The history of information technology

Thomas Haigh
2011 Annual Review of Information Science and Technology  
2 In many scholarly fields the new entrant must work carefully to discover a gap in the existing literature. When writing a doctoral dissertation on the novels of Nabokov or the plays of Sophocles, clearing intellectual space for new construction can be as difficult as finding space to erect a new building in central London. A search ensues for an untapped archive, an unrecognized nuance, or a theoretical framework able to demolish a sufficiently large body of existing work. The history of
more » ... mation technology is not such a field. From the viewpoint of historians it is more like Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century (Cronon, 1991) . Building space is plentiful. Natural resources are plentiful. Capital, infrastructure, and manpower are not. Boosters argue for its "natural advantages" and promise that one day a mighty settlement will rise there. Speculative development is proceeding rapidly and unevenly. But right now the settlers seem a little eccentric and the humble structures they have erected lack the scale and elegance of those in better developed regions. Development is uneven and streets fail to connect. The native inhabitants have their ideas about how things should be done, which sometimes causes friction with new arrivals. In a generation everything will be quite unrecognizable, but how? This is a guide to the growing (if ramshackle) secondary literature in the history of information technology: monographs, edited volumes, and journal articles written to explore different aspects of computing from historical perspectives. Except as a frame in which to situate these secondary works, and reveal gaps in their coverage, I cannot attempt here to recount the substance of that history. My discussion here is biased toward books rather than articles. Books are the primary unit of scholarly production for historians, and few significant topics can be dealt with fully within the confines of a journal article. Material initially presented in article form often receives its mature presentation in monographs. However articles and unpublished dissertations are referenced when they provide material unavailable elsewhere. Information Technology vs. Computing In this chapter I consider digital computer technologies and their applications but neglect communication technologies (other than those used for computer communication) and all analog or non-
doi:10.1002/aris.2011.1440450116 fatcat:typxbgauhvfwbad7but7xiwsrm