In 1994 Apple agreed to bundle $500k worth of the Who Built America CD-rom with all computers purchased by schools and libraries. In January of 1995 we got a note from Apple saying they were discontinuing distribution in response to complaints from schools in Oklahoma and California about the CD-Rom’s open portrayal of homosexuality and abortion,. We wrote a press release accusing Apple of censorship. The release was picked up by Time and The Wall St. Journal among others. Apple stonewalled until something wonderful happened. They reversed their decision and resumed distribution. The reason for the change of heart — internal dissension. Apple employees all over the world, but particularly in Europe, were deeply disappointed by Apple’s cave-in to homophobic dissent and made it known throughout the company.
This is a 2-minute promo video. Remember, when you look at it, that the piece was created 23 years ago when 800x600 was the maximum resolution and quicktime windows were the size of post-it notes.
The following is a statement by the American Social History Project, the authors of Who Built America (originally published by Knopf) and now available as a text book from Macmillan.
IS THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY ONLY OPEN TO “EDUCATIONALLY APPROPRIATE” HISTORY?
As members of the board of directors of the American Social History Project (ASHP) we want to bring to your attention the recent attempt by Apple Computer to censor the Project’s WHO BUILT AMERICA? FROM THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF 1876 TO THE GREAT WAR OF 1914 (WBA), a CD-ROM conceived and written by Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Joshua Brown, and published by the Voyager Company in 1993.
In January 1995, after distributing more than 12,000 copies of WBA in the previous month as part of its “Apple Educational Series: Elementary and Secondary Reference” bundle installed in computers sold to schools, Apple informed the Voyager Company about unspecified complaints regarding material in the disk discussing homosexuality, birth control, and abortion between 1876 and 1914. Voyager refused Apple’s request to make the CD-ROM “educationally appropriate” by removing all references to these subjects. The material that Apple wanted censored represents a small number of historical documents and oral-history interviews, the equivalent of 40 pages and 15 minutes of sound out of more than 5,000 pages of text and four and a half hours of sound. The inclusion of the history of gay Americans and birth control is part of a comprehensive social history of the period that covers a wide range of experiences and perspectives. On January 31, 1995, Apple notified the Voyager Company that it would no longer distribute WBA to schools.
Ironically, Apple’s decision occurred only three weeks after the American Historical Association awarded WBA the biennial James Harvey Robinson Prize as “the most outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history in any field for public or educational purposes.” In addition, since its publication in 1993, WBA has been praised in major newspapers and in computer trade and scholarly publications for its innovative application of multimedia to education and rigorous scholarship. For example, Walter S. Mossberg wrote in the WALL STREET JOURNAL: “Once in a while . . . a truly exciting, high-quality electronic book turns up to reveal the real potential of electronic learning. My latest nomination to this CD-ROM Hall of Fame is . . . WHO BUILT AMERICA?”
Apple’s new restrictions threaten the intellectual and educational efficacy of electronic information, from interactive programs to the Internet, an arena that has been heralded for providing greater opportunities for accessibility, expression,and diversity.
In response to publicity being given to this case in various media, Apple has apparently backed away from its initial stance and now maintains it is re-evaluating the status of WHO BUILT AMERICA? In that light and in the light of the company’s previous reputation for respecting human and civil rights, comments from scholars and educators might have an important effect on Apple’s decision. We urge you to write Apple CEOMichael Spindler to resist pressure from those who want to censor the past (e-mail: email@example.com; address: Apple Computer, Inc., 20525 Mariani Avenue, Cupertino, California 95014).
The Voyager Company can be reached via Braden Michaels,
Voyager, 578 Broadway, Suite 406, New York, N.Y. 10012, tel: 212–431–5199, fax: 212–431–5799, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ira Berlin, Department of History, University of Maryland
Loni Ding, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Eric Foner, Department of History, Columbia University
Carol Groneman, Department of History, John Jay College, CUNY
Leon F. Litwack, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley
Patricia Oldham, Social Science Faculty, Hostos Community College, CUNY
Silvio Torres-Saillant, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at the City College of New York
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CHRONOLOGY AND INFORMATION ABOUT WHO BUILT AMERICA? PROVIDED BY THE VOYAGER COMPANY:
- September-October 1994: Apple approaches Voyager about the possibility of purchasing copies of WHO BUILT AMERICA? to give to schools (K-12) buying certain Apple computers. Voyager and Apple agree to terms.
- December 1994: Apple bundles more than 12,000 copies of WBA with computers in the first month of a year-long program.
- January 1995: Apple calls Voyager to say that it has received complaints about WBA because of the CD-ROM’s discussion of homosexuality, abortion, and birth control at the turn of the century. Apple asks Voyager to make available a version with these subjects edited out. Voyager refuses but offers to send schools that don’t like WBA any CD-ROM from the Voyager catalog (school’s choice). Voyager also proposes that WBA be bundled only with computers for high-schools, colleges, and libraries. Apple rejects both of these suggestions.
- January 31, 1995: Apple informs Voyager that it will no longer include WBA in the K-12 bundle, and asks Voyager to name a replacement title. Apple makes clear that any replacement must not mention homosexuality, abortion, or birth control.
ABOUT WHO BUILT AMERICA?
WHO BUILT AMERICA? is a new “electronic book” on CD-ROM. Conceived and written by Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Josh Brown (visual editor) and published by the Voyager Company in collaboration with the American Social History Project, it includes more than four and a half hours of audio (oral history, actuality sound, and music), 45 minutes of archival film, more than 5,000 pages of historical documents, more than 700 pictures as well as dozens of graphs, maps, and many other features.
Among the special features of the “book” are:
FILM: More than twenty film clips, including the early silent film classic, “The Great Train Robbery,” immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, candidates campaigning for the presidency in 1912, women suffragists marching down Fifth Avenue, and more.
ORAL HISTORY: More than thirty interviews with immigrants, sharecroppers, Native Americans, coal miners, and others. Hear survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and eyewitnesses to the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot.
MUSIC: More than two dozen songs from the period, including protest and labor songs, black spirituals and work songs, hits from Tin Pan Alley, country music, and brass band tunes.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Rare recordings of Booker T. Washington, Andrew Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, and others as well as humor from early vaudeville stars.
DOCUMENTS: Thousands of pages of primary documents, including letters home from immigrants, congressional testimony, newspaper accounts, court decisions, famous essays, fiction, poetry, and sociological studies.
IMAGES: Hundreds of exquisitely reproduced pictures include cartoons and advertisements from newspapers, magazine illustrations, paintings, and rare documentary photographs, including the work of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.