The filing cabinet

A vertical history of information

The filing cabinet (2021, University of Minnesota Press)

Paperback, 312 pages

Published May 8, 2021 by University of Minnesota Press.

ISBN:
9781517909468
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The ubiquity of the filing cabinet in the twentieth-century office space, along with its noticeable absence of style, has obscured its transformative role in the histories of both information technology and work. In the first in-depth history of this neglected artifact, Craig Robertson explores how the filing cabinet profoundly shaped the way that information and data have been sorted, stored, retrieved, and used.

Invented in the 1890s, the filing cabinet was a result of the nineteenth-century faith in efficiency. Previously, paper records were arranged haphazardly: bound into books, stacked in piles, curled into slots, or impaled on spindles. The filing cabinet organized loose papers in tabbed folders that could be sorted alphanumerically, radically changing how people accessed, circulated, and structured information.

Robertson’s unconventional history of the origins of the information age posits the filing cabinet as an information storage container, an “automatic memory” machine that contributed to a new type …