Thesis: Academic Revolution and Regional Innovation: The Case of Computer Science at Stanford 1957-1970

This is one of several parts of my undergraduate thesis at Stanford entitled “Academic Revolution and Regional Innovation: The Case of Computer Science at Stanford 1957-1970”. It was submitted on May 17, 2011, and the text here remains unchanged and unedited since then.


There remains little consensus in regional studies on the origins of Silicon Valley or other innovation hubs.  Different approaches, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the field, have examined the issue from institutional, cultural, and network analysis perspectives.  At the same time, historians of science are beginning to construct a more detailed narrative of the development of computer science in the United States, particularly in the divide between academic theory and industrial practice.

This study embraces these two literatures by analyzing the case of Computer Science at Stanford University and its connection to the rise of Silicon Valley.  It finds that the dispute between computer science faculty and other basic scientists led to an academic culture in the Computer Science department that encouraged research on theory, while at the same time, limited funding from the university developed a pragmatic culture that encouraged engagement with industry and created valuable knowledge networks that helped to spark the development of Silicon Valley.  This study provides the first archival-based research analysis of computer science at Stanford, and will be useful to scholars in history of computing, history of higher education, regional studies as well as scholars in science, technology and society.

The entire thesis is available here as a PDF. For a shorter version that was published at a conference, click here.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

  • 1.1 Preface
  • 1.2 Understanding the Role of Universities in Regional Innovation
  • 1.3 Theoretical Models of Science and Technology
    • 1.3.1 Technology as “Applied Science”
    • 1.3.2 Social Shaping of Science and Technology
    • 1.3.3 Contextual Models
  • 1.4 Approaches to Regional Innovation and Computing
    • 1.4.1 Historical Institutional
    • 1.4.2 Historical Cultural
    • 1.4.3 Network Analysis
  • 1.5 Historical Development of Computer Science
  • 1.6 History of Stanford
  • 1.7 Stanford Computer Science: Study Outline and Source Notes

2. Academic Politics and Legitimacy

  • 2.1 Numerical Analysis and Computer Science
  • 2.2 Computer Science and Mathematics
    • 2.2.1 Artificial Intelligence
    • 2.2.2 Ramifications
  • 2.3 Computer Science and H&S
    • 2.3.1 Building Connections and the Computation Center
    • 2.3.2 The Case of William F. Miller
  • 2.4 Conclusion

3. The Computer Science Department and Entrepreneurial Culture

  • 3.1 The Computation Center
  • 3.2 Building a Budget and an Entrepreneurial Culture
  • 3.3 Support of the Administration
  • 3.4 Developing New Venues
  • 3.5 Conclusion

4. The University-Industry Nexus

  • 4.1 Industry Funding
    • 4.1.1 DuPont and the Division
    • 4.1.2 Corporations and the Department
  • 4.2 Developing Venues for Industry
    • 4.2.1 The Honors Co-Op Program
    • 4.2.2 The Computer Forum
  • 4.3 Conclusion

5. Conclusion

  • 5.1 How an Academic Revolution Shaped a Region
  • 5.2 Areas for Further Research

Continue to Introduction