right? It’s called that. But if people talk about information overload prior to that, they may be talking in like, it’s overwhelming amount of knowledge, but it’s literally not called information by the contemporary actors, right. And so I think this is a real important example, you know, an early form, you’re completely right of information overload. And the filing cabinet seeks to manage that, you know, and you know, and again, it comes up with this conception, what the filing cabinet doesn’t, but what emerges is a conception of information akin to data, like, you know, let’s remove it from context. So we can better do something with it. So let’s remove it from the context of a bound volume of 19, you know, of the correspondence from the Madrid office of, you know, of the US Embassy, you know, where there might be passport stuff in the middle of it, but it’s all bound in this big book. But now we can isolate it is these discrete things, we don’t need to understand the context of what’s going on in Madrid, in the Madrid office to understand this thing about the filing about the passport. But the implication is we did when it was a bound volume. I know I kind of lost your […]
I’m also wondering if you looked at sort of power as it’s coated in these in the files themselves, in the systems, I asked that, because I guess the early 20th century is still like a colonial colonialism. Right? So I am talking about information overload, but there’s also information access as it’s opened up to a lot more people. And then also there’s fears of bias and algorithms. I mean, we could go Yeah, not so much about it. So I’m wondering, like, Are there are there ways that the cabinet functioned visit exclusive space just to hold information only accessible to specific people? And other you know, what I mean, other ways we can understand that exclusivity differently?
Craig Robertson 1:13:36
Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. And I, I was kind of surprised by that. Because I, you know, I have, for another set of reasons, I have a lot of interest in the way in which the archive has been thought about, particularly by historians of the British Empire, right, you know, and, and, you know, and other people, like thinking of […], and so forth, but particularly within the British Empire, and, and, you know, through the 19th century, again, it’s towards the end of the 19th century, that it but there’s a more systematic way to organize the records of the British Empire, because prior to that, literally just piles of paper dumped somewhere, as these reports that these poor colonial official has been forever crafting, just get arrived in London and just get put in a pile. Right. So I was expecting and maybe thinking that I would find something, you know, something connected to that to the very question you’re asking, but in the literature that I was looking at, I didn’t find it. Now. You know, I’m not writing a history of classification. I am writing history of storage. So so that negates a part of what you said, but still, where you ended up. The final point of your question, I think is really important. And so, you know, I found you know, the closest I got was just finding, you know, debates and concerns about security and privacy, just sort of in general, right. Within an office so right to a filing cabinet. There was discussions of private filing, you know, the private filing cabinet of a man in his office separate from the larger filing cabinets of you know, the battery, or as they call them, you know, the dozens of filing cabinets that occupied the center space, you know, of an office. Right? But yes, surprisingly, and it’s not to say it’s not there, it just wasn’t there in the literature that I that I was looking at, but I think, you know, it is a it is a really, really important question about like, how the filing cabinet as a mode of storage is understood to exclude, right, you know, in terms of the, like, access and type of knowledge, right, because these women have all this, this is something that isn’t, again, you know, I’m looking at the ideal representation of it to make an argument. But you know, these woman, while the idea is set up, that they can look, they can move, they have to fall really quickly. Right, but they do ultimately have access to all this stuff. Right. And there is, sadly, it’s actually not one of the ones I pulled up here and didn’t use. But there’s a great ad that I found from the mid 1930s, from one company where it’s like, she controls your history. Right. You know, and so, you know, so you know, there’s like in that kind of playful way, there’s, like a little bit of an acknowledgment of it. But now, I’m rambling on, because like, I think it’s a great question. But yeah, I can’t I can’t give you something about how to recognize the question and say.
Andrew Whitacre 1:16:21
Yes, did you see anything with filing cabinets use being unofficial or subversive or illicit purposes within corporations? I’m curious about how they might have been repurposed by employees. Yeah. And she says this question might be redundant, considering what you’re currently saying.
Craig Robertson 1:16:45
Yeah. You know, it is kind of right. Yeah. But again, I didn’t, you know, that part of it is the limitations of the archive. Right. So the archive skews to the official literature, you know, in the sense, right. And so, you know, I, and it’s, it’s hard, you know, like, I really didn’t find like diaries, or, or journals, or something where that might be recorded, or I was also looking at the, you know, I was looking at the archives of such as they were of the companies, the filing equipment, companies, like the book would never have been written, if I was going to choose, you know, to really take a deep dive into various companies and how file cabinets were used. So that’s, you know, that that’s where I may have found that right. But what I didn’t find in the how-to literature, or the, or the literature in a magazine like Filing or any for its successor, The File, which was more of a pamphlet, was that I didn’t find people addressing that as a problem. Which doesn’t mean as when we were talking about, you know, the harassment of men, sexual harassment, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a problem. But it definitely wasn’t a problem that was that was talked about. But yeah, so what all that comes in is misfiling, which is understood to be a distraction. Right, like from distraction, not not intentional. There’s not an intentional thing, you know, it’s a distraction, or it’s there, or it’s stupid, right, like, like a lack of, you know, sort of, yeah, because these are the daughters of immigrants, right. So it’s a lot of race. I mean, I focused on gender today, but obviously, it goes, you know, that goes hand in hand with race ethnicity, and as I did sort of briefly nod to sexuality.
Heather Hendershot 1:18:28
Well, I think that we are pushing up at 630. So I just want to thank Craig Robertson again for joining us and I’ll see you all next, well, see you all in class. You and our distance folks at our Colloquium week after next. Thank you so much.