In response to popular demand (at least among my Twitter followers) I'm sharing my syllabus and reading list for the senior seminar I'm teaching at New York University this fall semester. This is my first time teaching this course (so a work in progress), but reflects my efforts to produce an advanced undergraduate course grounding students in both the history of personal computing and historiographic practice. Course description below; reading list starts on page 4 of the PDF below.
How the Computer Became Personal
Across both academic and popular writing, the history of computing remains documented as a largely technological affair: the transformations in microprocessor technology that shrank machines from mainframes to desktops to mobile devices; the enhancements in storage capacity permitting ever more powerful digital tools; and the shifting graphical and audio capabilities that enable computers to render fully-realized 3D worlds and stunning special effects. The history of computing, by and large, has been a history of computers becoming smaller, faster and more powerful.
But technological change is only a small part of the drama of how we learned to live with computers. Focusing on the mid-1970s through the early-1990s—the period in which personal computing emerged as a dominant consumer medium in the Western world—this course approaches the history of computing from the orientation of cultural and social politics. In other words, how and in what ways did computers change everyday life?
To answer these questions, students will explore and report on computer enthusiast magazines from the 1980s; read several traditional “hagiographies” of early computing culture, including accounts from Xerox PARC, and the founding of Apple and Microsoft; practice challenging the methodological assumptions embedded in progressivist and teleological accounts of media; compile an annotated bibliography documenting their original archival research into everyday computing culture, including topics such as home productivity, telecommuting, portability, ergonomics, and peripherality; and experiment with alternative modes of historical representation in the course’s final project—an exhibition catalog for a hypothetical museum show that answers the course’s titular question: how did the computer become personal?