Computer technology is pervasive in the modern world, its role ever more important as it becomes embedded in a myriad of physical systems and disciplinary ways of thinking. The late Michael Sean Mahoney was a pioneer scholar of the history of computing, one of the first established historians of science to take seriously the challenges and opportunities posed by information technology to our understanding of the twentieth century.
Mahoney’s work ranged widely, from logic and the theory of computation to the development of software and applications as craft-work. But it was always informed by a unique perspective derived from his distinguished work on the history of medieval mathematics and experimental practice during the Scientific Revolution. His writings offered a new angle on very recent events and ideas and bridged the gaps between academic historians and computer scientists. Indeed, he came to believe that the field was irreducibly pluralistic and that there could be only histories of computing.
In this collection, Thomas Haigh presents thirteen of Mahoney’s essays and papers organized across three categories: historiography, software engineering, and theoretical computer science. His introduction surveys Mahoney’s work to trace the development of key themes, illuminate connections among different areas of his research, and put his contributions into context. The volume also includes an essay on Mahoney by his former students Jed Z. Buchwald and D. Graham Burnett. The result is a landmark work, of interest to computer professionals as well as historians of technology and science.
Michael Sean Mahoney was first and foremost a historian of science and technology. He came to the history, or as he preferred to say, histories of computing from a thorough background in the development of early modern science and mathematics and of modern technology. More recently he achieved a command of computer science that enabled him to present it as growing out of aspects of the work, on the one hand, of Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, and René Descartes and, on the other, of Henry Ford.
Even while its cultural influence spreads and develops, the computer remains a challenging enigma. It is one thing and many, a metamorphic instrument of continually growing abilities advancing on our own. We face this challenge in an historical and historiographical poverty that makes us reluctant if not unable to notice the clues leading to the questions we need to ask. In the humanities, mainly ignorant of what computing is, and so unable to say what it is for beyond clever servitude, we are largely stuck implementing deliverables and reiterating frustrations half a century old. In the essays collected here Mahoney's learned, brilliantly insightful and determined pacing at the edge of the jungle (as he put it) is paradoxically the beginning of our exodus.
This collection of seminal essays of historian Mike Mahoney, with commentary by Thomas Haigh, rewards the reader with a superbly organized panorama of the history of modern computing, its intellectual roots, and its place in the history of technology.
Mahoney understood computer history's significance, and his writings on the subject are important.
Newcomers to Mahoney will find great value in this collection.
- 260 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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