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A Prehistory of the Cloud


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Before we dismantle the cloud in our fight against the centralization of power, it's crucial to know its history. Thanks to Tung-Hui Hu's excellent book, A Prehistory of the Cloud, we now do. -- Geert Lovink, media theorist Hu's riveting genealogy of the cloud takes us into its precursors and politics, and boldly demonstrates how fantasies of sovereignty, security, and participation are bound up in it. Much more than a data center, the cloud is a diffuse and invisible structure of power that has yielded a data-centric order. Imaginative and lucidly written, this book will be core to digital media studies. -- Lisa Parks, Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara Tung-Hui Hu's A Prehistory of the Cloud is a powerful genealogy of the historical infrastructure underlying the image of the cloud as disembodied, virtual object -- an image that has come to dominate the Internet of social networks, algorithms, and big data. If looking right into the cloud might blind us, there is much worth in understanding how this 'amorphous form' has come to signify the nebulous character of network societies while also materially and symbolically reinventing old modes of power. Beautifully and yet plainly written, both abstract and concrete, Hu's A Prehistory of the Cloud is bound to be an enduring contribution to our historical and political understanding of network technologies. -- Tiziana Terranova, author of Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age

About the Author

Tung-Hui Hu, a former network engineer, is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Michigan and the recipient of a 2015 NEA literature fellowship.


The realm of the cloud does not countenance loss, but when we touch it, we corrupt it. The word for such a system - a memory that preserves, encrypts and mystifies a lost love-object - is indeed melancholy. Hu's is a deeply melancholy book and for that reason, a valuable one.

-New Scientist

But the thing about a cloud, Tung-Hui Hu reminds us in his mesmerizing new book, A Prehistory of the Cloud, is that you can only see it from a distance..... A Prehistory of the Cloud is Hu's imaginative attempt to bring this abstraction into clearer focus. It's informed as much by his current jobs (English professor and poet) as his old one (network engineer), and his approach is eclectic and unpredictable, full of unexpected riffs on Victorian sewage systems, the history of television, counterculture seekers, and the chilling final scene of Francis Ford Coppola's paranoid classic 'The Conversation.'

-New Yorker

Witty, sharp and theoretically aware, Hu deconstructs this much-discussed but poorly understood 'cultural fantasy'.

-The Guardian
APrehistory of the Cloud enhances our understanding of the power of digital networks and addresses the influences of digital networks on net users' lives. Hu assists the reader in recognizing how the cloud functions in the contemporary digital environment by looking at the cloud through the older networks as underlying layers that have helped to construct this development.-Digital Scholarship in the Humanities

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