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DCC + MITH + HCIL BBL: Working on ENIAC: The Lost Labors of the Information Age

Event Details

This event is presented jointly by the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, the Digital Cultures + Creativity Program, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.


HCIL (2105 Hornbake, South Wing)


Books and shows about the history of information technology have usually focused on great inventors and technical breakthroughs, from Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to Steve Jobs and the World Wide Web. Computer operations work has been written out of the story, but without it no computer would be useful. Information historians Thomas Haigh and Mark Priestley are writing it back in. This talk focused on ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer, based on research for their book ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer, published by MIT Press in January, 2016. They explains that the women now celebrated as the “first computer programmers” were actually hired as computer operators and worked hands-on with the machine around the clock. They then look at business data processing work from the 1950s onward, exploring the grown of operations and facilities work during the mainframe era. Concluding comments relate this historical material to the human work and physical infrastructure today vanishing from public view into the “cloud.”


Thomas Haigh received his Ph.D. in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania after earning two degrees in Computer Science from the University of Manchester. Haigh has published on many aspects of the history of computing including the evolution of data base management systems, word processing, the software package concept, corporate computer departments, Internet software, computing in science fiction, computer architecture, and the gendered division of work in data processing. As well as ENIAC in Action (MIT, 2016) he edited Histories of Computing (Harvard, 2011), a collection of the work of Michael S. Mahoney. He write the “Historical Reflections” column for Communications of the ACM. His new projects are an reexamination of the wartime Colossus codebreaking machine and a book, Acolytes of Information, on the history of information systems work in the American corporation. Learn more at