Departure towards the Digital Society. Computerisation and Social Regimes in West and East Germany

The rise of the computer age led to massive changes in society as early as the 1970s/1980s. Yet contemporary history has hardly dealt with these transformation processes. Only a few studies on the early history of West German computer technology do exist, predominantly in the fields of economic and technological history. For the GDR, they especially deal with the political control of production processes and information technology. The project seeks to explore the social significance of early computerisation in a pan-German perspective by analysing the social interpretations, practices and implications of the increased use of computers in both East and West Germany. By looking at the period between the 1960s and reunification, we will examine an era in which computers were established in large administrations, businesses, and eventually with hackers and players, but before the Word Wide Web and the mass distribution of easy-to-use PCs initiated a new phase of computerisation in the early 1990s.

The social significance of computerisation will be explored, concentrating on three areas of research. First, we will ask how it altered the world of labour, for instance with regard to processes, results or company structures.  Second, we will examine from the perspective of cultural and social history the ways in which computerisation shaped patterns of control and power, how it advanced centralised recording processes, new social observations, or even subversive networking. Third, we will study computerisation as a building block in the competition of the Cold War that has hardly been examined to date. The project addresses the asymmetrical interdependence between East and West Germany and compares the ways in which the respective political and economic settings shaped computerisation.

The project combines approaches of cultural and social history. All subprojects are empirically organised and based on an analysis of a variety of contemporary sources, such as archival documents from institutions and persons involved, digitally-produced sources, raw data of contemporary social history surveys on the world of labour, contemporary periodicals (e.g. labour unions and computer magazines), as well as qualitative surveys of witnesses. The project's results will be published as monographs and articles. The ZZF will be able to draw from its experience in the fields of German Contemporary History, the respective subsections, as well as the Contemporary History of Information Society.

The project is funded by the Leibniz Association's ‘Innovative Projects’ fund. The Leibniz Association will fund four sub-projects between 2014 and 2017. Additional sub-projects are associated with the ZZF.

Funded in line with a competition of the Leibniz Association
Duration: May 2014 - April 2017

Project website

Forschung

Projekte

Bookcover

Computerisation and Welfare State. The Introduction of Electronic Data Processing in the Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme

Thomas Kasper
Completed PhD project

Since the 1950s, the Federal German welfare state, especially the statutory pension, were at the forefront of computerisation in Germany and used computers to cope with the increasingly complex pension legislation.

Different computers produced by VEB Robotron. Photo: Stefan Kühn, DDR Museum Zeitreise Radebeul Robotron-Computer, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Digitalisation of the Banking Industry. Information and Communications Technology in the Savings Banks of the FRG and the GDR, 1954–1991

Martin Schmitt

Completed PhD project

The digital transformation changed the banking industry in Germany from the ground up.  The aim of this PhD project was to analyse the interactions between the deployment of computers by savings banks in East and West Germany and socioeconomic developments during the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1981 Wau Holland was one of the founders of the Chaos Computer Club. Photo: Wau Holland Stiftung.

Sub- and Countercultures of Computer Usage since the 1970s

Julia Erdogan
Completed PhD project

In addition to governmental, military and economic interests, there have been sub- and countercultures dealing with the new medium since the beginnings of computer usage. In particular the hackers, but also players, pursued their own practices with regard to computers and formed networks. Thus, they shaped the discourse and practices related to computers. These cultural practices and their impact on the daily-life application of computers since the 1970s in Germany will be developed in this PhD project.

Computers during the Cold War. The Computerisation of the Bundeswehr and the NVA up to Reunification

Janine Funke

Associated PhD project

This PhD project addresses leadership systems underpinned with computers in the Bundeswehr and the National People’s Army (NVA) in the context of the formation and establishment of both armies within the alliance system of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact.

Departure towards the Digital Society. Computerisation and Social Regimes in West and East Germany

The rise of the computer age led to massive changes in society as early as the 1970s/1980s. Yet contemporary history has hardly dealt with these transformation processes. Only a few studies on the early history of West German computer technology do exist, predominantly in the fields of economic and technological history. For the GDR, they especially deal with the political control of production processes and information technology. The project seeks to explore the social significance of early computerisation in a pan-German perspective by analysing the social interpretations, practices and implications of the increased use of computers in both East and West Germany. By looking at the period between the 1960s and reunification, we will examine an era in which computers were established in large administrations, businesses, and eventually with hackers and players, but before the Word Wide Web and the mass distribution of easy-to-use PCs initiated a new phase of computerisation in the early 1990s.

The social significance of computerisation will be explored, concentrating on three areas of research. First, we will ask how it altered the world of labour, for instance with regard to processes, results or company structures.  Second, we will examine from the perspective of cultural and social history the ways in which computerisation shaped patterns of control and power, how it advanced centralised recording processes, new social observations, or even subversive networking. Third, we will study computerisation as a building block in the competition of the Cold War that has hardly been examined to date. The project addresses the asymmetrical interdependence between East and West Germany and compares the ways in which the respective political and economic settings shaped computerisation.

The project combines approaches of cultural and social history. All subprojects are empirically organised and based on an analysis of a variety of contemporary sources, such as archival documents from institutions and persons involved, digitally-produced sources, raw data of contemporary social history surveys on the world of labour, contemporary periodicals (e.g. labour unions and computer magazines), as well as qualitative surveys of witnesses. The project's results will be published as monographs and articles. The ZZF will be able to draw from its experience in the fields of German Contemporary History, the respective subsections, as well as the Contemporary History of Information Society.

The project is funded by the Leibniz Association's ‘Innovative Projects’ fund. The Leibniz Association will fund four sub-projects between 2014 and 2017. Additional sub-projects are associated with the ZZF.

Funded in line with a competition of the Leibniz Association
Duration: May 2014 - April 2017

Project website

Forschung

Projekte

Bookcover

Computerisation and Welfare State. The Introduction of Electronic Data Processing in the Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme

Thomas Kasper
Completed PhD project

Since the 1950s, the Federal German welfare state, especially the statutory pension, were at the forefront of computerisation in Germany and used computers to cope with the increasingly complex pension legislation.

Different computers produced by VEB Robotron. Photo: Stefan Kühn, DDR Museum Zeitreise Radebeul Robotron-Computer, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Digitalisation of the Banking Industry. Information and Communications Technology in the Savings Banks of the FRG and the GDR, 1954–1991

Martin Schmitt

Completed PhD project

The digital transformation changed the banking industry in Germany from the ground up.  The aim of this PhD project was to analyse the interactions between the deployment of computers by savings banks in East and West Germany and socioeconomic developments during the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1981 Wau Holland was one of the founders of the Chaos Computer Club. Photo: Wau Holland Stiftung.

Sub- and Countercultures of Computer Usage since the 1970s

Julia Erdogan
Completed PhD project

In addition to governmental, military and economic interests, there have been sub- and countercultures dealing with the new medium since the beginnings of computer usage. In particular the hackers, but also players, pursued their own practices with regard to computers and formed networks. Thus, they shaped the discourse and practices related to computers. These cultural practices and their impact on the daily-life application of computers since the 1970s in Germany will be developed in this PhD project.

Computers during the Cold War. The Computerisation of the Bundeswehr and the NVA up to Reunification

Janine Funke

Associated PhD project

This PhD project addresses leadership systems underpinned with computers in the Bundeswehr and the National People’s Army (NVA) in the context of the formation and establishment of both armies within the alliance system of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact.