[SIGCIS-Members] ENIAC in Action - book, website, and free poster

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Wed Feb 3 12:34:02 PST 2016



I'm pleased to announce the publication by MIT Press of ENIAC in Action:
Making and Remaking the Modern Computer, which I wrote with Mark Priestley
and Crispin Rope. Thanks to all those in the SIGCIS community who helped us
at various points along the way. Copies are now shipping from the MIT Press
warehouse, and Paul Ceruzzi tells me that his has already arrived. You can
get 30% off this or any other MIT Press STS title by using the code M16STS30
at checkout from the MIT Press store.


The book is much less boring than you probably expect. Because the book
focuses on a single artifact we could expand our breadth of coverage in time
(from 1943 to the present day) and in the variety of historical approaches
taken. Thanks to a series of major legal battles running from the 1950s to
the 1970s we could draw on an exceptionally extensive archival collections.
We used these to dig deep into the technical mysteries of ENIAC,
reconstructing the programming techniques used, the physical spaces built to
house it, and the evolution of its design. Yet we also explore ENIAC as a
workplace (literally, as its operators stood inside it), as an object in
historical memory, and as the product of a bureaucratic organization. This
challenged us to integrate historical methods from fields as disparate as
business history and the history of mathematics and to package the results
in a form accessible to diverse audiences. It chimes with several recent
topics of discussion on this list, from the importance of the "maintainers"
(by broadening ENIAC from a dot on a timeline of innovation to a place for
humdrum and diverse human toil) to the recent announcement of a summer
school on the history of computer simulation.


Any help that members of the SIGCIS community can give in drawing the book
to the attention of other potential readers would be appreciated. I'm
confident that it will be well received by people who already know that they
would like to read an academic book about ENIAC, which is not all that many
people. I have no idea whether it will be noticed in broader communities
such as the history of physics, media studies, people interested in cold war
technology, etc. Within the history of computing we've tended to view a
disinclination to engage with technological detail as the hallmark of
scholarly professionalism, but within the humanities more broadly there's a
lot of enthusiasm for "the digital," non-human turns, thing theory, object
oriented ontology, media archaeology, racism in Unix, etc. This relates very
much the questions about the role of technical history I explored in the
Communications of the ACM column "The Tears of Donald Knuth
<http://www.tomandmaria.com/Tom/Writing/CACMKnuthTears.pdf> " last year
(which with more than 115,000 downloads seems to have been by some distance
the most popular article published in Communications last year). 


There is a lot of material already on the book website at
www.EniacInAction.com <http://www.EniacInAction.com> . This includes
downloads of related articles, technical reports, and archival documents.
These include the earliest known ENIAC set-up diagrams. There is also a
poster http://eniacinaction.com/the-book/eniac-monte-carlo-poster/ of the
astonishing December 1947 flow diagram for the Los Alamos Monte Carlo
program run on ENIAC, which we view as the first modern computer code ever
executed. Even if it wasn't a "first", it would still be of great interest
as the best documented and most complex application program preserved from
the 1940s. There's a PDF version online, but if you like it and want a free
glossy poster (24x18 inches) then just email me your mailing address (offer
limited to first 100 requests).


We also have an extensive tabulation of ENIAC-related errors in Walter
Isaacson's The Innovators. So if you ever feel tempted to believe a detail
from that book, check it first at


Best wishes,



www.tomandmaria.com/tom <http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom> 

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