Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Spring, 2015
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1416
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Seminar on Matter and Information:
History of Computing

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

The theme for this term will be “History of Computing” We will read two recent books on the subject, one focusing on the history of computing machines, and the other focusing on the history of programing these machines. We will meet each week to discuss these books.

Required Texts

  • Campbell-Kelly, M., Aspray, M., Ensmenger, N., Yost, J.R., 2014. Computer: A History of the Information Machine. (Westview Press: Boulder). Please order a copy of the book.
  • Ensmenger, N., 2010. The Computer Boys Take Over. (MIT Press: Cambridge, MA). Please order a copy of the book.
  • Grading:

    Participation 30%
    Discussion questions 30%
    Final paper 40%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions and to submit a final paper.

    Final Paper

    History paper, around 3,000 words.

    This term the writing project will be a history paper. This means that you need to learn a lot about a historical topic and tell a story about it. This means that you need to pick your topic early and do a lot of reading. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    The project will be done in three phases: (1) a topic proposal and preliminary bibliography, (2) an annotated bibliography (3) a final paper.

  • (1) Start thinking about possible topics right away. Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of the story you will tell, which should be followed by a short bibliography (two or three items).
  • (2) You should begin to read your sources and take notes on them. Make a bibliographic list of at least ten sources, with a short blurb on each one.
  • (3) Based on all this reading, write up your account of the historical events.
  • Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Apr 8

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Apr 15

    Before the computer

  • Reading: Computer, chaps. 1, 2 and 3.
  • Week 3: Apr 22

    Inventing the computer

  • Reading: Computer, chaps. 4 and 5.
  • Week 4: Apr 29

    IBM; Whirlwind

  • Reading: Computer, chaps. 6 and 7.
  • Holiday: May 6

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 5: May 13 (Paper phase 1 due)


  • Reading: Computer, chaps. 8 and 9.
  • Week 6: May 20

    Personal computers

  • Reading: Computer, chaps. 10 and 11.
  • Week 7: May 27

    The internet

  • Reading: Computer, chap. 12.
  • Week 8: Jun 3

    The art of programming

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chaps. 1 and 2.
  • Week 9: Jun 10

    Early programmers

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 3.
  • Week 10: Jun 17

    Computer languages

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 4.
  • Conference Trip: Jun 24

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 11: Jul 1 (Paper phase 2 due)

    Computer Science

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 5.
  • Week 12: Jul 8

    Data Processing

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 6.
  • Week 13: Jul 15


  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 7.
  • Week 14: Jul 22 (Paper due)

    Engineering a solution

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 8.
  • Week 15: Jul 29 (Make-Up Class)

    Visible Technicians

  • Reading: Computer Boys, chap. 9.