U n i v e r s i t é  Y O R K   U n i v e r s i t y
S C I E N C E   A N D   T E C H N O L O G Y   S T U D I E S




"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  (Albert Einstein)


  • Outlines

    The modern computer did not simply spring out of nothing sometime in the first half of the 20th century. It has a rich and long history, which is likely to be ignored or forgotten, if we only pay attention to modern hardware. This history bears witness to a deeply rooted human propensity to simplify the store of our experience, to quantify and manipulate it, to make predictions. Like biological evolution, each stage in this history constrains, to some extent, further developments, and must therefore be studied carefully, if we want to understand why we are where we are today.

    Note: The entire set of lecture outlines is searchable: click on the Search button within each lecture. Searches are powered by the Searchlight java applet.
  • Required Readings

    • In my opinion there is no single text that spans the scope of this course. Two good, comprehensive works stand out. The first, M R Williams, A History of Computing Technology, is an impressive, detailed survey of computation and computing machines. It focuses, however, mostly on the technical history.  The Universal History of Computing by Geoges Ifrah probably represents a better choice, but it is somewhat idiosyncratic. I will therefore provide more specific references in the course of the lectures, and refer to the several excellent chapters in these two books.
    • U M Franklin, The Real World of Technology. Revised Edition. Anansi, 1990, 1999. The first edition of the book is also available on the Internet in RealAudio format: Massey Lectures 1989: Ursula Franklin, but lacks the new chapters on information technology, which of course are of particular interest to us. This is a very readable, yet deep work, which addresses the fundamental social and political issues of technology.
    • Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben on-line Netbook, Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. "This netbook presents the history and impact of various aspects of the Net: the Internet, ARPANET, Usenet, etc. We hope to provide information which will help readers to understand where the Net has come from so as to help preserve its value throughout future developments and changes." A print edition has been published by the IEEE Computer Society Press (1997). The latest plain text version is stored at http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/.
    • One book that should be on everybody's shelves, no matter what you study, is a good dictionary. A dictionary is not an encyclopedia, but a first orientation tool which, for instance, tells you that 'algorithm' is not the latest style of hip-hop, but 'a procedure for solving mathematical problems.' You know then that to find more information on algorithms you should look in the mathematics—not in the music—section of the library. Get a good 'collegiate' dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition, Merriam-Webster, 1998). This dictionary and the companion Thesaurus are also on line at http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm.
  • Suggested Readings
    • J Abbate, Inventing the Internet. The MIT Press 1999.
    • J Agar, Turing and the Universal Machine. Icon Books UK, 2001.
    • D Berlinski, The Advent of the Algorithm: The 300-Year Journey from an Idea to the Computer. Harcourt, Inc., 2000.
    • R R Fenichel & J Weizenbaum, eds., Computers and Computation. Readings from Scientific American. W H Freeman & Co, 1971,M.
    • U M Franklin, The Real World of Technology. Revised Edition. Anansi, 1990, 1999.
    • J Gillies & R Cailliau, How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. Oxford University Press, 2000.
    • G Ifrah, The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer. J Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2001.
    • R S Rosenberg, The Social Impact of Computers. 2nd edition. Academic Press, 1997.
    • T Roszak, The Cult of Information. 2nd edition. University of California Press. 1994.
    • J Shurkin, Engines of the Mind: The Evolution of the Computer from Mainframes to Microprocessors. W W Norton &a,p; Company, 1984, 1996.
    • T Standage, The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine. Walker & Company, New York, 2002.
    • T Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century' On-line Pioneers. Berkeley Books, New York, 1999.
    • M R Williams, A History of Computing Technology. 2nd edition. IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997.
    • Readings from Scientific American, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Technology and Culture,
    • and other sources will be discussed as the course progresses. The use of the Internet is of course strongly encouraged.
    • Selected References
  • Evaluation
    • A written essay of approximately 3000 words, on one of a number of assigned topics, worth 50%.
      The topics will be announced on October 17.
      Due date: January 22, 2003.
    • A final exam worth 50%.
      The day, time and location will be announced by the Registrar's Office.
    • Note : To learn how to format references to website (that is, how to 'cite' them), please consult the guidelines provided by Read !  York's Libraries.  under 'Reference Sources on the Internet', where you will find a wealth of useful information.
  • Time and Location
    • Tuesdays, 7 -10 pm, Stong College, Room 218



© Copyright Luigi M Bianchi 2001, 2002, 2003
Last Modification Date: 18 April 2003