Doctoral thesis (Dissertations and theses)
Re/constructing Computing Experiences. From "punch girls" in the 1940s to "computer boys" in the 1980s.
van Herck, Sytze


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Keywords :
Computer; History; Media Archaeology; User Experience; Life Cycle; Digital History
Abstract :
[en] Re/constructing computing experiences from “punch girls” to “computer boys” traces the life cycle of five computing devices between the 1940s and the 1980s, each representing a key development in the history of computing. The experimental media archaeology framework of Nutzerperspektiven critically evaluates the type of user sources re/construct. The object’s life cycle traces phases of design, production, sale, installation, application and use, and decommission or re-use. The lens of intersectionality with a focus on gender facilitates (visual) discourse analysis of advertisements to expose stereotypes. User experiences differ because inequalities in computing have at times resulted in occupational segregation, and working conditions varied across case studies. Computing experiences encompass the object, the environment, and application, and a user, serving as a structure for the case studies. The first case study discusses the accounting departments of Helena Rubinstein which used Remington Rand, and later Powers-Samas, punch card machinery since 1940. Miss Summerell led the Powers room in the London branch from 1955 onward. The second case study centers around a workflow Dr. E. Blatt created for the International Business Machines (IBM) System/360 announced in 1964 used in German clinical chemistry laboratories since 1969. The Digital Equipment Company’s client applications slides form the basis of the next case study and showed several uses of the Programmable Data Processor or PDP-11 in aerospace and commercial aircraft between 1970 and 1980. The final chapter compares two educational initiatives from the 1980s. By 1981 the BBC Microcomputer kickstarted the Computer Literacy project in the United Kingdom, first targeting adults but soon entering primary and secondary schools. Apple’s Kids Can’t Wait initiative in the United States equally introduced many children to computing. Methods from user experience (UX) design and experimental media archaeology supported the re/construction or reenactment of past human-computer interaction. As a study of material culture, the historical case studies were informed by museum objects paired with additional archival sources. The research added phases to the life cycle framework and paired a reflection on the provenance of material objects with a focus on human actors. The case studies in turn demonstrated how sources limited the type of user and computing experiences historians can re/construct.
Research center :
- Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH) > Doctoral Training Unit (DTU)
Disciplines :
Author, co-author :
van Herck, Sytze ;  University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE) ; University of Luxembourg > Luxembourg Center for Contemporary and Digital History (C2DH)
Language :
Title :
Re/constructing Computing Experiences. From "punch girls" in the 1940s to "computer boys" in the 1980s.
Defense date :
13 January 2022
Institution :
Unilu - University of Luxembourg, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
Degree :
Docteur en Histoire
President :
Secretary :
Jury member :
Wyatt, Sally
Tympas, Aristotle
FnR Project :
FNR10929115 - Digital History And Hermeneutics, 2015 (01/03/2017-31/08/2023) - Andreas Fickers
Funders :
FNR - Fonds National de la Recherche [LU]
Available on ORBilu :
since 22 February 2022


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