The Early Years of Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire

Gordon Brand

Published by

University of Hertfordshire Press
ISBN

978-1-909291-89-8

RRP

£14.99

Reviewed by

Anthony Sutcliffe MSc CCI, MBCS

Score

5 out of 10

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of key political decisions were made, which allowed the development of a new Technical College that was to become the University of Hertfordshire. During that time, the college had the opportunity to work with pioneers of the computing industry within the UK; and the Department of Mathematics was one of the first to offer a specific qualification in Computing.

This book highlights some of the key stages over those first decades, and provides a glimpse into the early development of the technology discipline. It contains a considerable number of references to important reports, briefing papers and some early meetings and lectures, as well as some technical information papers, and a large number of photographs that inject some natural breaks in the text.

The introduction suggests that the book will be unable to “convey the air of enthusiasm and excitement that permeated the Department of Mathematics” at that time, and sadly that is true. Although occasionally there were brief impressions of this, the overall sense of the text is quite flat, as it relies heavily on a factual reporting of dates, times, and decisions, without really fleshing these out.

However, I did find the book somewhat interesting; partly because my first experience with computers was at a Sixth Form college in the early 1970s, and I recall some of the early discussions about computing at that time. It was also interesting to see just how those early courses focussed on mathematics, rather than more specific technology subjects, and the insistence on working with manufacturers as a way of building upon skills.

Many of the photographs used in the text are of systems long superseded, but fondly remembered as part of the “white heat” of scientific development; and they provide a glimpse of a time that now seems so long ago. The pictures do also clearly illustrate one particular facet; that at the time, there were a larger number of women involved in the technical side of the industry.

As a reference to the development of the study of computer science, the book achieves its aim. But those early days would have been an exhilarating time to have been involved in computing, and I felt it a pity that the author didn’t try to offer more evidence of the excitement.

Further information: University of Hertfordshire Press

September 2017