Hidden Histories of Computing Reading List

February 5th, 2017

From Marie Hicks, author of Programmed Inequality. Catch her Thu. 2/9 6pm at the Co-op!

Behind the popular narratives of bluster, boy geniuses, and hero-entrepreneurs lie stories about the people and events who made computing what it is today: an enormously powerful and dangerous tool embedded within a web of complex social and economic relations. This history allows us to see computing for the bundle of contradictions it really is, rather than simply viewing it as a triumphant example of technological “progress.”

  • Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly - Shetterly, who grew up among the women in her book, rewrites the history of NASA highlighting the labor of black women mathematicians who made key contributions to the space program and the efforts to put a man on the moon.
  • Recoding Gender by Janet Abbate - Abbate’s book is an excellent, detailed overview of the depressing downward trajectory of women in computing in the US and UK since the early days of computing.
  • Programmed Inequality by Marie Hicks - In this cautionary tale, Hicks shows how gender discrimination scuttled the British computer industry and led to larger problems for Britain on a national and global level.
  • The Intersectional Internet ed. Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes - This collection of essays looks at the recent past to discuss how networked computing technology intersects with social movements to produce unexpected results.
  • The Classification of Sex by Donna Drucker - Drucker’s book asks what Alfred Kinsey’s pioneering research would have looked like without the machines he used to crunch his data—and shows why this matters to our understanding of sexuality today.
  • Let IT Go by Stephanie Shirley - Stephanie “Steve” Shirley’s autobiography is a heartfelt rollercoaster of a narrative that takes us through the computer pioneer’s life, from her escape from the Holocaust through the building—and letting go—of her multimillion dollar company.
  • IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black - Black meticulously shows how IBM’s machines and management aided in the deportation and execution of Jewish people (and others) targeted by the Nazi regime.
  • Pioneer Programmer by Jean Jennings Bartik - Bartik’s autobiography is a fascinating and highly readable account of one the “ENIAC girls” (really, ENIAC women), that shows the work they did was far more advanced and important than previously understood.
  • The Computer Boys Take Over by Nathan Ensmenger - Ensmenger discusses why the gender flip in US computing in the 1960s and 1970s was as much about constructing new stereotypes of masculinity as it was about the content of computing work.
  • Gender Codes ed. Tom Misa - A collection of essays by leading scholars in the history of computing that sheds light on gendered contradictions in different aspects of early computing.