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The Emergence of Computing Disciplines in Communist Czechoslovakia: What’s in a (Sovietized) Name?

Abstract : Drawing upon archival evidence from the Czechoslovak government and its ministries from the 1970s, this paper presents a preliminary snapshot of the institutional processes that drove the emergence of computing disciplines separate from the rubric of Soviet cybernetics in Communist Czechoslovakia (nowadays, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic). We show that the new disciplines were created by a top-down order of the Czechoslovak government, which, in turn, was motivated by a larger scale initiative in the East Bloc. The disciplines created in the 1970s were as follows: Numerical Mathematics for an area of education akin to computer science, Electronic Computers for an area of education akin to computer engineering, and Automated Management/Control Systems for applied computing education. The evidence suggests that the cybernetics metaphor lost its organizing power in 1973 over the broad field of information processing in Czechoslovakia. This disciplinary shift, albeit not immediate, redistributed power between cybernetics and informatics. Indeed, it appears that even nowadays the distribution of power between the two disciplines in the Czech Republic is still in negotiation; what we term a “residual drift” has continued for almost 50 years as an impressive afterglow of the past fame of cybernetics in the east. In sum, the paper raises awareness of the fact that the emergence of computing disciplines behind the Iron Curtain was very different from the West. It also suggests that while academic research analogous to computer science thrived, other computing disciplines in Czechoslovakia were in more complicated positions. Although this paper focuses on Czechoslovakia, the method is generalizable and the data on enrollments may be compared to other countries. Thus, we provide a framework for the further study of similar disciplinary efforts in the remaining East Bloc countries.
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Michal Doležel, Zdeněk Smutný. The Emergence of Computing Disciplines in Communist Czechoslovakia: What’s in a (Sovietized) Name?. IFIP International Conference on the History of Computing (HC), Sep 2018, Poznan, Poland. pp.16-39, ⟨10.1007/978-3-030-29160-0_2⟩. ⟨hal-02386547⟩

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