Stating the Field: Institutions and Outcomes in Computer History


Computers transformed the post-Work War II American state and, as a consequence, influenced the policies that emerged from them. Can we better understand those policies by tracing their relations to the computer systems that might have accompanied their inception and implementation, even if only tangentially? Can following the outcomes of daily computer work really provide valid insights into the intentions or operations of the institutions in which the computers are embedded? Computer historians can trace how institutions like states fundamentally perceive the world differently because of how computers alter their daily operations. The next frontier for computer history lies beyond the (still-crucial) understanding of the origins, development, use, and transformation of hardware and software. We must focus on outcomes, not just as output, technologically delineated data parcels that reflect a particular programming and set of inputs, but outcomes in the form of decisions made from outputted data, formulated policies that reflect institutional imperatives.

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