A2 Representation: Personal Computers and Online Experience

Assignment 2

Representation: Personal Computers and Online Experience, 1978–1990

Assignment Goals

The aim of this assignment is to introduce you to some of the research tools that will be necessary for your final project. You will be using the computer magazines collections from Archive.org to find an article or advertisement, published between 1978 and 1990, that represents the experience of using personal computers and early online services.

The growth of online services in the period this assignment covers was intimately tied to the development of personal computers.

Below are some of the largest collections, which are good places to start:

If you have skills in other languages outside of English, you might also consider the following:

You are not confined to the collections on Archive.org. If there are other archives you would like to use, please let me know.

Circuit of Culture: Representation

We’ll be looking at the aspect of representation from the circuit of culture. Consider how the object you have chosen is depicted and what concepts and values are involved in its representation.

What medium of expression, whether text or image or both, is used to represent the personal computer and online services? What kind of language is used? Is it formal or colloquial? Does it seem to target a technical audience or a popular audience? How would you describe the layout and design of the article or advertisement? What tone does it strike, and what feelings does it evoke?

In terms of images, what are the visual characteristics you can identify? Is the imagery clean and spare? Or is it busy and complicated? What colors are used, and what tone do they strike, or what feelings do they evoke?

What characteristics and values does the article or advertisement associate with the personal computer and online experience? Is your object represented as a form of work or play? Is it represented in the office or the home? What kinds of things is the object represented with? Are there things the article or advertisement explicitly says the object is not?

It will be useful to remember that the all five aspects of the circuit of culture are interconnected. In particular, you might find it helpful to consider the area of identity. To whom is the article or advertisement addressed? What type of people are associated with it? Who uses the product or service? Who is excluded from the representation?

Recommended Research

In addition to using Archive.org, you might it useful to supplement your analysis with historical news stories related to your article or advertisement.

Here are some helpful databases to help you find relevant newspaper articles:

For individual newspaper archives and other databases, see the Johns Hopkins University Libraries Databases list. These databases include publications outside the US that could be relevant if you choose a foreign-language magazine.

If you choose to use these resources, you should cite the stories by providing identifying information in the flow of your discussion: name of newspaper, date of issue, and author and name of story where applicable. If you can link to a freely available web resource, please do, but if it’s behind a proxy, the information above will suffice.


  1. Using the computer magazine collections listed above, choose an article or advertisement published between 1978 and 1990 that represents the experience of using personal computers and early online services.
  2. Claim your topic on the class spreadsheet (link in the assignment submission form on Canvas, as well as in the syllabus).
  3. Explain how the article or advertisement represents personal computers and online services.
  4. Cite two historical newspaper articles (recommended).
  5. Provide links to resources where applicable.
  6. Create a feature image for your blog post from the magazine you select, ideally a screenshot captured at an aspect ratio of 1.91:1. Be careful to follow the image requirements so you don’t end up with an excessively large file.
  7. Credit images where possible by providing a caption.

Submitting Assignments

All assignments should be submitted as text documents on Canvas and to the blog on the course site. For further instructions on posting to the blog, check out this explainer.

Due September 23 by 5:00 p.m. EST.