There is a full list of articles, book reviews, etc. published and forthcoming on my vita, including links to full text, so what I decided to do here is group my more important publications thematically. As well as articles I've included a few unpublished conference papers, oral history interviews, etc. where these fit well with the other materials -- though coverage is by no means complete in these areas.
My academic interests revolve around the following topics:
- the particular characteristics of computer technology; the senses in which it is, and in which it is not, different from earlier technologies
- the use and management of information technology within organizations, particularly the coevolution of technology use with organizational structure and occupational identity
- the history of software, particularly of software as a material artifact and the emergence of programming practice
- the concept of information, particularly its relationship to professional and disciplinary identities and organizational power
- the origin of modern computing in the 1940s, and its connection to different kinds of technical labor and scientific practice
1: Information Technology and the Corporation
In my dissertation, "Technology, Information and Power: Managerial Technicians in Corporate America, 1917-2000” I looked at the history of the management and use of information technology. My focus throughout is on the groups of people within corporate America who have attempted to establish themselves as expert specialists in the techniques and technologies of administration. The paradoxical figure of the managerial technician first appears with the office managers of the 1910s and persists, with many shifts, through the punched card specialists of the 1940s, the data processing managers and "systems men" of the 1950s, the push for management information systems (MIS) executives in the 1960s and so on right up to the Chief Information Officer of the 1990s. I look at the different specialist groups involved, their organizational positions, how they thought of themselves and their relationships with changing tools and technologies. A historical view reveals continuities of which the participants were not usually aware, and illuminates the issues that have changed with technological shifts and those which have remained the same. At its heart is the invention of “information” as a category in managerial thought during the 1950s. Originally shaped as a tool for “systems and procedures” experts to wrest control of the computer away from punched card workers, management information was contested and redefined constantly during the decades that followed.
This was the first full-length, scholarly history focused on the use of computers and other information technology in the twentieth century American corporation. The full thing is available by request by email, and both the narrative summary and table of contents are online. However, the pressures on junior faculty in information science are quite different from those in history, meaning that a couple of publications a year were expected and a book would be no substitute. On the other hand I didn't want to strip mine this material excessively, so almost all my publications from 2002 to 2012 were taken from other topics. Sponsored projects on the history of ENIAC and Colossus have distracted me further, but I am now returing to these topics.
Because of its length, this material has been split into two book manuscripts.
(Book 1) Acolytes of Information
A broad account of the development of corporate use of information technology and systems over the course of the twentieth century, focusing particularly on the different groups of managerial technicians and their organizational mandates, from the office manager to the chief information officer. Revision, expansion and updating of this material is largely complete, and a manuscript will be submitted to Johns Hopkins University Press during 2016.
Papers and presentations based on this material include:
“Inventing Information Systems: The Systems Men and the Computer, 1950-1968” Business History Review 75 (Spring 2001): 15-61. This was chosen as the leading article for a special 75th anniversary issue on the theme of computers and networking guest edited by Richard R. John. The abstract is on-line. You can read the paper here on my site (note that this may differ slightly from the published version) or download a scanned acrobat (.pdf) version. Of all my papers it is still the most widely cited.
"How the Computer Became Information Technology: Constructing Information in Corporate America, 1950-2000." This was never published, but can be read online here. Many of my papers address, in one way or another, the construction of information as a managerial panacea. This is an expanded version of “The Fix is Information, Now What Was the Problem?” presented at the Hagley Museum and Library conference on the Technical Fix in October 2002. That was my first public attempt to communicate the overall findings of my dissertation research, exploring the startling commonalities from the office managers of the 1910s to the chief information officers of the 1990s in their uneasy attempts to combine managerial and technical claims to authority by invoking the power of information systems. Here is the abstract, here is the text as delivered, and here are the pretty pictures.
I gave a paper at the October 2002 Toronto meeting of the Society of the History of Technology. When writing my Business History Review paper "Inventing Information Systems" I had to cut out a lot of interesting material on the ties between the world of administrative systems work and the elite cold-war systems engineering with which it shared some ideas and jargon. I developed this angle more extensively in my dissertation, and gave one part of it in a public presentation in my paper, “Lost In Translation: Total Systems from War Room to Board Room, 1954-1968,” which sets this administrative systems work in the broader cold war context, building on my preliminary work presented at the Science and the Cold War conference. The text I delivered is available here, and the pretty pictures are here.
(Book 2) Machine Men and Managers
The second is more tightly focused and more technologically oriented, telling to story of the transition from punched card machines to computers within corporate administration. This book deals only with the 1954-1975 period and pays particular attention to the early evolution of data processing and the data processing department as practice and as professional identity.
Papers and presentations based on this material include:
"The Chromium-Plated Tabulator: Institutionalizing an Electronic Revolution, 1954-1958" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 23 (October-December 2001): 75-104. (Click here for the issue contents page) The computer promised business of the 1950s an administrative revolution. What it delivered was data processing—a hybrid of new technology and existing punched card machines, people, and attitudes. This paper examines how first-generation computers were sold and purchased, and describes the occupations (analyst, programmer, and operator) and departments that emerged around them. It appears in a special issue celebrating the Charles Babbage Institute and the scholarship it has nurtured. Here it is as published.
"Masculinity and the Machine Man: Gender in the History of Data Processing," in Gender Codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing ed. Thomas J. Misa, IEEE Computer Society Press, 2010:51-7. This is the much revised version of the workshop paper below. It's more focused on the specific story of gender in data processing, and gives a concise, but I hope convincing, story of evolutionary change grounded in the earlier history of tabulating machine labor, the institutional story of the data processing management association, and the association of masculinity with management. I cut general discussion of gender and computing, and some material on nerd masculinity, because of severe space constraints. However, as you can tell from the book's title, its editor was hoping to attract an audience of computer scientists. So the ending abruptly shifts gears to give some brief conclusions directed towards the present day literature on women in computing rather than toward the business, labor, or gender history literatures. This version restores an image lost for copyright reasons in the final revision. Online here.(book on Amazon)
"Masculinities in the Histories of Computing(s)" pre circulated for the workshop History|Gender|Computing at the Charles Babbage Institute. It's a rather rambling paper, intended to stimulate discussion and present perspectives on the historical use of gender to people with an interest in the history of computing who are not necessarily trained in social history. Online here.
I gave a paper called "From Machine Man to Information Manager: Class Formation and Group Mobility in Corporate Computing, 1953-1964" at the North American Labor History conference in Detroit in the Fall of 2000. It was about on the attempts of punched card machine operators and supervisors of the 1950s to transform themselves into professional and/or managers. In this case I have the abstract and the actual paper as read. Much of this material found its way into my "Chromium-Plated Tabulator" paper, the rest can be found in more detail in the dissertation itself.
Several collaborative papers take international perspectives on the early history of the computer industry and of computer usage:
(with Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo) "Engineering Change in Mexico: The Appropriation of Computer Technology at Grupo ICA (1965-1971)," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 34:2 (April-June 2012):20-33. A case study following several generations of computer use in Mexico's first successful multinational company. As well as practices, the article explores shifts in the strategic rationale for computing work and its relationship to the firm's structure and culture.(online IEEE CS) (online locally).
“IBM Rebuilds Europe: The Curious Case of the Transnational Typewriter,” Enterprise & Society (with Petri Paju, forthcoming end 2015/early 2016). This article blends perspectives from business history, European history, and the history of technology to explore IBM's development of a unique typewriter manufacturing system that overcame post-War trade restrictions to force cooperation between recent enemies. This laid the groundwork for its subsequent domination of the European computer industry and anticipated political efforts to build a common European market. (preprint online locally)
2: ENIAC and the Origins of Modern Computing
This project has been my major research focus from late-2011 to 2014, delaying the books promised above. It began serendipitously when I was contacted by Crispin Rope, who had long had an interest in ENIAC history in general and its post-1948 conversion to what has often been called "stored program" operation. With his support this grew into a well funded research project conducted in collaboration with Mark Priestley and the help of half a dozen graduate assistants digging into parts of the rich archival record. It also broadened in scope to encompass the entire career of ENIAC, yielding the first scholarly book focused entirely on this pivotal machine. We are looking particularly at ENIAC in use and its evolution over time as artifact and symbol, hence the title ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer.
Given the considerable amount written about ENIAC we were startled by how much remained to be discovered about its story. For example, while planning for ENIAC programming is usually depicted as an afterthought left entirely to the operations team recruited in mid-1945 shortly before it became operational, archival records show that detailed preparatory programming work was carried out in 1943, early in the design process, and fundamentally shaped ENIAC's final configuration. Its material history is particularly dramatic: floods, a fire, partial demolition of a wall to remove it from the Moore School, a succession of user-driven hardware upgrades and modifications which fundamentally altered the way in which it worked. Did you know that ENIAC was constructed by an overwhelmingly female team of "wiremen"? We were also fascinated by the way in which ENIAC has been depicted over time in popular memory, and the ways in which our understanding of its story have been shaped by legal disputes from the 1940s to the 1970s over patent rights.
ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer (with Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope), MIT Press January 2016. See more on the project website eniacinaction.com.
"Los Alamos Bets on ENIAC: Nuclear Monte Carlo Simulations, 1947-48" (with Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope), IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:3 (Jul-Sep 2014):42-63. Our third main article from the ENIAC project looked in detail at a program developed to simulate nuclear fission, the first large-scale application of the Monte Carlo method. This was also the first modern computer code ever run, and the surviving documentation gives a rich picture of its development by a team including John and Klara von Neumann and Nick Metropolis. (online IEEE CS) (online locally).
"Engineering 'The Miracle of the ENIAC': Implementing the Modern Code Paradigm" (with Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope), IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:2 (April-June 2014):41-59. This paper looks at the conversion of ENIAC to the modern control method in 1948, comparing its capabilities with those of other computers of the late 1940s. While the fact of the conversion is well known its details, including such basic things as who was responsible and whether it took place in April or September, have previously been rather fuzzy. (online IEEE CS) (online locally).
"Reconsidering the Stored Program Concept" (with Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope), IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 36:1(January-March 2014):4-17. This article grew out of the ENIAC project but only obliquely addresses ENIAC itself. In 1948 ENIAC became the first computer able to execute programs written in the modern form described in von Neumann's seminal "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC." That new approach is often called the "stored program concept" and this paper probes the history of that idea and its limitations as a description of what was novel about the new direction computers took in the second half of the 1940s. (online IEEE CS) (online locally)
"Actually, Turing Did Not Invent the Computer," Communications of the ACM 57:1 (Jan 2014):36-41. Another outgrowth of my investigation of ENIAC in the context of computing practice during the mid-1940s. This article challenged some overheated claims made recently for the importance of Turing's theoretical work of the 1930s to the development of what are often called "stored program" computers a decade later. This gave an opportunity to sketch Turing's actual contributions to computing, to explore the interplay between the origins of computer science and computer technology, and to point readers towards some excellent literature on the early history of electronic computing. (Online at ACM) (Online locally)
3: History of the Software Package
My work on the history of software began opportunistically -- people editing books or special issues would ask me for chapters, or I would be hired as a consultant to work on a particular topic, or I would see a call for a workshop and try to think of something suitable. A few years ago I realized that my interests in many of these topics had stealthy been converging into elements of a mosaic history of software as a package from the 1950s onward. My primary interest is not in the software industry but in software as a thing. The creation of software always involves packaging disparate elements such as computer code, practices, algorithms, tacit knowledge, and intellectual property rights into an artifact suitable for dissemination.
Once I realized that, it quickly became apparent that my existing interests could be knitted together with some new material and extensive revisions to form a book on the history of software as a package. The publications and presentations described below early in the digital age with libraries of packages produced by the collaboration of computer users the project moves forward to probe the emergence of the concept of software during the 1960s, the repackaging of software as an autonomous commercial good toward the end of that decade, attempts to establish a new academic identity of software engineering, the adoption and use of data base management software in the 1970s, and the distinctive trajectory followed by mathematical software packages and libraries, and the creation of an entirely new kind of software package with the rise of the personal computer.
I did apply for an NSF grant which would have bumped this to the front of the queue faster and supported a number of related activities, but didn't get it. Thus it could take a while longer. In the meantime, here are the some of the projected chapters together with existing publications or presentations covering aspects of the material.
a. Software as Concept
Software is an idea with a history, and that history has its roots in the concept of packaging. What, we might ask, was inside this package? Who, metaphorically, was doing the packing? Why? How was it sealed? Where was the resulting bundle being sent? These questions have not one set of answers but many, as software itself evolved over time and according to the needs of different users. I addressed some of these issues, from one particular perspective, in this paper.
“Software in the 1960s as Concept, Service, and Product" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 24:1 (January-March 2002):5-13. (Click here for the issue contents page). Chosen as the leading article for a special issue on the early history of application software, this article surveys the origins and early ambiguities of the term "software", the origins of packaged application programs and their relationship to the concerns of data processing managers. Here it is as published.
"Software and Souls; Programs and Packages," Communications of the ACM 56:9 (Sept 2013):31-34. This column dealt with the special character of software and the challenges it poses both to curators and archivists and to historians. My suggestion is to embrace the special character of software as a "package," which is both historically responsible and conceptually broad enough to encompass the packaging together of various kinds of code, practices, or tacit knowledge into a transportable assemblage. (Online at ACM) (Online locally)
b. Inventing the Software Package: SHARE and the Mathematical Software Library
From 2003 to 2006 I worked as an historical consultant for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics on a major project designed to document the origins of scientific computing and numerical analysis. My work included the execution for twenty three oral history interviews with key figures in the world of mathematical software, and the preparation of three biographical essays based on materials gathered during the project. My particular interest here is in the evolution of standard software packages in this area, their relationship to the institutional contexts in which they were developed, and their role in encapsulating and standardizing expertise.
"The Secret History of Open Source Software Practices: Their Corporate and Scientific Origins, 1954-1980", GSLIS Research Forum, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, November 2007. (audio)(slides). A talk given in a number of different versions, coming from my work with SIAM on the history of mathematical software packages. This is a lengthy version of the presentation, and was recorded. An article based on this work, in collaboration with Maria Haigh, should be completed soon.
c. The NATO Software Engineering Conferences and the Establishment of Software as a Research Object
In the scholarly literature on the history of software, no idea looms larger than the "software crisis" of the late 1960s and no event has been more discussed than the NATO Conference on Software Engineering held in 1968. Yet I've always been surprised by how little they feature in the primary literature for most computing communities in the 1960s and 1970s. My involvement in the Software for Europe Project has stimulated research to investigate this, leading to some exciting discoveries regarding the actual content of the 1968 conference and its relationship to the Algol 68 story being studied by other project participants.
My most recent draft on this topic, "Dijkstra's Crisis: The End of Algol and the Beginning of Software Engineering:1968-1972" has been precirculated for discussed at a late meeting of project participants in Leiden and was intended for inclusion in the project's edited volume, which alas met a sad fate. (Read the latest version online here).
A longer and earlier version, "Crisis What Crisis? Reconsidering the Software Crisis of the 1960s and the Origins of Software Engineering" was presented at the Inventing Europe meeting in Sofia in June. The earlier version lacks some important findings about Algol, and is generally less polished and reliable, but does include additional material on the historiography of the software crisis and the origins of the "crisis" and spread of the crisis removed from "Dijkstra's Crisis" for space reasons (earlier version online here).
d. Packaging Software for Sale
The commercial viability of packaged software relied on a legal framework in which the rights of producers are protected, on the acceptance of banks and investors that packaged software companies work in a profitable industry, on the willingness of accountants to value packages as assets on a software company’s balance sheet, on the willingness of customers to purchase something that may contain bugs they are unable to fix, and on the creation of a set of shared cultural understandings governing concepts such as the difference between a bug fix (free) and an upgrade (usually paid for), the issuing of regular updates, and the period of free technical support to which a purchaser might be entitled. None of these things were initially obvious, and each involved a process of collective learning and negotiation during which a variety of practices were experimented with. I began to focus on these questions as I explored the history of the trade association ADAPSO, where collaborative projects and informal networking helped software package companies to carry out this kind of institutional innovation as an industry rather than as disconnected individual firms.
"ADAPSO and the Service Bureau Industry: 1961-1968" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 25:1 (January-March 2004): 78-93. This article outlines the foundation and early history of the computer software and services trade association ADAPSO, the Association of Data Processing Service Organizations. During this period, ADAPSO's membership was dominated by service bureaus, and the article also discusses the service bureau business and its development. It accompanies biographies of Frank Lautenberg and Bernard Goldstein (also listed below). Here it is as published.
"ADAPSO, Timesharing Firms and Software Companies, 1968-1975" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 27:1 (January-March 2005): 67-73. The article continues the series of publications on the computer software and services trade association ADAPSO and its more active members, looking at the expansion of the association during the early 1970s to encompass software product and timesharing companies. It accompanies biographies of Rick Crandall and Larry Welke published (for reasons of space) in the previous issue. Read it online here. "ADAPSO, Regulated Competition, and Professional Services: 1976-1986" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 27:2 (April-June 2005): 89-93. This short article, really a continuation of the one above separated for space reasons, concludes my series on ADAPSO. It includes a biography of Larry Schoenberg. Here it is as published.
e. Data Base Management Systems
In contrast to the other parts of the projected software package book, this is one where I've gone quite deep and accumulated a lot more detail than would be needed. Data base management systems were the most complex products of the early software industry and provided many of its first breakout successes. They transformed the way in which corporate information systems were produced.
ACM SIGMOD published online a short article I wrote, "Fifty Years of Databases" based on my earlier writing on Charles W. Bachman and the first data base management systems, to celebrate the half century anniversary of the Integrated Data Store. I have some reservations about calling this a data base management system, but it certainly fits the title better than any other system of the early-1960s and introduced many key ideas. (Online at ACM)
"How Data Got its Base: Information Storage Software in the 1950s and 60s," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 31:4 (Oct-Dec 2009):6-25 (online locally) (online IEEE CS) (online Project Muse). This takes some of the material from the articles below and reworks it with a lot of new information, particularly on the generalized file management and reporting systems of the 1950s and their relationship to later DBMS efforts.
(with Tim Bergin) "The Commercialization of Data Base Management Software 1969-83," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 31:4 (Oct-Dec 2009):26-41 (online). This looks at market dynamics, technical capabilities, and user experiences with the hierarchical and network systems produced for the mainframe market during this era, as DBMS systems emerged as a key sector within the new packaged software industry.
'A Veritable Bucket of Facts:' Origins of the Data Base Management System," ACM SIGMOD Record 35:2 (June 2006). A new and improved version of the conference paper mentioned below, including illustrations, corrections and new material from archival research and an oral history interview. (online)
“A Veritable Bucket of Facts: Origins of the Database Management System” in The History and Heritage of Scientific and Technological Information Systems: Proceedings of the 2002 Conference eds. W. Boyd Rayward & Mary Ellen Bowden (New Jersey: Information Today, 2004):73-78. I presented this at the second major conference on the History and Heritage of Scientific and Technical Information Systems sponsored by ASIS&T and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. This is about the emergence of the data base concept and its entry into the corporate world. Here it is as published in the conference book.
C.J. Date, Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 13 June 2007, Mountain View, CA. Computer History Museum, Mountain View. (online) Time constrains with the Computer History Museum's facilities prevented me from covering everything in Date's career, but the interview is full of interesting material on his career and the early days of relational databases.
"Charles W. Bachman: Data Base Software Pioneer," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 33:4 (October-December 2011):70-80. A biography of Charles W. Bachman, inventor of the data base management system, had originally been planned for the 2009 special issue of IEEE Annals on early data base systems. Space constraints prevented this, but the biography has now been completed and published. (online locally) (online IEEE CS)
Charles W. Bachman, ACM Oral History Interview #2. Oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 25-26 September 2004, Tucson, AZ. Association for Computing Machinery, New York (online at ACM) (online). A very detailed interview, covering Bachman's entire career.
f. Personal Computer Software and the Creation of a Mass Market
My interest in this era really crystallized when I did an oral history interview with Dan Fylstra, best remembered as the entrepreneurial early personal computer software publisher who published VisiCalc. This made me think of all the infrastructure necessary to support the new industry, particularly new forms of mediation between code production and use. Programs were sold through new networks of hobbyist magazines, distributors, stores and user groups. Personal software producers formed their own associations, with licensing and piracy prevention as their main collective concerns. So far this has given rise to just one conference presentation.
"An Industry of Enthusiasts: Users Make the Computer Personal, 1975-1981." Business History Conference, Minneapolis, May 2005. (abstract) (slides) A business history angle on my interest in the early days of the personal computer. The role of dealers in the development of personal computer use has been neglected so far.
4: Historiography of Information Technology
In 2011 Harvard University Press published Histories of Computing, a collection of key papers on the historiography of computing, software, and computer science by the late Princeton professor Michael Mahoney. As editor I had responsibility for selecting Mahoney's most important papers, grouping them together, and making edits to minimize duplication between papers while preserving the full range of his insights. My most important contribution, however, was writing the historiographic introduction "Unexpected Connections, Powerful Precedents, and Big Questions: The Work of Michael S. Mahoney on the History of Computing." The book is available for purchased at Amazon or to read in a growing number of libraries.
"The History of Information Technology," Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 45 (2011): 431-487. From the ARIST was one of the premier publication venues in information science, home to long review essays exploring the literature and key ideas in broad areas of research. I got there just in time, as the 2011 volume was the last and there are not many other outlets that could provide the luxury of more than 26,000 words to survey the whole literature. Read a preprint version online.
“Innovators Assemble: Ada Lovelace, Walter Isaacson, and the Superheroines of Computing,” Communications of the ACM 58:9 (Sept 2015):20-27 (with Mark Priestley). Brings together Walter Isaacson and The Avengers, to argue that popular discussion of women in computing is distorted by its reliance on superhero narratives. We look closely at the actual historical roles of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and the "Women of ENIAC" to argue that real history can be more inspirational than cheerleading, as well as more accurate. (Online at ACM)
"The Tears of Donald Knuth: Has the History of Computing Taken a Tragic Turn?" Communications of the ACM 58:1 (Jan 2015):40-44. Beloved computer scientist Donald Knuth issued an appeal: "Let's not dumb down the history of computer science." I responded, arguing that the responsibility to write and support the kind of technical, "internalist" history favored by Knuth lay with computer scientists themselves. It went viral, and to date has been downloaded more than 115,000 times from the ACM Digital Library. (Online at ACM)
Computing the American Way: Contextualizing the US Computer Industry of the 1950s and 1960s" has now been published in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 32:2 (April-June 2010):8-20. It grows directly out of my work as an "associate partner" on the ESF Software for Europe project, and was first presented at the "Appropriating America, Making Europe" Inventing Europe Eurocores European Science Foundation workshop in Amsterdam. It draws on my knowledge of mid-20th century corporate America, but is focused on the political economy of the computer industry itself rather than on my usual topic of computer use. (online IEEE CS) (online Project Muse) (online locally)
"Sources for ACM History: What, Where, Why" (with Elizabeth Kaplan and Carrie Seib), Communications of the ACM 50:5 (May 2007):36-41. (online) The paper is an outgrowth of my work with the ACM History Committee to advise the association on its historical initiatives. The historians and archivists involved labored mightily to convince the association that preserving and archiving its records was far and away the most useful thing it could do to support historical work. We used this experience to craft a broader appeal, explaining how historians work and why we need archival sources. ACM did eventually send its papers to the Charles Babbage Institute, although I had been off the History Committee for some time by that point and can claim no personal credit.
“The History of Computing: An Introduction for the Computer Scientist” in Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines ed. Atsushi Akera & William Aspray (Washington, D.C.: Computing Research Association, 2004):5-26. Based on a talk I prepared for a 2001 NSF funded workshop organized by the Computing Research Association which was intended to bring historians and computer scientists together to work out how history could improve the teaching of computing. My talk was on "Tools and Methods in the History of Computing" and introduced the audience of computer scientists to the history of computing field, its main questions, key resources and the differences between historians and scientists. You can read it as an on-line PowerPoint presentation. Then in 2004, I took part in two follow-on workshops for speakers at the earlier event, intended to help us further develop our ideas into published form. The article has a fairly informal tone and includes three main parts: an introduction to the current state of the history of computing and its key institutions, an explanation of what historians do and how they are different from computer scientists, and a personal stab at suggesting ways in which history might be of instructional value. Here it is as published. The entire book resulting from the workshops is also available online.
“Key Resources in the History of Computing” in Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines ed. Atsushi Akera & William Aspray (Washington, D.C.: Computing Research Association, 2004):279-294. This article accompanied the above introduction to the history of computing, and appeared in the same volume. To back up my comments I wanted to list places where the audience could learn more, but I soon found that while there are many, many internet pages full of links to history of computing web-sites there was no one-stop place where an interested reader could learn about the main electronic and printed resources in the field. The published version is here. However this has long since been superseded by the online version hosted at SIGCIS.
5: Other Research Areas
a. History of Personal Computing
Nobody has ever written a comprehensive social or cultural history of the personal computer. We have a shelf of books recounting the same stories about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and other great men. There has also been some journalistic attention to the early role of Californian enthusiasts in pioneering PC technology. But no historian has tackled what seems like one of the most important historical developments of the era: the personal computer. a social and cultural history of the personal computer, as it passed from a plaything of hobbyists during the mid-1970s to become a fixture of home, office and school by the mid-1980s. As it entered each of these new social spaces it became a mirror in which to examine fundamental cultural assumptions of the era. For example, even as the advocates of home computing purported to usher in an information revolution, their futuristic visions embodied conservative assumptions about domestic life and gender roles that linked them to the 1950s. Attempts by users, magazine writers, advertisers and software authors to reshape the personal computer as a useful tool within these various environments illuminate the flexibility, contradictions and multifaceted nature of this ideology of information based progress. The story has important parallels with that of the internet, a decade later.
I researched this material extensively back in graduate school and considered using it for my dissertation. As it is the history of personal computing has stayed more of a background interest, but one I hope to return to more seriously one day and address with occasional publications in the meantime.
"The IBM PC: From Beige Box to Industry Standard," Communications of the ACM 55:1 (Jan 2012):35-37. This contribution for the "Historical Reflections" column gives a concise and jargon free summary of my thoughts on the evolution of the IBM PC as a kind of platform and standard unique in the history of computing, and perhaps in the history of technology more broadly. (online at ACM) (online locally)
"Opening the Beige Box: Materiality and the Evolution of the IBM PC, 1981-1995," Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, Pittsburgh, October 2009. (slides) An exploration of the evolving role of the IBM PC as a product, industry standard, and material artifact. I'm fascinated by ways in which minor decisions made by its original designers determined the configuration not just of a decade of clone machines but also of the industry that produced them.
"Remembering the Office of the Future: Word Processing and Office Automation before the Personal Computer," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28:4 (October-December 2006):6-31. This is the first real historical exploration of word processing in the days before the personal computing. It includes the origins of text processing techniques, the introduction of the word processing concept, use and application of early word processing, the development of the computerized word processing industry and the creation in the late-1970s of a broader concept of office automation. (online)
“Making the Computer Personal: Reconstructing Domesticity for the Information Age” at Japan Association for Science, Technology and Society Symposium Series, Tokyo University, January, 2006. (slides) I've given evolving versions of this talk in a number of venues, since its debut at SHOT in 2004. I really want to get back and dig into this for a book project, but still have a number of other commitments to complete first.
b. The Allure of Imaginaires
I've always been interested in the retrofutures of old science fiction, seeing strong parallel with these and the promises used to sell information technology in the corporate world. I've approached this topic from three different directions so far.
"How the Future Shaped the Past: The Case of the Cashless Society," (with Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo & David Stearns) Enterprise & Society 15:1 (March 2014):103-131. The "cashless society" idea is interesting for several reasons. First, it has managed to retain an allure as futuristic and new despite being fifty years old. Second, it's a vision of the future defined in terms of what is absent rather than what is present. This is probably a source of its longevity. Third, the imagined future itself has had considerable power to shape the direction of technological and institutional change. The story has some definite parallels with my interest in the early history of management information systems. I explored this idea with Bernardo Batiz-Lazo and Dave Stearns, and extracts from our work were adapted for a Bloomberg blog post and a short article in a Swedish business school publication. The final article appeared in one of the leading business history journals. (online OUP) (online Project Muse) (online locally)
"Technology's Other Storytellers: Science Fiction as History of Technology" appeared in a volume on science fiction and computers (Science Fiction and Computing: Essays on Interlinked Domains ed. David L. Ferro and Eric G. Swedin). It's a labor of love, dealing with some issues I've thought about a lot over the past few decades (and taught a course about) but have never tried to write about before. These is some relevance to history of computing, but it's primarily aimed at persuading historians of technology to take science fiction more seriously. (Draft online here). The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.
We Have Never Been Digital," Communications of the ACM 57:9 (Sept 2014):24-28. This "Historical Reflections" column explores the history of the idea of the digital and its connection to the idea of revolutionary social change, arguing that humanities scholars should apply their critical tools to the analysis of computing rather than rushing to embrace "digital humanities" as a transformative new approach. (Online at ACM) (Online locally).
c. Internet History
This is another slightly accidental research area. Around 2003 I was part of an abortive collaborative effort to write a book on IT in the 1990s. My chapters included discussion of the platforms of the 1990s, technology use in business, and the Internet. The book project quickly died, but the material I'd begun to prepare on the Internet was ultimately revised and expanded for a successor project on The Internet and American Business. Ultimately this provided an opening chapter on web and email as both foundational internet technologies and as businesses in their own right. I was also asked to cover the web navigation industry, resulting in a separate chapter on search engines, web directories, and web portals. Some years later, this exposure to email history let me respond quickly after some news outlets were persuaded to endorse inaccurate claims from a self proclaimed "inventor of email."
Histories of The Internet: Introducing the Special Issue of Information & Culture (with Andrew L. Russell and William H. Dutton). Information & Culture 50:2 (May-June 2015). The introduction to a forthcoming special issue we edited. It explores the gap between modern sense of the Internet as something very broad, including large parts of our daily human experience, and the rather narrow framing of most current work on Internet history.(Online preprint).
"Protocols for Profit: Web and E-mail Technologies as Product and Infrastructure" in The Internet and American Business, edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi, MIT Press, 2008: 105-158. This chapter tells the business and technological history of development of Internet web browsing and email/messaging systems.It doesn't include any insider or archival sources, but goes beyond existing journalistic accounts by brining the whole story together and putting it into a historical framework. I focus particularly on the ways in which the design features built into pre-commercial Internet technologies during the 1980s influenced directions taken by the commercial Internet of the 1990s. (online preprint).
"The Web's Missing Links: Search Engines and Portals" in The Internet and American Business, edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi, MIT Press, 2008:159-200. In a second chapter from the same volume I explored the emergence of the web navigation industry over its dozen years. The main argument is that the web succeeded because of technical features that made publishing information online very easy. But these same features made finding information very hard, and thus the market evolved toward a system of highly decentralized publishing and highly centralized navigation services. (online preprint).
"Did V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai Invent Email? A Computer Historian Responds" My contribution to the mini-flurry of media attention given to what Gizmodo memorably called "The Crazy Story of the Man Who Pretended to Invent Email" (Gizmodo story here). My own article is a little more measured, focused on the claims themselves and outlining enough of the actual history of email, some of which had not been properly researched before, to establish their lack of merit. It was commissioned by the Washington Post, as part of a series cancelled for reasons that remain largely mysterious. So instead read it on the SIGCIS website. (At least my initial message on the topic did reach a broader audience, after it was picked up by Techdirt and Gizmodo).
In one of my columns for Communications of the ACM, "Seven Lessons from Bad History: Journalists, Historians, and the Invention of Email" I tried to step back from the twists and turns of the "Inventor of Email" affair to see what it tells us about the place of high technology history in the Internet age. Read it here.