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Guest Editor's Introduction

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129931D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 2 page(s) / 16K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

ROBERT W. SEIDEL: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

ROBERT W. SEIDEL DIRECTOR, CHARLES BABBAGE INSTITUTE 50 years -- the half-century mark -- has become an important milepost in human affairs. This golden anniversary of the computer also provides an opportunity to reflect upon the transformations of the computer industry and of those which it influenced. In selecting the authors for this special issue, I aimed to educate myself and the Annals readership about the state of the art in scholarship in the history of computing.

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Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Guest Editor's Introduction

ROBERT W. SEIDEL

DIRECTOR, CHARLES BABBAGE INSTITUTE

50 years -- the half-century mark -- has become an important milepost in human affairs. This golden anniversary of the computer also provides an opportunity to reflect upon the transformations of the computer industry and of those which it influenced. In selecting the authors for this special issue, I aimed to educate myself and the Annals readership about the state of the art in scholarship in the history of computing.

William Aspray and Emerson Pugh, who need no introduction to the readers of Annals, examine the earliest successors to ENIAC. They argue that other machines may better earn the mantle that has been laid upon that machine by virtue of their incorporation of fundamental features like the stored program. By tracing the evolution of computer design and manufacture to the IBM 360, they show how the computer became a mass-produced, standardized machine.

Stephen Usselman, an historian of technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, focuses on the creative tension between standardization and innovation in the computer industry, showing how government and industry have succeeded in balancing the need for standards with the destabilizing forces of innovation.

Computer historian James Cortada provides an analysis of the use of the computer by other industries in the period following the war, and illustrates how it gradually penetrated American business, sector by sector, in the third quarter of the century. Too little is known about this phenomenon, and information is more difficult to obtain after the advent of the so-called "personal computer."

The expanded perspective on the history of computing offered by these authors contrasts with the arguments offered by J.A.N. Lee for the study of this field. For the computer professional, whose attention is fixed on the fine structure of technological innovation, there is always a chance that the study of the history of a particular technology may reveal paths not taken or sources of systematic error. As the other authors in this volume indicate, however, the necessity of understanding the fine points of the technical history of the computer is subordinate to the need to comprehend larger issues that have shaped the development and application of this technology.

From the perspective of the Charles Babbage Institute, the development of computing systems is increasingly becoming the focus of productive historical research. In Arthur Norberg and Judy O'Neill's forthcoming study of the history of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency, the motivations that shaped the office's patronage of time-sharing, computer graphics, networking, and other developments...