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Janet Abbate

Janet Abbate is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech and the author of Inventing the Internet (MIT Press, 1999).

Titles by This Author

Women’s Changing Participation in Computing

Today, women earn a relatively low percentage of computer science degrees and hold proportionately few technical computing jobs. Meanwhile, the stereotype of the male “computer geek” seems to be everywhere in popular culture. Few people know that women were a significant presence in the early decades of computing in both the United States and Britain. Indeed, programming in postwar years was considered woman’s work (perhaps in contrast to the more manly task of building the computers themselves). In Recoding Gender, Janet Abbate explores the untold history of women in computer science and programming from the Second World War to the late twentieth century. Demonstrating how gender has shaped the culture of computing, she offers a valuable historical perspective on today’s concerns over women’s underrepresentation in the field.

Abbate describes the experiences of women who worked with the earliest electronic digital computers: Colossus, the wartime codebreaking computer at Bletchley Park outside London, and the American ENIAC, developed to calculate ballistics. She examines postwar methods for recruiting programmers, and the 1960s redefinition of programming as the more masculine “software engineering.” She describes the social and business innovations of two early software entrepreneurs, Elsie Shutt and Stephanie Shirley; and she examines the career paths of women in academic computer science.

Abbate’s account of the bold and creative strategies of women who loved computing work, excelled at it, and forged successful careers will provide inspiration for those working to change gendered computing culture.

Since the late 1960s the Internet has grown from a single experimental network serving a dozen sites in the United States to a network of networks linking millions of computers worldwide. In Inventing the Internet, Janet Abbate recounts the key players and technologies that allowed the Internet to develop; but her main focus is always on the social and cultural factors that influenced the Internets design and use. The story she unfolds is an often twisting tale of collaboration and conflict among a remarkable variety of players, including government and military agencies, computer scientists in academia and industry, graduate students, telecommunications companies, standards organizations, and network users. The story starts with the early networking breakthroughs formulated in Cold War think tanks and realized in the Defense Department's creation of the ARPANET. It ends with the emergence of the Internet and its rapid and seemingly chaotic growth. Abbate looks at how academic and military influences and attitudes shaped both networks; how the usual lines between producer and user of a technology were crossed with interesting and unique results; and how later users invented their own very successful applications, such as electronic mail and the World Wide Web. She concludes that such applications continue the trend of decentralized, user-driven development that has characterized the Internet's entire history and that the key to the Internet's success has been a commitment to flexibility and diversity, both in technical design and in organizational culture.

A BIT of Recoding Gender

Few people know that women were a significant presence in the early decades of computing in both the United States and Britain; programming in postwar years was considered woman’s work (perhaps in contrast to the more manly task of building the computers themselves). This BIT offers a chapter in this untold history of women and computing, describing women’s career stratagems in academic computing—recounting both the obstacles female scholars have faced and their resourceful strategies for gaining credentials and finding alternative ladders to visibility and career advancement.

Titles by This Editor


Although there are many competing visions of information infrastructure, there is universal agreement that standards will play a critical role. The history of OSI, the Internet, and industry consortia shows that standards development has become a rich, multifaceted process, critically linked to market strategy and major issues of public policy.

The thirty-three contributions to this book present a comprehensive picture of the state of the art in standards development for information technology and the options for federal policy. The book includes both independent analysis and the perspectives of major stakeholders and other interested parties—such as AT&T, the American National Standards Institute, the European Commission, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

A Publication of the Information Infrastructure Project at Harvard University