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Documenting the Use of Computers in Swedish Society between 1950 and 1980: Final Report on the Project “From Computing Machines to IT”
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology.
2009 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This final report contextualizes, describes, and evaluates the project “From Computing Machines to IT,” which was carried out during 2007–8 as a collaboration between the Swedish Computer Society, the Division of History of Science and Technology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), and the National Museum of Science and Technology. The project aimed to create, collect, preserve, and disseminate sources on how computing shaped and transformed Swedish society between 1950 and 1980. For this purpose, it adopted a user-centered perspective on the history of computing.

In the project, more than 160 interviews were conducted, almost 50 witness seminars were arranged, and about 230 autobiographies were acquired with the help of traditional questionnaires as well as an Internet-based collection of memories (the Writers’ Web). The created sources consist of more than eight thousand pages of text. All in all, nearly seven hundred people contributed with their stories. The contacts with these people generated, in turn, several donations of archival records, artifacts, movies, and photographs.

In this final report, it is noted that a shift toward a more elaborated user perspective has followed with the growing interest in the recent historiography of computing to understand “how computing has changed the world.” Also discussed in the report is how the user concept has been understood by scholars, and it is pointed out that the literature on users fails to acknowledge two categories of users: those not involved in technological invention and innovation, and those empowered by government or corporations with the authority to adapt technology to fit their needs. It is argued that mainly the latter group, which is denoted “elite” users, has had the power to shape major historical transformations. It is concluded that the project mainly has aimed to document the actions of elite users.

Earlier international documentation efforts in the history of computing are, furthermore, surveyed, and it is pointed out that these have mainly focused on documenting the role of pioneers in computing technology and largely ignored the users of computing technology. Thus, the research tools and methods that they have developed, used, and refined for documenting pioneering figures—in particular the oral history interview—cannot uncritically be adopted for documenting the activities of users. Lacking an obvious model to blueprint, the project “From Computing Machines to IT” chose to employ an ensemble of different methods for documenting the use of computers in Swedish society. Traditional oral history interviews and collections of autobiographies were used alongside new self-structuring and time-saving methods, such as witness seminars and the mentioned Writers’ Web site.

Finally, it is stressed that the active interest of the communities of computer users was pivotal for realizing the project. In order to arouse their interest, two things were considered crucial: firstly, the importance of an active and continuous collaboration between historians and practitioners. This collaboration shaped the methods, the organization, and the theoretical approach of the project; and, secondly, the importance of creating events where practitioners are given the chance to gather for discussing and remembering their historical past and, at the same time, socialize. While witness seminars and the specially designed Writers’ Web were seen as pure intellectual ventures by historians, they were actually received as social events by practitioners.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. , 86 p.
Trita-HST, ISSN 1103-5277 ; 2009/1
Keyword [sv]
datorer och databehandling, datorisering, historia - 1945-, historia - datorer, informationsteknik, historisk metod, historia - källor, Oral history, muntliga källor, teknikhistoria, vetenskapshistoria
National Category
History of Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-11945ISRN: KTH/HST/WP 2009/1-SEISBN: 978-91-7415-061-2OAI: diva2:290642
Available from: 2010-02-02 Created: 2010-01-27 Last updated: 2012-03-22

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