This lively Very Short Introduction reviews the central events, machines, and people that feature in established accounts of the history of computing, critically examining received perceptions and providing a fresh look at the nature and development of the modern electronic computer.
The book begins by discussing a widely accepted linear narrative of the history of computing, centred around innovatory highlights that start with the use of knotted cords to aid calculation, all the way to the smartphones of the present day. It discusses the problems and simplifications present in such a narrative, and offers instead an account, centred on users, that identifies four distinct historical threads: calculation, automatic computing, information management, and communication. These threads are examined individually, tracing their paths and the convergences of related technologies into what has come to be called 'the information age'.
List of Illustrations
1. History and computing
3. Automatic computation
4. Electronic computing
5. The computer boom
7. The future of history
Doron Swade is an engineer, a historian, and a museum professional. He was Curator of Computing at the London Science Museum (1985-1999), and Assistant Director and Head of Collections there (1999-2003). He is a leading authority on computer pioneer Charles Babbage, and masterminded the construction of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2 built to original 19th-century designs. He was formerly Visiting Professor at Royal College of Art, and Guest Curator at the Computer History Museum, California (2006-2008). He has published widely on curatorship, Babbage, and the history of computing, and his books include The Dream Machine: Exploring the Computer Age (1991, with Jon Palfreman) and The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer (2001).