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Latest Additions

  •  "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. The second in our ENIAC trilogy 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). (Jul-07-2014)

  • "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. The first in a trilogy of articles from a major research project I've been leading into the history of ENIAC and its modification in 1947-8 to become 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 is less about ENIAC itself and more about probing 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) (Mar-24-2013)

  • (updated) "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. I've been exploring this idea for a while with Bernardo Batiz-Lazo and Dave Stearns, including extracts from our work adapted for a Bloomberg blog post and a short article in a Swedish business school publication. Now our article has appeared in one of the leading business history journals. (online OUP) (online Project Muse)(online locally) (Mar-02-2014)

  •  "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) (Jan-25-2014)

  • "Software and Souls; Programs and Packages," Communications of the ACM 56:9 (Sept 2013):31-34. My fourth "historical reflection" 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) (Sept-19-2013)

  • The Computability in Europe conference this year had the theme "The Nature of Computation" and featured a small stream special sessions on the History of Computation, organized by Gerard Alberts and Liesbeth De Mol. This included my paper "'Stored Program Concept' Considered Harmful: History and Historiography." The paper summarizes some recent work on the idea of the stored program computer, attempting to connect with the audience of theoretical computer scientists by adding some explicit discussion of the relationship of this to Alan Turing. A written version is included in the corresponding book: The Nature of Computation: Logic, Algorithms, Applications ed. Paola Bonizzoni, Vasco Brattka & Benedikt Löwe, 2013. That's number 79212 in Springer's ever expanding LNCS series. (Slides online locally) (Preprint online locally). (July-20-2013)

  • I gave the keynote address at the 2013 Association of Business Historians meeting, "Taking Care of Business History: Challenges and Opportunities for the 21st Century." This matched the conference theme of Business History in the 21st Century, which struck me as nicely historical given that we are already more than a decade into said century and have begun to pick up some practical experience of its character. ABH is the main group for business historians in the UK, and its meetings attract a significant contingent of overseas scholars. The occasion gave me a chance to think about the special challenges of carrying out historical work in the context of professional schools or within interdisciplinary settings. Also I tried to make it funny.  (Text locally). (July-20-2013)

  •  SIAM News, sent to all members of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, has published my review of Turing's Cathedral, George Dyson's unconventional, evocative, and sometimes exasperating history of the computer project John von Neumann led at the Institute for Advanced Studies. (online at SIAM) (April-5-2013)

  • Another CACM column, "Five Lessons from Really Good History" showcasing the SIGCIS Computer History Museum Prize and its first four winners. The idea was to introduce outstanding scholarship on the history of computing to a broader audience of technical people. (Online at ACM) (Online locally) (Jan-17-2013)

  • ACM SIGMOD has 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) (Jan-5-2013)

Best of the Older Stuff

  • One of my papers, “Inventing Information Systems: The Systems Men and the Computer, 1950-1968” Business History Review 75 (Spring 2001): 15-61 is the first real look at the role of the "systems men" -- experts in administrative techniques -- as staff managerial specialists within the American corporations of the 1950s and 1960s. It examines the emergence of the modern concepts of information and information systems as political tools within this history of corporate management, focusing particularly on the designation of the computer as a tool for management information. (full text locally)

  • My paper "The Chromium-Plated Tabulator: Institutionalizing an Electronic Revolution, 1954-1958", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 23 (October-December 2001): 75-104 tells the story of the first four years of administrative computing in the USA. It is the first in-depth, overall study of how early administrative computers were brought and sold, what they were used for, and the new kinds of jobs that emerged around them. It reveals the extent to which the use of computers was shaped by the earlier technologies of punched card machines, and draws attention to the importance of the data processing department as a new corporate institution. (full text locally)

  • “Software in the 1960s as Concept, Service, and Product", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 24:1 (January-March 2002). (Click here for the issue contents page). Chosen as the leading article for a special issue on the early history of packaged 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

  • "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 article explores the technical, business, and social history of word processing during the 1960s and 1970s. It is part of a special issue on the history of word processing, representing the first sustained historical examination of this important technology. Read it online.

  • I wrote two chapters for the 2008 MIT Press book "The Internet and American Business" edited by William Aspray and Paul Ceruzzi. The first one, "Protocols for Profit: Web and Email Technologies as Product and Infrastructure" tells the business and technological history of development of Internet web browsing and email/messaging systems. 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. Read a preprint version here. The second, "The Web's Missing Links: The Search Engine & Portal Industry" does a similar job for the development of the web navigation industry.  Read a preprint version here

  • "How Data Got Its Base: Information Storage Software in the 1950s and 1960s" builds on my earlier paper on the topic to expand coverage of collaborative projects in the area particularly the generalized file maintenance and reporting systems of the 1950s. (Online here)

  • "The History of Information Technology," Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 45 (2011): 431-487. Since 1966 the ARIST has been 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 is to be 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.

  • "Technology's Other Storytellers: Science Fiction as History of Technology" appeared in a rather volume on science fiction and computers (Science Fiction and Computing: Essays on Interlinked Domains ed. David L. Ferro and Eric G. Swedin, McFarland 2011). The book appeared from a rather obscure publisher with an extensive and interesting list on science fiction studies and thus remains almost entirely unknown. That was not unexpected -- the chapter was 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 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. (Preprint online here).

  • 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" was precirculated for discussed at the September meeting of project participants in Leiden and was intended for inclusion in the project's edited volume, which met a sad fate. The chapter is too long for a conventional journal article, so my current plan is to save the material for a future book on the history of software. (Read the latest version online here).

  • 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. (For those of you who are interested in the twists and turns, I have updated my earlier analysis of the merit of Shiva Ayyadurai's case to encompass his latest claims and his 2013 book).

Page copyright Thomas Haigh -- email    Home: Updated 03/22/2011.