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Materia: The Forgotten History of Operative Writing: Women's Contributions to Digital Literacy


Materia: The Forgotten History of Operative Writing: Women's Contributions to Digital Literacy

Apr 28, 2021

materia’s fifth event of the 2020-2021 academic term took place on April 15, 2021 via Zoom. Centered on women's contributions to digital literacy, the virtual gathering featured a lecture by professor Sybille Krämer (Aesthetics and Culture of Digital Media, Leuphana University), followed by a response by Hank Gerba (Art & Art History, Stanford)

In the first part of the session, the speaker delivered a lecture entitled “Performative Operativity of Writing or: Women’s Sometimes Forgotten Contributions to Digital Literacy.” Prof. Krämer began her talk by tracing the history of language-neutral operative writing, from Al Chwarizmi’s transmission of the Indo-Arabic decimal digit system to Europe (circa 800 CE), to the contributions of Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), Grace Hopper (1906-1992), and Josephine Miles (1911-1985). In crafting this genealogy, the speaker demonstrated how it “was often women who pioneered operative writing.” In order to account for more recent cases, Prof. Krämer mentioned the techno-feminist movement, encompassing from Donna Haraway's “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1985) to Laboria Cuboniks’ “Xenofeminist Manifesto” (2015).

Respondent Hank Gerba asked questions regarding flatness and layering in contemporary computing, and provided insightful examples of women’s contributions to technology throughout modern history. After Gerba’s response, the session continued with a Q&A and open discussion. Questions posed in this part of the session addressed the problem of black boxing, the history of the technique of “flattening out,” and the consequences of said technique for future technological developments. The meeting also discussed concerns peculiar to our contemporary times, marked by technological ubiquity and uncertainty. The meeting ended on a hopeful note, with challenging though encouraging remarks by both the invited speaker and materia organizers.

A video of the talk is available here.

materia is a DLCL Focal Group on anthropodecentric thinking. Since 2014, the group has served as a platform for graduate and faculty research. Our meetings combine reading discussion, student presentations, and guest speakers. Regular workshop meetings include some twenty-five participants from ILAC and Comp Lit (the pillars of the group), as well as from English, MTL, German, Anthropology, and Music, among others. We collaborate with several other groups on campus and correspond with similar projects in the Bay Area and elsewhere. Cognate courses, as well as completed and ongoing dissertation projects, speak to the continuing impact of the group. There have been sixteen workshops and an international conference to date. The former average twenty-five participants; the latter had over seventy. The convening theme for our sixth year of activities will be “Life and Transmission.”

Session formats alternate to include discussions of readings moderated by faculty and graduate students, presentations of works-in-progress, and talks by guest speakers. All readings will be pre-distributed by email and are available to download from our website,

For more information, please contact Romina Wainberg at