Man and Mainframe at Dartmouth: Liberal Possibilities in Centralized Computing

Lin, Shane, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia

Students and faculty at Dartmouth College created a variety of mainframe computer platforms from the late 1950s through the 1970s, including the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System and accompanying BASIC computer language. The goals of these projects and the means by which they were accomplished weaken the notion of a cultural dichotomy between PC and mainframe computing. Precedents to many of the ideological shifts attributed to the later PC revolution–open access to computing resources, democratization of information, popularization of computer education, Free software–could all be found on Dartmouth's Hanover campus a decade before the rise of the personal computer. Before Cambridge hackers, Menlo Park counterculturalists, and ascendant garage enterprises from Los Altos to Albuquerque embraced those same principles, Dartmouth's professors and student programmers had already embedded them deep into the systems they designed. In challenging the vision of mainframe computing as monolithically centralized and strictly hierarchical, Dartmouth's computing efforts show that the cultural ideals that fully bloomed with personal computing were not solely contingent on the technical allowances of hardware architecture.

MA (Master of Arts)
mainframe computing, Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, BASIC
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