Students and faculty gathered in the Hetzel-Hoellein room at the library to hear author Thomas Haigh speak about his coauthored book “ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer.”

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Historian, Dr. Thomas Haigh discusses the history of ENIAC, the world's first computer, during the E.A.S.T Speaker Series in the Stewart Library. (Christina Huerta/The Signpost)

ENIAC was the computer built for the army during World War II, a computer large enough to fill an entire room.

Haigh, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, lectured on the computer and some lesser-known facts about it.

Haigh said ENIAC was paid for by the army department who needed it to be used as a firing table.

“If you were firing big artillery pieces, you can’t really see the target,” Haigh said. “The problem was working out the right values. They couldn’t keep up with the
calculations.”

Haigh added that computers are not made by a single genius who works alone. His lecture also touched on Hollywood’s representation of people such as Steve Jobs and Alan Turing, who are portrayed as superheroes.

“What I found revealing about ‘The Imitation Game’ was the attitude they had towards innovation,” Haigh said. “It’s common with that kind of expectation and innovation that you have to have some kind of misunderstood, lone genius.”

David Ferro, dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology, believes these kinds of studies are good for students learning about computers and electronics.

“In computer science, we try to teach the broad view, including the historical aspects of it,” Ferro said. “This is an opportune time for our students to actually get into the real details of history and realizing some of the values that come from it.”

Haigh also spoke about the roles that women had in not only working on this computer but building it as well.

“There were draftswoman, which history really doesn’t really mention,” Haigh said. “Those were the people who actually built the computer. They were the wiremen, technicians, assemblers, and they were nearly all women.”

Haigh said society needs to push aside the idea of single genius or a one-man team.

Robert Ball, WSU professor of computer science, said what impressed him most about the lecture was the amount of people it took to make the computer a success.

“There were hundreds of men and women who had to think on their own and make the crucial decisions that led to ultimate success,” Ball said. “The unsung stories of the many individuals were the main reason for the success of what has now been referred to as the introduction to the modern computer.”

Ferro also pointed out the benefits of learning the history of computers and how they help students understand the origins of IT terminology.

“Using history always puts what we do in context,” Ferro said.

More information about Thomas Haigh and his book can be found online. Haigh’s book can also be found in the WSU Bookstore.

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