1st Edition

Museums and the History of Computing Objects, Narratives and Practice

Edited By Simone Natale, Petrina Foti, Ross Parry Copyright 2025
    160 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Museums and the History of Computing examines the critical role that cultural organisations, such as museums and galleries, play in shaping ‘digital heritage’: the cultural heritage surrounding computer technology.

    Focusing on digital technologies as objects and practices that museums collect, exhibit, and preserve for the future, this book highlights how and why museums play a crucial role in preserving the rich heritage of the digital world, constructing powerful narratives that help make it relevant to the public. It demonstrates that the museum can be a powerful means of safeguarding and interpreting ephemeral and continually changing digital technology, offering new pathways for rethinking the very meaning of digital objects and practices in contemporary societies. It provides practices and strategies for the preservation and exhibition of computing artefacts and ways to accommodate and respond to narratives about histories of computing that circulate in the public arena. Bringing together leading museum and university researchers and practitioners, and mobilizing cross-cutting debates and approaches in areas such as museum studies, cultural heritage, history of technology, anthropology, and media studies, this book challenges us to think critically about what ‘digital’ is when examined not only as a tool, but as a cultural object deserving of attention and a place within the museum.

    Museums and the History of Computing is for museum studies students and researchers as well as museum practitioners - especially those with an interest in digital technology and heritage. It will be of interest to researchers and students interested on histories of computing and digital media and on digital media studies.


    Simone Natale

    PART I: Lives narrated through computer history

    Chapter 1. Unseen connections: Exhibiting the global stories of cellular telephony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

    Joshua Bell                                                                                               

    Chapter 2. Lives on shelves: Constructing histories of computing in the museum store
    Simona Casonato                                                                                      

    Provocation no. 1: Imparting the history of ‘intangible things’

    Mai Sugimoto                                                                                              

    PART II:  The life inscribed on computer technology

    Chapter 3. Restorations, replicas, and emulations in a museum of computing

    Martin Campbell-Kelly & Mark Priestley                                          

    Chapter 4. Social media enters the museum: Collecting WeChat at the Victoria & Albert museum

    Natalie Kane, Corinna Gardner and Juhee Park                                          

    Provocation no. 2: All of this belongs to us

    Andrea Lipps                                                                                             

    PART III: Living computing history collections                          

    Chapter 5: Mediators, media and meaning: Curating digital objects at the science museum

    Tilly Blyth & Rachel Boon                                                                                      

    Chapter 6: Unsettling the narrative: Quantum computing in museum environments

    Petrina Foti                                                                                               

    Provocation no. 3: Why is the computer different?

    Kimon Keramidas                                                                                      

    PART IV: Lived practice of computing history       

    Chapter 7: The CHM stack: Experimentation for digital and computing heritage

    David Brock, Hansen Hsu, Marc Weber & Dag Spicer                                

    Chapter 8: Beyond Point and Click: Calling out expediency in museums’ histories of computing

    Lisa McGerty                                                                                            

    Provocation no. 4: Decolonizing Computing Histories in Museums

    Lara Ratnaraja


    Simone Natale is Associate Professor at the University of Turin, Italy and an Editor of Media, Culture and Society. Previous to taking up in 2020 a position in Turin, his hometown, he taught and researched at Columbia University in New York City, US, Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Humboldt University Berlin and the University of Cologne in Germany, and Loughborough University in the UK. He is the author of two monographs, including Deceitful Media: Artificial Intelligence and Social Life after the Turing Test (Oxford University Press, 2021), which has been translated into Italian, Chinese and Portuguese, as well as articles published in leading peer-reviewed journals such as New Media & Society, Communication Theory, the Journal of Communication, Convergence, and Media, Culture & Society. His research has been funded by international organisations including the AHRC and the ESRC in the UK, MIUR in Italy, the Humboldt Foundation and the DAAD in Germany, and Columbia University’s Italian Academy in the US.


    Petrina Foti is a museologist and scholar focused on the rise of digital information and technology and the resulting impact on both museums and the wider world. She is the author of Collecting and Exhibiting Computer-based Technology: Curatorial Expertise at the Smithsonian Museums (Routledge, 2018) and holds the honorary position of Science Museum Group Research Associate (SMGRA) at the Science Museum in London (UK).


    Ross Parry is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a former Tate Research Fellow, and former chair of the UK’s national Museums Computer Group. He is one of the founding Trustees of the Jodi Mattes Trust - for accessible digital culture. In 2018 he was listed in the Education Foundation’s ‘EdTech50’ – the fifty most influential people in the UK education and technology sectors. Ross served on the International Scientific Advisory Board for ‘Learning 2.0’ managed by DREAM (the Danish Research Centre on Education and Advanced Media Materials) at the University of Southern Denmark, where in 2012 he was visiting professor. He now sits on the International Advisory Board for the €6mn, five-year, ‘Our Museum’ project, funded by Nordea-Fonden and Velux Fonden, as well as the UK Research and Industry’s Steering Committee of its £19mn digital cultural heritage initiative ‘Towards a National Collection’. His recent books include: ‘Museum Thresholds: the design and media of arrival’ edited with Ruth Page and Alex Moseley (Routledge, 2018); and ‘The Routledge Handbook of Media and Museums’ (2019), edited with Kirsten Drotner, Vince Dziekan, and Kim Schrøder. Ross is the author of 'Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change' (Routledge 2007), and in 2010 published 'Museums in a Digital Age' (also with Routledge). Ross leads the ‘One by One’ international consortium of museums, professional bodies, government agencies, commercial partners and academics, that together are working to build digitally confident museums. After a three-year national project in the UK (working with the Museums Association, Arts Council and National Lottery Heritage Fund), the consortium’s latest project (‘structuring museums to deliver new digital experiences’) now brings partners including the V&A, Science Museum and the UK’s Museums Computer Group into an action research collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, American Alliance of Museums and Museum Computer Network.