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The Evolution of Computers: Key Resources (July 2013): General Histories and Reference Resources

By Kyle D. Winward

General Histories and Reference Resources

Numerous titles offer broad accounts of the fascinating history of computing, and more recent publications take the story up to the present.  Ian Watson’s comprehensive history published in 2012, The Universal Machine: From the Dawn of Computing to Digital Consciousness, will be particularly appealing to general readers and undergraduate students for its accessible, engaging writing style and many illustrations.  Two other notable works published in 2012 are Computing: A Concise History by Paul Ceruzzi (also author of the useful 2003 title, A History of Modern Computing) and A Brief History of Computing by Gerard O’Regan.  Ceruzzi, curator at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, provides a readable and concise 155-page overview in his book, which is part of the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge” series; this work also contains ample references to the literature in a further reading section and a bibliography.  O’Regan’s work offers an encompassing chronological survey, but also devotes chapters to the history of programming languages and software engineering.  Also published in 2012 is Peter Bentley’s Digitized: The Science of Computers and How It Shapes Our World, which provides valuable historical coverage and in later chapters reports on the revolutionary developments in artificial intelligence and their impact on society.

Other informative, accessible general histories include Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray; Computers: The Life Story of a Technology by Eric Swedin and David Ferro; and Histories of Computing by Michael Sean Mahoney.  Mike Hally’s Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age focuses on post-World War II developments, tracing the signal contributions of scientists from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Russia.  An excellent pictorial collection of computers is John Alderman and Mark Richards’s Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers Featuring Machines from the Computer History Museum.

The static nature of print reference materials is not the perfect format for the topic of computer innovation; these publications may show their age not just in technical information and jargon but also in a lack of coverage of more contemporary individuals and groups.  Nevertheless, several works continue to have lasting value for their excellent and unique coverage.  The two-volume Encyclopedia of Computers and Computer History, edited by Raúl Rojas, which was published in 2001, offers comprehensive coverage of historical topics in a convenient format, enhanced with useful bibliographic aids.  More serious researchers will find Jeffrey Yost’s A Bibliographic Guide to Resources in Scientific Computing, 1945-1975 valuable for its annotations of earlier important titles and its special focus on the sciences; the volume’s four major parts cover the physical, cognitive, biological, and medical sciences.  The Second Bibliographic Guide to the History of Computing, Computers, and the Information Processing Industry, compiled by James Cortada, published in 1996, will also be of value to researchers.  For biographical coverage, Computer Pioneers by J. A. N. Lee features entries on well-known and lesser-known individuals, primarily those from the United States and the United Kingdom; however, coverage of female pioneers is limited.  Lee also edited the International Biographical Dictionary of Computer Pioneers, which provides broader geographical coverage.

Related and more recent information may be found in several online resources such as the IEEE Global History Network: Computers and Information Processing.  Sites featuring interactive time lines and interesting exhibits include the IBM Archives, and Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing by the Computer History Museum.

Focusing on women’s contributions to the field is “Famous Women in Computer Science, available on the Anita Borg Institute website.  This site includes nearly eighty short biographies with links to university and other organizational and related websites.  A Pinterest board version of the awardees is also available.  “The ADA Project , named in honor of Ada Lovelace (1815-52), who wrote what is considered to be “the first ‘computer program.’”  This site is largely based on the Famous Women in Computer Science website but also includes a time line.

In contrast to J. A. N. Lee’s International Biographical Dictionary of Computer Pioneers mentioned previously, the highly recommended Milestones in Computer Science and Information Technology by Edwin Reilly focuses more on technological aspects than individuals.  However, this author did not find a more comprehensive one-volume reference resource than Reilly’s.  Appendixes include a listing of cited references, classification of entries, “The Top Ten Consolidated Milestones,” and personal name, chronological, and general indexes.

Works Cited