About a month ago I was going through stacks of 1981/82 issues of Creative Computing on hand at the SBU Higinbotham Game Studies Collection. In the back of some issues I began to see ads for books, and thought these would be useful objects to add to my research collection. My most recent (and truly baffling!) addition is “Be A Computer Literate” by Marion J. Ball and Sylvia Charp, with illustrations by Jonathan Byrd.
This 61-page, 8.5x11-sized, staple-bound book was published by Creative Computing Press in 1977, and was in its 3rd printing by 1981. On cover price is listed as $3.95. It's intended as an introductory text —its “Chapter” headings are:
What Are Computers
Kinds of Computers
What Goes on Inside Computers
Communicating with the Computer
Language of the Computer
How to Write a Simple Program
How Computers Work for Us
The book is closed by a short glossary. The type is big—probably 16-20 pt., with wide breaks between sub-sections, keywords are in ALL CAPS, and the text is littered with multi-colored illustrations, and a couple spreads of b/w photos. It's hard to tell if it's a children's book—granted there are illustrations, but there's no “story” frame, and I would argue that there would be a precedent for books like this for adults. There was no strong indication in the Creative Computing ads that this was intended for children—it seemed more like a “public interest” text.
The illustrations themselves leave me completely baffled, insofar as they are unlike anything I've yet encountered in a computer-related publication. Representations of women using computers or being used to explain the function of a computer are well over half the human representations in this book, and there's an consistent use of women of color—specifically, black/African-American women with distinctive afros (I'm also pretty sure there's one female figure wearing a stylized Puerto Rican flag on her shirt). The males all have long hair, and figures are often so androgynous that it's difficult to distinguish a conventionally understood male or female sex (the only clearly “male figures” are the occasional police officers and a principal). Every person photographed using a computer is female, with the sole exception of an faceless floating male arm using a light pen on a CRT—like some all-too-cognizant inversion of Laura Mulvey's thesis that cuts up men into anonymous body parts. It's like a drugged-out vision of the racially-diverse, queer comp-utopia I wish we'd always already lived in.
Feminist roller derby rage is possibly what goes on inside computers.
Bell-bottomed matriarchal algorithms.
The history of the authors is as fascinating as the book itself. Marion J. Ball (married name; born Marion Jokl) was born in South Africa in 1940, where her parents fled from Nazi Germany. Her parents were both German Olympiads, and her father an expert in sports medicine. In '51, the family returned to Germany when South Africa announced its apartheid policy, but in '52 came to the US. Marion received a bachelors in math and education in 1960, and an MA in math in 1965, and later a doctorate in education. She worked as a programmer and instructor at the University of Kentucky, then went to Temple University. She held various directorships in medical computing. She's published slews of books on computer system selection and medical informatics (and an 1972 children's book “What is a Computer?”). There's a host of other accomplishments Ball earned, but briefly she became a leading force in the establishment of medical and nursing informatics—indeed the website where I plied most of this info from referred to her as the “mother of medical informatics” (people love to make “mothers” of ladies in the history of technology).
Sylvia Charp has an International Society of Technology in Education Award named after her (she passed away in a car accident in 2003). She was the founding editor of T.H.E. [Technological Horizons in Education] Journal, an educator at elementary, secondary and university levels, a technology consultant to businesses such as IBM, Bell,& Hewlett Packard, an international consultant to UNESCO, a president of the International Society of Technology in Education, etc. Accounts say that she lived most her life around Philly, which is likely when/how she came into contact with Marion J. Ball. I've had a harder time finding biographical information on Charp, but she was certainly a big deal within the technology and education community. For those, like me, fascinated by weird valences between dining rooms, tables, women and computers, read this commentary by one of Sylvia's friends.
Jonathan Byrd, unfortunately, I have no leads on. His name is far too common to get any clear hits, even tossing in some Booleans for “illustrator” and “illustration.”
Regardless, this is a helluva little book. I look forward to continue digging up information on it. Also note—the Amazon listing doesn't note either Ball or Charp as author. It lists David Ahl, author of many other Creative Computing publications, but not this one. Be warned, my internet nancy drews.
Cover, "Be a Computer Literate" 1977
Nothing ever made me want to think so much about relationships between computer engineering and women's rights. (INPUT!)
Is it a dude? Is it a lady? It's wonderfully impossible to tell!