History of Computing


Ed Lazowska, UW Computer Science & Engineering
Steve Maurer, UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy
Geoff Voelker, UCSD Computer Science & Engineering


Syllabus / Lecture Schedule / Readings




Background reading


Before the first day of class, read the text A History of Modern Computing, Paul E. Ceruzzi, 2003.  An electronic version of the text is available through the UW library.  Do a title search for “A History of Modern Computing” here.  If you are off-campus and a UW student, you might want to use the library’s proxy system.  The number of simultaneous users is limited – please don’t squat.

Also, please review the materials for the course Women in Computing, UCSD, Fall 2006.

The following may be generally useful during the course:

This web contains many interesting tidbits, but it’s voluminous, non-authoritative, and occasionally polemical:  300BC-1956, 1957-1979, 1980-84, 1985-89, 1990-94, 1995-99, 2000-05.

The IEEE Annals of the History of Computing is a great source of background material, project ideas, etc.

Here’s a good list of other History of Computing courses – again, a source of background material, project ideas, etc.

Wikipedia is terrific on many history of computing topics, particularly the earlier ones.

See also our annotated list of reference books.


Wednesday September 27


Computing to 1940 / Steve Maurer:  Pre-history of data, Pascal, Leibnitz, Babbage, Hollerith, Vannevar Bush, Atanasoff-Berry


Read the first two sections of this web material (“It Weaves Algebraic Patterns: Abacuses, Looms, and Arithmetic Engines (c.3000 B.C. to c.1870)” and “The Apotheosis of Mechanical Computers (1890-1940)”), including the linked material (within reason!)


Wednesday October 4


Computing from the end of WW II to the dawn of System/360 / Steve Maurer:  ENIAC, Univac, MANIAC, Aiken, SAGE, the early IBM machines (709, 7090, 7094), etc.


Review chapters 1 and 2 of A History of Modern Computing

Vannevar Bush, As We May Think, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945 (pdf)

John von Neumann, First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC, Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, June 1945 (pdf)

Read this web material and the linked material:

ENIAC and Univac
IBM and the Seven Dwarfs

For the real geeks in the crowd:

The IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator, John W. Sheldon & Liston Tatum, Review of Electronic Digital Computers, December 1951

A Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems, US Army Ballistic Research Laboratories Report No. 971, December 1955


The IBM System/360 / Ed Lazowska:  A landmark – the first architectural family.


Review chapter 5 of A History of Modern Computing


Wednesday October 11


Minicomputers and DEC / Gordon Bell [from Berkeley]:  Gordon, a renowned computer engineer, was VP of Engineering at DEC during the glory years of the PDPs and DECsystems.


Read the material linked from Gordon Bell's DEC website, most particularly:

Bell's Law of Computer Classes, Wikipedia.

C. Gordon Bell, "The Mini and Micro Industries", Computer, October 1984, and see this table.

Website of 41-year history of DEC.

C. Gordon Bell, Appendix to Ed Schein's book DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC.

Skim C. Gordon Bell, J. Craig Mudge, John E. McNamara, Computer Engineering, Digital Press, 1978.

Review Chapters 4 and 6 of A History of Modern Computing.


[Maurer will be on travel]

[Voelker will be on travel]


Wednesday October 18


Xerox PARC, workstations, and distributed computing / Butler Lampson [from Berkeley]:  Much of modern personal computing and distributed computing was invented at PARC:  bit-mapped displays, Alto, Ethernet, laser printing, Remote Procedure Call, modern distributed file systems and distributed mail systems.  Butler was in the middle of all of it.


Butler W. Lampson, Personal Distributed Computing: The Alto and Ethernet Software, ACM Conference on History of Personal Workstations, 1986 (pdf).

Charles P. Thacker, Personal Distributed Computing: The Alto and Ethernet Hardware, ACM Conference on History of Personal Workstations, 1986 (pdf).

Books, for those with deeper interest:

M. Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, 2002.  (Only a couple of chapters are directly about PARC, but it’s a really excellent book.)

Michael A. Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, 2000.  (This is the best book that’s focused on PARC.)


Wednesday October 25


Origins of software / Armando Fox [from Berkeley]


Review chapter 3 of A History of Modern Computing


Antitrust / Steve Maurer


Abbott B. Lipsky, Jr., Memorandum for the Attorney General Re: U.S. v. International Business Machines Corp., January 1982 (pdf)

United States Court of Appeals No. 00-5212, United States of America v. Microsoft Corporation, June 2001 (pdf)


[Lazowska will be on travel]

[Voelker will be on travel]


Wednesday November 1


Personal computing and Apple / Steve Wozniak [from Berkeley]:  Woz’s autobiography, iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It, will be published this fall.


Review Chapter 7 of A History of Modern Computing

Just for fun:  PC World, “A Brief History of Computers, As Seen in Old TV Ads


Wednesday November 8


High-performance computing / Burton Smith [from UW]:  Burton, a renowned computer architect, designed the Denelcor HEP and the Tera, and was Chief Scientist of Cray.


Supercomputer,” Wikipedia

Introduction to Supercomputers,” The History of Computing Project

Supercomputers,” Gordon Bell

A Seymour Cray Perspective,” Gordon Bell

A book, for those with deeper interest:

Charles J. Murray, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, Wiley, 1997


[Voelker will participate from Seattle]


Wednesday November 15


Collaboration software / Ray Ozzie [from UW]:  In the 1970s, as an undergraduate in computer science at the University of Illinois, Ray was a systems programmer on PLATO – the world’s first “online community.”  Ray has devoted his career to turning PLATO’s vision of the future into a commercial reality available to everyone.  At Software Arts he contributed to VisiCalc and TK!Solver.  At Lotus Development Corp. he was instrumental in the development of Lotus Symphony.  He left Lotus to found Iris Associates, where he created what became Lotus Notes.  His next startup, Groove Networks – another innovator in collaboration software for individuals and enterprises – was acquired by Microsoft in 2005, at which point Ray became one of Microsoft’s three Chief Technical Officers.  In June 2006, Ray was named Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect – the title previously held by Bill Gates.


Rebuilding Microsoft,” Wired, October 2006

A Conversation with Ray Ozzie,” ACM Queue 3,9, November 2005

The Internet Services Disruption,” Ray Ozzie, October 2005

The Nature of the Firm,” R.H. Coase, Economica, 1937 (pdf)


Wednesday November 22


The Role of DARPA / Ed Lazowska:  The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been responsible for stimulating an enormous proportion of the fundamental advances in information technology.  Why?


Power Play:  The DARPA Model and U.S. Energy Policy,” William B. Bonvillian, The American Interest II,2, November/December 2006 (pdf)

A book, for those with deeper interest:

M. Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, 2002.  (A really excellent book.)


Women in Computing / Kate Deibel


Gürer, D., "Pioneering women in computer science," SIGCSE Bull. 34, 2 (Jun. 2002).

Fritz, W.B., "The women of ENIAC," Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE, Volume 18, Issue 3, Fall 1996.

Lazowska, E., "Pale and male: 19th century design in a 21st century world," SIGCSE Bulletin, 34, 2 (Jun. 2002).

Lynn Conway, "Career Retrospective."

For those who want to delve deeper:

Pearl, A., Pollack, M. E., Riskin, E., Thomas, B., Wolf, E., and Wu, A. "Becoming a computer scientist," SIGCSE Bulletin 34, 2 (Jun. 2002).

Women Computing Educators Oral History Project

Oral histories from the Charles Babbage Institute:

Alice R. Burks

Margaret R. Fox

Laura Gould

Madge T. Griswold

Luanne Johnson

Margaret Loftus


Wednesday November 29


The 1960s cultural influence on computing / John Markoff [from Berkeley]:  John is the long-time information technology columnist for the New York Times.


Material will be drawn from What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, John Markoff, Penguin Group, 2005.


Macintosh software, from the original Mac to OS-X, and leveraging open source / Bud Tribble [from Berkeley]:  Bud is Vice President of Software Technology at Apple Computer.  A UCSD and UW alumnus, he served as manager of the original Macintosh software development team.  He followed Steve Jobs to NeXT, where he was vice president of software development.  After stints at Sun Microsystems and Eazel, he returned to Apple.


Wednesday December 6


Mathematical Origins of Computing / Christos Papadimitriou [from Berkeley].  Christos is a giant of theoretical computer science.


“The Sheer Logic of IT,” Christos H. Papadimitriou, American Scientist, 2001


World War II Codebreaking / Mike Koss [from UW]:  Bletchley Park, Turing, Colossus, Enigma.  Mike, an ex-Microsoft MIT alumnus who is a friend of UW CSE, has an Enigma machine that he will bring to class.


Print, assemble, and bring to class a paper Enigma simulator

Bletchley Park