SI 379: History of Computers and the Internet
This nontechnical course covers the development and use of computers from the ancient world to the present. We discuss automatic, calculation from the abacus to the integrated circuit; logic machines from Boole to neural networks; and the evolution of programming languages from assemblers to Ada. Our primary focus is the social, political, and cultural contexts of post-1939 digital computers and computer networks. The course explores such topics as a design for a steam-powered, mechanical computer in Victorian England; how early computers cracked the Nazi Enigma cipher during the World War II; how the Cold War changed computers, and how computers shaped the Cold War; and the stories behind the internet and the World Wide Web. The major questions that motivate this course concern "why" issues. Why were computers invented? Who wanted them, and for what purposes? How have computers changed the shape of society and cultures -- and how did society and culture shape them? The course is relevant to anyone interested in the history, politics, and culture of technology.