Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Thanks to my exemplary research assistant, I am now perusing a real honest to goodness original (second) edition of Charles Babbage's On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832). I started reading it a few years ago (though I don't remember SIU's library copy looking so very old, so I'm not sure what edition I had) after noticing that Harry Braverman (in Labor and Monopoly Capital) references Babbage as a proto-manager. At the time, I was working through connections between Braverman's ideas about divisions of labor and regulation of power and similar ideas (but applied to words and writers/readers) in Herbert Spencer's stylistic economy as set out in Philosophy of Style. At one point, a chapter on Spencer opened my book, but after much agony trying to make that chapter work, I decided to abandon it as unusable and unnecessary. Now, though, I'm trying to work a bit of Spencer back in. And so I'm back with Babbage.

Babbage interests me, though, because, as the Charles Babbage Foundation explains:

The calculating engines of English mathematician Charles Babbage (1791-1871) are among the most celebrated icons in the prehistory of computing. Babbage’s Difference Engine No.1 was the first successful automatic calculator and remains one of the finest examples of precision engineering of the time. Babbage is sometimes referred to as "father of computing."

Father of computing/division of labor/conservation of energy --> most of the first true "managers" (of the railroads) were trained as engineers (Chandler) --> Spencer was also trained as an engineer --> both A. S. Hill at Harvard and F. N. Scott at Michigan (not to mention many others outside of comp history, like Jack London) were fans of Spencer's treatise on style.

So: differencing engine --> emergence of first-year comp? (ie, how to make sense of that vector?)


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