Dr. Bradley Fidler

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
Email: web@brfidler.com
Website
Education

2011 PhD: UCLA, History (Science, Medicine, and Technology)
2009 MA, CPhil: UCLA, History
2005 Visiting Student, Beijing University (Mandarin)
2003 MA: York University, Political Science (Political Economy)
2002 BA (hons.): University of Victoria, Political Science (Political Theory)

Research

You can find my current research, publications, and other professional information at brfidler.com. You can also find me on twitteracademia, and researchgate.

What I Do: TL;DR

I am a historian of technology, working in a field called Science and Technology Studies (STS). I spend most of my time studying the internet, in particular the evolution and ongoing shifts in its architecture, management, and security. 

What I Do: An Explainer

A word on STS. It is a new field by academic standards. It was created in the 1960s by scientists, historians, and sociologists, as part of an effort to understand the relationship between technical and scientific knowledge, technical systems, and society. In the 1960s, the connections between science, technology, and society were not only increasingly obvious, but also understood as crucial to everything from a well-run economy to national security. Added to this demand for understanding was a set of analytical tools–developed earlier by historians and sociologists–that demystified the observed variation in institutions and forms of knowledge, explaining how they are generated by other social forces. Sociologists, historians, and scientists thus applied these tools to science and technology. Today, STS does not follow a single or small number of paradigms (such as economics or astronomy). Perhaps owing to the irreducible complexity of its object of study – society – it is instead a distributed mode of inquiry that incorporates different methods from a variety of fields. 

A word on the history of technology. The study of history is immensely varied, but the common theme is systematic explanation, of social change, over time. Historians of technology study the roles of technology in that change over time. Much public attention is devoted to new technologies and their invention. While this is certainly an area of inquiry for historians of technology, it is only one component of the place of technology in society. Technology, new and old, is not only invented, but it is also maintained, repaired, and depreciated; it exists not only discrete products, but it comprises systems, and vast infrastructures that structure our lives and our thinking in unobvious ways. To complicate things further, technology is itself shaped by the politics, cultures, economic forces, etc., of society. Historians of technology seek systematic explanation of this complete picture.

There are two general classes of reasons why scholars engage in STS or the history of technology. One is utilitarian, an effort to better understand technology in society so that we can generate better social and technical outcomes. The other is simple curiosity, which when institutionalized is called inquiry: we should know things about the tools that mediate our relationship with the physical world and each other. My career reflects both paths.

I organize my studies of the internet around a book project, with offshoots in a co-authored book and ongoing articles. My book, under contract with MIT Press, is about the relationship between the technical design of core internet protocols and their management: in other words, how material and technical characteristics of an infrastructure sets limits on the ways that it may be governed. (For the interested, these include the Transmission Control Protocol / TCP, Internet Protocol / IP, Universal Datagram Protocol / UDP, Border Gateway Protocol / BGP, the Domain Name System / DNS, and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol / SMTP, as well as their predecessors.) It is also a study of technical design, and an investigation into how technologies can reflect values from the community in which they were constructed.

Select Recent Publications

Consulting Service

I consult on history, and historically informed policy and strategic thinking, relating to internet architecture and protocols. My current clients are Google, ICANN, and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute (USC/ISI).

Professional Societies
  • Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

  • Research Data Alliance (RDA)

  • Society for Social Studies of Science (4S)

  • Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)

  • Special Interest Group for Computers, Information, and Society (SIGCIS)

Courses
  • HSS 371 Computers and Society
  • HST 120 Intro to Science & Tech Studies