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Ham Radio's Technical Culture Paperback – Feb 15 2008


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"Although approximately one million Americans operated ham radios in the course of the 20th century, very little has been written about this thriving technical culture in our midst. Kristen Haring offers a deeply sympathetic history of this under-appreciated technical community and their role in contributing to American advances in science and technology, especially the electronics industry. In the process she reveals how technical tinkering has defined manhood in the United States and has powerfully constituted 'technical identities' with often utopian, even, at times, revolutionary, notions about the social uses of technology." Susan Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan, and author of Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination



"...an insightful historical exploration into the emergence and continued viability of ham radio over the course of the past eight decades." Amanda R. Keeler Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies



"Chapters dealing with the historical relationships between manufacturers of radio equipment and amateurs (in which Haring includes an examination of the significance of the kit building phenomenon upon the development of Amateur Radio); the role played by amateurs within technical professions in what Haring calls a 'complicated hybrid identity' that pitted professional affiliation against amateur individualism; and the ways in which Amateur Radio fought for and preserved its place in American society during the Cold War and Vietnamall are well worth the reading for the fascinating historical picture they present." Gil McElroy QST magazine



"Drawing on archive material, Haring composes an account as interesting to the historian of technology as to the cultural geographer with interests in concepts of home, leisure, masculinity and technology...Haring succinctly captures the hidden world of the radio ham, adding a charming dimension to cultural geography's current fascination with more advanced scientific and technical cultures." Hilary Geoghegan Cultural Geographies



"Haring provides a fascinating interpretation of ham radio as 'a socially sanctioned escape' for men within the home." Douglas Craig Technology and Culture



"In this engaging study, [Haring] has constructed the story of a particular (and peculiar) technology and the cultish, fraternity-like following that sustained it for decades." Reena Jana Bookforum



"Kristen Haring has constructed an engaging account of ham radio culture in mid-twentieth-century America. In so doing, she illuminates how people assign meaning toand identify withtechnologies of all kinds, thus her book will be of value to all students of technological culture." Emily Thompson , Professor of History, Princeton University



"Kristen Haring has written a valentine to the ham radio community.... [The book] situates radio hobbyists not only in the technological realm but within the worlds of work and home, as consumers and as contributors to civil defense." Michele Hilmes The Wilson Quarterly



"This book will help us better understand ourselves." William Klykylo (WA8FOZ) CQ Magazine



"With its detailed and interesting analysis of the interaction between technical cultures and technical identities, [this book] makes an important contribution to technology studies. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in the complicated interactions between technology, culture, and society." Sungook Hong Isis

About the Author

Kristen Haring is Assistant Professor of History at Auburn University. She holds degrees in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD in history of science from Harvard University. Haring's work has been recognized by the Society for the History of Technology, which awarded her the IEEE Life Members' Prize in Electrical History for portions of Ham Radio's Technical Culture. She has served on the board of directors of the Keith Haring Foundation since its creation by her brother in 1989.

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Amazon.com: 7 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Thought provoking but . . . Jan. 9 2009
By Richard M. Holoch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I very much enjoyed this book - even though it has a few very strange assumptions made that don't match the reality I know as far as amateur radio is concerned. It was obviously written by someone fascinated by the culture of amateur radio - and shows a segment of society that was in the vanguard of geek - and I mean that in the best possible way. And I did read this in the authors words too.

However - I would say to the author that the point she makes about guys hunkering down in their private radio shacks talking to other guys is very much like guys who hang out in their garage talking about cars - except with radio - its like the internet - it was a virtual meeting - long before the "virtuality" of the internet.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Zero Stars March 24 2007
By N. Plouff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought the hardback version from Amazon not too long after its original publication, hoping to find a fresh perspective on my ham radio experiences of the 1960s and 70s. The book did not deliver. Far from a fresh perspective, Kristen Haring offered an unrecognizable view of the hobby I knew. This is the only book I have ever wanted to throw against the wall, repeatedly. It gets one star only because zero star ratings are not allowed.

In its favor, the book sheds new light on the uneasy relations between ham radio and the military in World War II and the Civil Defense era that followed. It is also likely the only book about amateur radio written by someone not actively involved in the hobby.

The book suffers from crippling shortcomings, though. First of all, the author read many amateur radio magazines, club bulletins and how-to books, but she did not interview any persons. As a result, she completely misses the 1960s and 70s agendas of the two driving forces in the culture, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and Wayne Green, publisher of 73 Magazine. Haring fails to see that ham radio in the USA contained a wide diversity of interests and activities in the whole period since 1950 or so.

The book views technology in an astoundingly superficial way. Hams are slow to adopt transistorized rigs because they could see the insides of vacuum tubes, but transistors are "opaque." Later, hams are slow to move from transistors to integrated circuits because ICs are even more opaque. One can almost hear the author exclaiming "Shiny!"

Ham Radio's Technical Culture is unmoored in history. In many places, it is nearly impossible to tell what period the author is referring to from the context, and the book is not organized along any timeline. Ham radio was surely behind the times in cultural attitudes from the forties through the seventies, but the book fails to relate the hobby's evolution to changes in the broader American culture in any meaningful way.

The book's hints of homophilia among the men of amateur radio, based on product ads, are faintly ridiculous. So are claims of heterosexual conquests gleaned from "DX club" newsletters. These claims make sense only by ignoring the context of the times when the source material was written. This is a great sin for any book purporting to be a history or cultural study.

Last, the book is riddled with technical errors. It is fine that the author simplifies technical terminology for a general audience. However, Haring writes about "license numbers" (actually callsigns) in her preface. She includes a description of U.S. amateur callsigns in Chapter 2 that would be inaccurate at least since the 1960s. These are just two examples out of dozens. One wonders how the editors at MIT Press could have slipped from their generally high standards.

All in all, this is not a good history of ham radio, nor does it give a good feel for the culture of ham radio from any time between the 1930s and the 1970s. That book has not yet been written.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Ham Radio's Technical Culture? Feb. 28 2007
By Robert P. Hopkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book hoping to learn something new from a different perspective. Although the research was well documented, there was nothing new here. The perspective was very negative with respect to the role of women in ham radio between the 20's - 70's. No suprise there, look at the role women played in almost any of the technical pursuits during that time. To blame a hobby for this is silly. To write a book that presents this point of view almost sounds like the author was personally hurt by someone who happened to be a ham. There is a bit of an agenda here that is beyond the hobby. It's more about the culture of the 50's and 60's and the growth of technology.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Interesting social history Jan. 24 2007
By S. Johnston - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I read the book and was impressed. Most older hams would be very familiar with the history of the hobby, so that part of the book probably isn't that interesting to them - but it is a valuable record of what was going on - homebrewing, kit-building, buying equipment, making antennas, etc for history's sake and for younger members of the hobby.

The "social" history of ham radio was new to me, however, and I was struck by some of the author's observations.

She covered these main social issues in the period of the 1930s - 1960s.

1 - The interesting way that ham radio could be both an isolated, individual hobby *and* a social activity.

2 - The image of radio technology and associated hobbies as clearly masculine and "manly" pursuits.

2 - The very few women hams and their difficulties "fitting in" on the air and in clubs. The author reported instances of clubs refusing to allow ladies to join, or male members walking out when women were allowed to join.

3 - The suspicions of the public about those men in their basements every night always building things, talking to foreigners, and causing interference.

3 - The stresses between girlfriends/wives and their ham-mates. Family time competing with the hobby time, etc...

Through all these issues she weaves a thread about gender images and roles. Contrary to some reports on the internet, the author does *not* claim ham radio was a haven for gay men, but she accurately shows that from our somewhat homophobic late-20th, early 21st century, viewpoint (in my words) the whole thing actually could look pretty "gay". Men talking with men on the air about personal things, especially doing it alone in a private place (the shack), at night. And all those photos of club members with their arms around each others shoulders...

But this wasn't unique to ham radio, and we have to keep things in historical perspective. Men weren't always so afraid to touch each other as we are now - consider all the old photos of soldiers with their arms around each other. And as the author shows, the endless stresses between ladies and their hams proves that things were certainly sexually normal on the homefront. She goes to great lengths to point out that ham radio and similar hobbies might look odd to outsiders, it was all quite "normal" in that sense.

Very interesting, and I was pleasantly surprised to come upon something new about a hobby which has been such a big part of my life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A general history, but not satisfying if you have technical background or are a "ham" radio operator yourself. May 31 2013
By David W. Gagne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was disappointed in Kristen Haring's book. Reviewing it for what it is I would have to say it is a history 'lite' of this great hobby. But it lacks technical understanding, insufficient historical anecdotes and a fairly lightweight survey of the the ham radio culture. Take it out of the library if you want to read it. Save your money for her next book or someone else's writing on amateur radio.


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