Devin Kennedy

Assistant Professor of History

dbkennedy@wisc.edu

Devin Kennedy headshot


Biography

I am a historian of science and technology and STS researcher, concentrating primarily on computer science and digital technologies in the United States. Prior to joining the History Department, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the New-York Historical Society.

My work is concerned broadly with the historical interaction between computing and capitalism after World War II—interactions that predate and inform the much-discussed disruptions in the digital economy of the past two decades. In particular, I am interested in the role of the manufacturing and financial industries in molding the research problems and priorities of early computer science and technology development. I am currently writing my first book, tentatively titled Virtual Capital: Computing Power in the US Economy, 1947-1987 which situates computing developments in conflicts over the factory floor, conglomerate power, and financialization.

I am also finishing a project on an episode in recent financial history. In a new paper, I examine the rising power of intermediaries in US stock markets from 1950-1975, when 60% of Americans became indirect participants in stock markets through the investment of their pension and insurance plan funds. This “institutionalization of markets” spurred the growth of numbers-backed decision-making techniques in investment, as well as the introduction of digital information processing technologies on Wall Street, as the scale of trading increased and investing institutions were held to public scrutiny over the public money in their charge. More broadly, commentators argued, this development altered capitalism at its core, shifting power from owners of capital (who were now numerous) to the direction of capital within the growing financial services industry that steered it.

I am a member of the Society for the History of Technology, and the Special Interest Group on Computing, Information and Society (SIGCIS) as well as the Business History Conference. I am the co-editor of a series of special issues of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing beginning in Fall 2020 on “Computing Capitalisms: Business, History, and Information Technology.”

Education

Ph.D., M.A., Harvard, History of Science
AB Princeton, Comparative Literature

Selected Publications

  • Co-editor, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Special Series: ‘Computing Capitalisms: Business, History, and Information Technology.’ [Forthcoming]
  • “The Machine in the Market: Computers and the Infrastructure of Price at the New York Stock Exchange, 1965–1975.” Social Studies of Science 47, no. 6 (December 1, 2017): 888–917.
  • “The People’s Utility.” Logic Magazine. Issue 5 (2018)

Awards

  • Appel Fellowship in History and Technology, New-York Historical Society
  • 2017 IEEE Life Member’s Fellowship in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology
  • 2017 John E. Rovensky Fellowship in U.S. Business or Economic History, Business History Conference

History Courses Taught

  • History of Science 150 – The Digital Age
  • History of Science 350 – Special Topics—Science and Technology in the Global Cold War