The Server

Markus Krajewski, The Server A Media History from the Present to the Baroque, Translated and with an Introduction by Ilinca Iurascu, New Haven: Yale University Press 2018, 456 pp.


A cutting-edge media history on a perennially fascinating topic, which attempts to answer the crucial question: Who is in charge, the servant or the master?

Though classic servants like the butler or the governess have largely vanished, the Internet is filled with servers: web, ftp, mail, and others perform their daily drudgery, going about their business noiselessly and unnoticed. Why then are current-day digital drudges called servers? Markus Krajewski explores this question by going from the present back to the Baroque to study historical aspects of service through various perspectives, be it the servants’ relationship to architecture or their function in literary or scientific contexts. At the intersection of media studies, cultural history, and literature, this work recounts the gradual transition of agency from human to nonhuman actors to show how the concept of the digital server stems from the classic role of the servant.


“In this rich genealogy of the concept of the server Krajewski blends literary and historical evidence and media studies—brilliantly thought-provoking!” — Ann Blair, author of Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age

“The Server is an intellectual romp, a learned and literate account of proxy servers, mailer daemons, and an astonishing parade of historical factotums and underlings that presaged today’s client-server logic. This is the history of agential knowing—in short, of media—dressed in livery, waiting on call, at your service.” — Lisa Gitelman, New York University

“Markus Krajewski has rescued from neglect a whole cast of characters—such go-betweens as demons, angels, bookkeepers, and doorkeepers—to show them in all their rollicking mischievousness. This book is at once a literary, social, semantic, and technical history—that is, a media history, and it casts a fresh and strange light on our moment.” — John Durham Peters, Yale University

“Descartes once proudly proclaimed that humans should understand themselves as ‘masters and owners of nature.’ Since then, most philosophers consider knowledge as emerging from rational, cognitive, and discursive structures. Krajewski’s stunningly original book finds it elsewhere–upending our common understanding of science, technology, and political philosophy–by showing that knowledge depends of the successful exploitation of the lowliest of the low.” — Jimena Canales, author of The Physicist and the Philosopher

“A breathtaking display of erudition, Markus Krajewski’s The Server weaves together history, literature, and media theory into a potent critique of the governing metaphors of the digital age.” — Daniel Rosenberg, coauthor of Cartographies of Time

Essay Reviews

Technology and Culture, vol 61, no. 2, April 2020, pp. 682-685 Adrian Johns, Orders of Service