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Misunderstandings of the Past


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ENIAC programmers

The ENIAC Team involved women and men who worked together and changed the world.

Credit: U.S. Army / ARL Technical Libraries

People ask why I research computer history. The reason why is that past is prologue and early programming pioneers and their innovations may provide insight into our dilemmas today. Our STEM problems of low percentages of women and minorities entering computer science may lay in a misunderstanding of the past.

In twenty years of research of the ENIAC Programmers, I learned two things. First, that women (and men) engaged in incredible acts of computing innovation during and just after WWII, and this work established the foundation of modern computing and programming. Second, some historians oppose the telling of a more complete computing history and seem determined to maintain an "all white, all male" view of history. But that is not what the past shows us.

Innovation drives need and need drives invention. The great ENIAC computer is one great example—the world's first modern computer (all-electronic, programmable, general-purpose) commissioned in 1942 during the dark days of WWII.  The story is one that shows us a fascinating and diverse group of inventors.

From Freedom to Tinker
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