History of Computers

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STS 161/CS 104/HPS161/History 135B

Prof. Paul N. Edwards

Stanford University, Winter 1997

TTh 11:00-12:15

Skilling 191

Credit: 4 or 5 units (student’s option)

History of Computers

This nontechnical course covers the development and use of computers from the ancient world to the present. We will discuss automatic calculation from the abacus to the integrated circuit; logic machines from Boole to neural networks; and the evolution of programming languages from assemblers to Ada.

Our primary focus will be the social, political, and cultural contexts of post-1939 digital computers. We will explore such topics as WWII-era code-breaking and ballistics calculation, competition between digital and analog computer projects in the 1940s and 1950s, the role of Cold War military forces in computer research, the rise of hacker culture, the commercialization of computers, the origins of personal computers, and the explosive growth of computer networks, especially the Internet and World Wide Web.
The course assumes that new technologies and their social effects evolve together along a variety of dimensions. Some of these are technical: innovation, design, and opportunity. Some are social: funding sources, societal values, and organizational structures. Yet others are macro-scale economic, political, and social forces. The major questions that motivate our study of computers will concern “why” issues. Why were computers invented? Who wanted them? What were (and are) they for? How have computers changed the shape of society and culture — and how did society and culture shape them? The course is relevant not only to students with a background in computer science and engineering, but to anyone interested in the history, politics, and culture of technology.
Prerequisites: none, but familiarity with basic concepts of computation will be assumed.

In keeping with its subject, this course employs computer software for various course tasks. The course reader is available on the World Wide Web. (Paper copies of most readings are also available on 2-hour reserve at Meyer Library.) Students will also have access to SiliconBase, a research tool on the recent history of high technology being developed by Stanford’s Information Technology & Society Project.

(1) Two midterm exams (each 25 percent of grade). There will be two in-class midterm exams (Jan. 22 and Feb. 26). Each will consist of identifications, short answers, and essay questions. Study questions will be distributed in advance.

(2) Term paper (3500-4500 words, 50 percent of grade). This paper may be composed either in the traditional way, or as a digital hyperdocument. In either case, the assignment has three parts.

(a) A 300-word prospectus, clearly describing your topic and listing sources, is due in class on Tuesday, January 20th. You must turn this in when it is due, but you can change your topic later by turning in another prospectus before February 3rd.

(b) A full-length, high-quality draft is due Monday, February 23rd. It will be returned within a week, with comments and suggestions for revisions. This is a serious deadline subject to the extension policy described below.

(c) The final version, edited, revised, and proofread, is due on Monday, March 9th.

Class attendance. Because much of the information in this course comes to you only through lectures, class attendance is strongly encouraged. Attendance will be taken into account in final grading.

Extension policy on all written assignments: anyone who needs extra time can take an automatic extension of up to three days (72 hours, measured from the class period when the assignment is due). This applies to all three term-paper-related deadlines. There will be NO EXCEPTIONS to this policy; papers will not be accepted after the extension deadline has passed.

Grade and credit options: the course can be taken for a grade or pass/no-credit, for 4 or 5 units, at your discretion.

Auditing the course is allowed, with permission of the instructor. Auditors are required to attend all classes and do the reading.

Required Texts:
Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine (New York: Basic Books, 1996).
Daniel Crevier, AI: The Tumultuous History of the Search for Artificial Intelligence (New York: Basic Books, 1993).
Gene Rochlin, Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

Course Reader: The course reader for this class is on-line, available on the World Wide Web. You are free to make one paper copy of this material for your own use. Please do not distribute the reader’s Web address outside the class. The address is www-leland.stanford.edu/class/sts161/

To access the reader, you need a Web browser and word processing software capable of interpreting RTF (rich text format) files. Most commercial word processors for Macs and PCs (Word, WordPerfect, etc.) can handle this, but Unix-based systems may not. The system was written for Netscape 2.0 or higher, but any other frames-capable browser should also work.

All course books and reader articles are also on 2-hr. reserve at Meyer Library.

Paul Edwards, STS Program, Bldg. 370 Rm 111, ext. 3-6817

Email: pedwards@pcd.stanford.edu

Office hours Tu/Th 2:00-3:00, and by appointment

The best way to reach me is by email.

Course Assistant:
Carlos Martin Department of Civil Engineering

Stanford University

Office phone: (650) 723-1957

Email: cafe@leland.stanford.edu

Course Schedule

• Readings marked (R) are contained in the on-line Course Reader.

Tuesday 1/6 — Introduction: Computation in the Ancient World
Guidelines for final papers distributed —
Thursday 1/8 — Automatic Computation in the 19th Century

Reading: Computer, Chapters 1 and 2

Toole, “A Selection from Ada’s Notes: The Analyst and the Metaphysician” (R)
Tuesday 1/13 — Automatic Computation before 1945
Reading: Computer, Chapter 3

Beniger, “Introduction” to The Control Revolution (R)

Bromley, “Analog Computing” (R)
Thursday 1/15 — World War II and Digital vs. Analog
Reading: Computer, Chapter 4

Bowles, “U.S. Technological Enthusiasm and British Technological

Skepticism in the Age of the Analog Brain” (R)

Fritz, “The Women of ENIAC” (R)

Tuesday 1/20 — Computers and the Cold War
Reading: Flamm, “Military Roots,” from Creating the Computer (R)

Bracken, “Warning and Intelligence,” from The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (R)

Prospectus for final paper due in class —
Thursday 1/22 — First midterm exam (in class)
Tuesday 1/27 — Project Whirlwind and the SAGE System
Reading: Computer, Chapter 7

Jacobs, “SAGE Overview” (R)

Valley, “How the SAGE Development Began” (R)

Everett et al., “SAGE — A Data-Processing System for Air Defense” (R)

Thursday 1/29 — Computer Languages and Software
Reading: Computer, Chapter 8

Hoare, “Programming: Sorcery or Science?” (R)

Tuesday 2/3 — The Computer Industry: Mainframes
Reading: Computer, Chapters 5 and 6

Augarten, “Appendix” (R)

Small, “General-Purpose Electronic Analog Computing: 1945-1965” (R)
Recommended: Pugh, Building IBM, Chapters 15 and 18 (R)

Thursday 2/5 — Artificial Intelligence

Reading: Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (R)

Crevier, Chapters 2-8, 11

Tuesday 2/10 — Computers and the Military 1960-1985
Reading: Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (R)

Van Creveld, “The Helicopter and the Computer” (R)

Westmoreland, “Address to the Association of the US Army” (R)

Jacky, “The Strategic Computing Initiative” (R)

Thursday 2/12 — Origins of the Internet
Reading: Hellige, “From SAGE via ARPANET to Ethernet: Stages in Computer Communications Concepts between 1950 and 1980” (R)

Norberg and O’Neill, “Improving Connections” (R)

Hafner and Lyon, “E-Mail,” from Where Wizards Stay Up Late (R)
Tuesday 2/17 — The Computer Industry: From Mini to Micro
Reading: Computer, Chapters 9 and 10

Wolfe, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce” (R)

Thursday 2/19 — Computers in the Workplace
Reading: Hedstrom, “Installing Computers: From Brute Force to Blue Sky, 1955-65” (R)

Rochlin, Chapters 4 and 7

Draft of final paper due in class —
Tuesday 2/24 — Networks: Intranets, Internets, and the World Wide Web
Reading: Rochlin, Chapters 1-3

Computer, Chapter 12

De Lacy, “The Sexy Computer” (R)

Recommended: Internet and Web history, various WWW sites (R)
Thursday 2/26 — Second midterm exam (in class)
Tuesday 3/3 — Personal Computers and Mass Markets
Reading: Computer, Chapters 10 and 11

Recommended: Ferguson & Morris, Chapters 1-5 of Computer Wars (R)

Thursday 3/5 — Computers outside the United States and Europe
Reading: McHenry and Goodman, “MIS in Soviet Industrial Enterprises: The Limits of Reform from Above” (R)

Roche, “Brazilian Informatics Policy: The High Costs of Building a National Industry” (R)

Shapard, “Islands in the (Data)Stream: Language, Character Codes, and Electronic Isolation in Japan” (R)
Monday 3/9 —
— Final paper due by 11:00 a.m. —
Tuesday 3/10 — Global Networks: Trouble in Paradise
Reading: Rochlin, Chapters 5-6, 12

Stratton, “Cyberspace and the Globalization of Culture” (R)

Thursday 3/12 — The Future of Computing
(No reading assignment)

STS161, History of Computers Syllabus

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