MDST110 Electronic Coursebook for Students
Information Technology and Digital Media Studies
Prof. David Golumbia
University of Virginia
Fall 2004
MDST110 main pageMDST110 syllabus

3. The "Early Industrial History" of the Computer (1800-1899)

Mon Sep 13, 2004

A brief overview of early calculating machines, and then more detailed examination of three critical 19th century technological developments that play a direct role in the development of computers: the Jacquard Loom, Babbage's Analytical Engine and Difference Engine, and Hollerith's 1890 Census techniques. The mechanic and automatic play a critical role in the development of modern computers, and they are no less tied to control, and to the concentration of profit through automation of human labor.

I. Early Calculating Machines: Abacus, Leibniz Wheel, Pascaline (pre-1800)

II. The Jacquard Loom (1801)

III. Babbage's Difference Engine (1822) and Analytical Engine (1832)

IV. Hollerith and the Census (1890s)

Study Questions

  1. What is the relationship between what Campbell-Kelly and Asprey call "human computers" and the kinds of tasks performed by automated machines?
  2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of living in a society that has access to a complete and accurate census like the one made possible by Hollerith's machines?
  3. How do you think the world might have been different if Babbage's Engines had become widely available at the time they were conceived?
  4. Discuss Ada Lovelace's characterization of the powers and limits of computers in her "Notes Upon the Sketch of the Analytical Engine." Have these observations turned out to be correct or incorrect? In what ways?

Reading for next class

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