Rhetoric and the Cold War politics of information science

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Histories of information help clarify the values and intellectual commitments of the discipline. This study takes a rhetorical history approach to better understand the development of information studies as a discipline. Information studies historians have identified that the Cold War period was critical for the development of information science and consequently of its modern-day incarnations. Due to post-World War II prosperity, the 1960s saw a surge in interest in scientific and technical information. Many from government, education, and private sectors took interest in developing new ways to compete with Soviet science. This interest led to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Georgia Tech conferences of 1961 and 1962, which are analyzed here. I find that concerns about the “science information problem” provided language that was critical for transforming some of the information studies’ central concepts. In particular, I find that the idea of an “information scientist” was made possible by national funding for science information. I suggest that attending to the discursive traffic between public and disciplinary discourse of information studies can better attune the field to its intellectual commitments.

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