19 May 2022
Please join us for a TIME-Excellence lecture on Tuesday the 24th of May 2022 at 15:00 London time i.e. 16:00 Brussels time, 17:00 Athens time. The speaker is Haris A. Durrani, Princeton University. The title of the talk is “Inventing Syncom: Public, Private, Global".
Join Zoom Meeting: https://zoom.us/j/96479541729
Meeting ID: 964 7954 1729
Abstract: This article traces a partial history of Syncom, a joint project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Hughes Aircraft Company, in the 1960s. In 1963, the project’s first successful launch, Syncom II, became the first geosynchronous communications satellite when it maneuvered into that orbit. The maneuvers were operated by a control system that spanned beyond US territory: a series of US military and civilian stations located in Maryland, New Jersey, Nigeria, and South Africa. The ingenuity of the invention led to several legal disputes surrounding the satellite’s underlying patents. It also spurred debates about the regulation of the sea, outer space, and the electromagnetic spectrum—all domains in which Syncom II, its signals, or its control system operated. Conventionally, Syncom’s story is a tale of the expansion of the US administrative state in the middle of the twentieth century, in which the ideology of public power drove government regulation and ownership of private innovation like Hughes’s. This story tracks broader narratives in the histories of law, science, and technology about the expansion of the administrative state during the period. As in the historiography of Syncom, these broader narratives are often domestic, focusing mainly on debates about public power and private freedoms rather than the extraterritorial scope of the administrative state. By contrast, I argue that, in Syncom’s story, the administrative state’s ascent was not only an outcome of the ideology of public power. Rather, it was also due to the alignment of public and private actors around what they regarded as a new concept of US extraterritoriality. The new concept posited technological control as a basis for imagining the United States as the first thoroughly global empire. At the same time, the emergence of this concept coincided with the construction of varying ideas of the global.