“Working on ENIAC: Design, Repair and Maintenance in the Early Digital” – Thomas Haigh

2017-01-24 DCRL Semester theme: Design and Repair, Winter Semester 2016/2017


Venue: Freiraum Lüneburg Salzstr. 1 / 21335 Lüneburg

Books and shows about the history of information technology have usually focused on great inventors and technical breakthroughs, from Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to Steve Jobs and the World Wide Web. Work by non-geniuses, particularly operations work, has been written out of the popular history of innovation, but without it no computer would be useful. Information historian Thomas Haigh is writing it back in. This talk focused on ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer, based on research for his book ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer, recently published by MIT Press. Haigh explains that the six women now celebrated as the “first computer programmers” were actually hired as computer operators and worked hands-on with the machine around the clock. Other women, who actually built ENIAC, have been forgotten entirely, as have the contributions of other people working on vital aspects of the project, from procuring the right kind of wire to saving ENIAC from flood water. His concluding comments relate this historical material to the human labor and physical infrastructure today vanishing from public view into the “cloud.” Learn more at www.EniacInAction.com.

Thomas Haigh has degrees in Computer Science from the University of Manchester and a Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Visiting Professor of the History of Computing at Siegen University and Associate Professor of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. He is the immediate past chair of SIGCIS, the group for historians of information technology. As well as ENIAC in Action (MIT Press, 2016) he has published on many other aspects of the history of computing. Learn more at www.tomandmaria.com/tom.