SIGCIS 2010 Workshop Dissertations in Progress

Name:Ksenia Tatarchenko

Institutional Affiliation:Princeton University


Paper Type:Dissertation Proposal

Paper Title:The Akademgorodok Computing Center (1958-1990)

Paper Abstract:Histories tend to have dramatic openings and tragic endings; such is the history of Soviet computing as we know it. It started with the heroic post-war achievements in the Soviet Ukraine and ended with the Soviet Union entering the 1990s “without computers” and ultimately disintegrating itself. This dissertation aims to uncover a different version of the history of Soviet computing centered not on the first hardware or the failures of the Soviet electronic industry but on the scientific usages of computing and the development of computer science in the Soviet Union from an international perspective.

In the west, since their early days computers are acknowledged as a technology deeply connected to the military, the “Cold War” machines. Accordingly, the relationship between the Soviet and western computing has been traditionally articulated in the Cold War terms: isolation, rivalry and illegal technological transfer. The lenses of scientific computing adapted in this dissertation project radically change the dominant vision of computers as machines reproducing the “closed spaces.” Western and Soviet scientist alike joined their efforts for establishment and development of new computer-based disciplines such as theoretical computer science, numerical analysis or climatology. Crucially, scientists’ private efforts to cooperate and to enhance the international standing of their disciplines coincided with the governmental support on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The topic of this dissertation is the history of the Akademgorodok Computer Center (CC) from its early days up to the moment of restructuring, when the center was divided into several independent institutions (1958-1990). Although the dissertation’s backbone could be characterized as an institutional history, I am interested in the CC not as a separate entity but as a part of the Soviet and international computing. In consequence, I plan to focus on international collaborations carried out by the members of the CC and all-Soviet and international events that took place under its roof. Accordingly to this logic, I do not treat all the departments of the CC with the same attention, but closely follow the personal trajectories, scientific interests and networks of Andrei Ershov, the head of computer science department, and Guriy Marchuk, the director of the CC. This choice for the dissertation’s main topic should allow me to bridge and to contribute to several understudied areas of historiography, namely: international and Soviet computing, post-Stalinist techno-science, and international science in the Cold War.

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