On April 4, 2018, staff, students, faculty and friends gathered to celebrate Geoffrey C. Bowker as he was formally recognized as Donald Bren Professor in Information and Computer Sciences. During opening remarks for the event, André van der Hoek, Chair of the Department of Informatics, referred to Bowker as “someone who reflects a lot on the state of the world and how we’ve gotten to where we are.” Such reflections can be found in his many publications, including Science on the Run (1994), Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences with Susan Leigh Star (2000), and the award-winning Memory Practices in the Sciences (2008).
John S. Seberger, an informatics Ph.D. candidate, also made a few introductory remarks, although he admitted that trying to describe his relationship with Bowker in just a few minutes was like “trying to describe how you learn how to dance from Mick Jagger.” He added that through Bowker, “I have learned that the most important part of leading a successful academic career is to think forward, and by that I mean to be as generous an intellectual as possible.”
Bowker, who is also director of UCI’s EVoKE Lab and Studio, then entertained the audience with a thought-provoking lecture, “How the West Was Won by Data,” connecting trends and events dating back as early as the 18th century to the data-focused headlines of today’s newspapers. He concluded the discussion by explaining that “things that we think about as being just about the computer age and just about computers actually have a stronger, longer, deeper, richer history, and it’s only through analyzing that history, playing with that history and understanding it that we can develop the kind of politics and kind of society that we want moving forward.”
After a brief Q&A with the audience, Ted and Janice Smith Family Foundation Dean Marios C. Papaefthymiou presented Bowker with the professorship medal, officially recognizing him as one of only five faculty members in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences to receive the distinguished Bren Professorship title.
Bren Professors are collaborative and creative individuals leading research that results in major discoveries and transformations and making positive contributions to both UCI and the community. Bowker joins current Donald Bren Professors Michael J. Carey and Ramesh Jain and emeriti faculty members Judy Olson and Gary Olson.
Bowker says he was “delighted to be one of the distinguished professors at UC Irvine honored with the title Donald Bren Professorship. The funds will allow me to develop and expand work on ethics and data science and to mount projects in new forms of knowledge expression through funding for students, speakers and projects. Further, the professorship will directly benefit the Department of Informatics — embellishing its find international reputation.”
A video of the full event, including opening remarks, Bowker’s lecture, and the presentation of the medal, is available online.
— Shani Murray