The History of UNIX in the History of Software – Københavns Universitet

The History of UNIX in the History of Software

Foredrag for dataloger og dataloginteresserede ved historikeren Tom Haigh fra University of Wisconsin.

Lektor Tom Haigh fra University of Wisconsin i Milwaukee gæster Danmark i foråret 2018 inviteret af Institut for Naturfagenes Didaktik. Besøget er foranlediget af ”Danish Network for History and Philosophy of Computer Science.


The History of UNIX in the History of Software


In this talk I will explore on the early history of Unix, the most influential operating system in history. While the technical history of early Unix is well documented, its relationship to the broader history of software during the 1960s and 70s is less well understood.

I will be focusing particularly on the role of Doug McIllroy, manager of the group that produced Unix, and the connection the Unix “pipe” mechanism to his earlier advocacy for standardized software components. This establishes connections between Unix and other key developments in software history, such as the Algol project, the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering, and the “software crisis” diagnosed by Edsger Dijkstra in his 1972 Turing Award lecture.

I will also make comparisons between the Unix approach to the production and distribution of high quality portable software and parallel developments underway during the 1970s by the developers of mathematical software packages.

I will conclude by sketching some of the implications of this research for continuities and discontinuities between Unix and the modern free/open source software movement.

Associate professor Thomas Haigh


Thomas Haigh is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Comenius Visiting Professor of the History of Computing at Siegen University.

He earned his PhD in the History of Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. He has published on many aspects of the history of computing including the evolution of data base management systems, word processing, the software package, corporate computer departments, Internet software, computing in science fiction, the “software crisis” of the 1960s, IBM in Europe, and the Colossus code breaking machines.

Haigh is the primary author of ENIAC in Action (MIT, 2016), the editor of Histories of Computing (Harvard, 2011), and the lead editor of a 2015 special issue of Information and Culture on the theme “Histories of the Internet.” He edits the ACM Turing Award website. From 2005 to 2015 he was chair of SIGCIS, the group for historians of information technology. Currently he is collaborating with Paul Ceruzzi on a major revision of the book A History of Modern Computing.

Learn more at