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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Computers in use: historical and social perspectives

Studies and representations of computing -- historical, social, curatorial -- have moved increasingly in recent years to consider information technology in the context of its use, and of its users' understandings, expectations and interactions with the world around them. Under current consideration are such questions as the following:

  • How did early computer users interact with their hardware, and how can we account for the apparent shift in conceptual focus from hardware to software?
  • Can we (and should we) clearly distinguish an idea of "the computer" from other information-processing machines which may share its locations and much of its history?
  • How have computers historically been represented to "non-expert" audiences (with or without the intention of generating new "experts") -- and how should the history of the computer be represented to "non-experts" today?
  • Given that the established historiography of computing focuses largely on the US, and almost wholly on the developed West and Japan, how should we begin to address cultures of computer use elsewhere in the world?

This two-day meeting addressed these and other questions by bringing together invited speakers and commentators across a broad range of seniority and research interests, with backgrounds in academic history, the social sciences, museums and libraries.


Day one: Saturday 22 July
Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM)
University of Manchester

09.30-10.30 Registration and coffee

10.30-10.45 Welcome

John Pickstone
University of Manchester; Director, UK National Archive for the History of Computing

10.45-12.30 Session 1

Tom Haigh
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Blue collars, white shirts: the conflicted identity of 1950s punched card men

Marie Hicks
Duke University
Categorizing machine operators in the mechanized office, 1950-1965

Charles Care
University of Warwick
Can we have a modelling machine? The choice between digital and analog computers in British aeronautical research (abstract available)

Mark Walker
Open University
(Statement of research aims; 10-minute presentation) The history and development of the programmable logic controller (abstract available)

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.00 Session 2

Tom Lean
University of Manchester
ZX81 at 25: the Big Blue of little black boxes (abstract available)

James Sumner
University of Manchester
"It's happening now": computer literacy in Britain from 1981

Frank Veraart
Technische Universiteit Eindhoven
Broadcasting software, co-producing a microcomputer Esperanto: Basicode (abstract available)

15.00-15.30 Coffee

15.30-17.15 Session 3

Mario Aloisio
University of Malta Junior College / University of Warwick
Computing in Malta before the PC (abstract available)

Nathan Ensmenger
University of Pennsylvania
"What's so hard about software?" Computers and organizational transformation, 1952-1968

Martin Campbell-Kelly
University of Warwick
Daniel D Garcia-Swartz
Economic perspectives on the computer time sharing industry, 1965-1985

Followed by general discussion

17.15 Drinks reception

Day two: Sunday 23 July
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester

10.15-11.45 Artefact sessions

Meeting divides into two groups, for activities to be taken in either order:

10.15 / 11.00 Demonstration of the Manchester Baby rebuild by volunteers from the Computer Conservation Society

10.15 / 11.00 Visit to the Museum's Collections Centre, including handling session

11.45-12.30 Session 4: Museums, Libraries and Archives
Three short presentations on established activities and current initiatives aiming to broaden and promote the understanding of computing. Followed by general discussion.

Jenny Wetton
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester

Katrina Dean
British Library

James Sumner
UK National Archive for the History of Computing

12.30-13.30 Break for lunch

13.30-14.45 Session 5

Yuwei Lin
University of Manchester
Hacker culture and the FLOSS innovation: a practice-based perspective (precirculated paper discussed in absentia; commentary by Tom Haigh )

Ian Martin
Open University
Sense in working overtime: long hours in the construction of identity and career progression of IT specialists (abstract available)

Bill Aspray
Indiana University
History of the Indian software and services industry

15.00 Close

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