Videos from the Inaugural Computer History Lecture

The first international research conference on the history of computing, dubbed Computing’s Woodstock, brought together a world elite of computing pioneers. It took place in June 1976 and today the Computer History Museum has restored 21 video recordings of its sessions and posted them on its YouTube channel.

Announcing this new resource which provides a fascinating insight into the early years of the digital electronic computer, Dag Spicer, Senior Curator at the Computer History Museum, says:

For five summer days in 1976, the first generation of computer rock stars had their own Woodstock. From around the world, dozens of top engineers, scientists and software pioneers gathered to reflect on the first 25 years of their discipline in the hot and sunny (and perhaps a little unsettling) climates of the Los Alamos National Laboratories, birthplace of the atomic bomb.

This photograph of 140 of the participants is part of the CMH collection. Follow this link to find the legend that identifies the majority of them. What I find interesting is that about a quarter of the group are women, but none of the speakers are women.

Most talks are around 45 minutes long, followed by a brief question and answer period and, as the playlist reveals, they come from some of the best-known names in computing. The main focus is on the hardware, but the programming has also been touched upon. Here’s John Backus giving his thoughts on programming in the early 1950s that he remembers “it was really fun”:

Another personal account of what it was like to be one of the very first programmers came from Edsger Dijkstra:

And here is Donald Knuth, talking about the ancient history of programming languages, who, in response to a question, mentions that he intends to write a source book on computer science!

Unfortunately this video is truncated. However, like the majority of the presentations at the event, the conference transcript is included in the edited volume of the conference, A history of computing in the 20th centurysee side panel.


More information

Computer Science’s Woodstock – The Los Alamos Conference

Related Articles

John Backus – Fortran’s father

Edsger Dijkstra – The poetry of programming

Donald Knuth and the art of computer programming

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John C. Dent