New Books Network

Lizzie O’Shea

Future Histories

What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology

Verso 2019

New Books in CommunicationsNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books in Technology July 13, 2020 Alexandra Ortolja-Baird

When we talk about technology we always talk about the future—which makes it hard to figure out how to get there. In Future Histories:...

When we talk about technology we always talk about the future—which makes it hard to figure out how to get there.

In Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology (Verso, 2019), Lizzie O’Shea argues that we need to stop looking forward and start looking backwards. Weaving together histories of computing and social movements with modern theories of the mind, society, and self, O’Shea constructs a “usable past” that help us determine our digital future.

What, she asks, can the Paris Commune tell us about earlier experiments in sharing resources—like the Internet—in common? Can debates over digital access be guided by Tom Paine’s theories of democratic economic redistribution? And how is Elon Musk not a visionary but a throwback to Victorian-era utopians?

In engaging, sparkling prose, O’Shea shows us how very human our understanding of technology is, and what potential exists for struggle, for liberation, for art and poetry in our digital present. Future Histories is for all of us—makers, coders, hacktivists, Facebook-users, self-styled Luddites—who find ourselves in a brave new world.

Lizzie O’Shea is a lawyer, writer, and broadcaster. She is a founder and the chair of Digital Rights Watch, which advocates for human rights online,  is a special advisor to the National Justice Project, and also sits on the board of Blueprint for Free Speech and the Alliance for Gambling Reform. At the National Justice Project, she worked with lawyers, journalists and activists to establish a Copwatch program, for which she received a Davis Projects for Peace Prize. In June 2019, she was named a Human Rights Hero by Access Now.


Dr Alexandra Ortolja-Baird is a visiting researcher at the British Museum and teaches Digital Humanities at University College London. Her research intersects intellectual history, digital humanities and cultural heritage studies. She can be reached at aortolja-baird@britishmuseum.org