[SIGCIS-Members] Metropolis on Writing the History of Computing

Scott Guthery sbg at acw.com
Sun May 18 16:00:35 PDT 2014

With regards to difficulties in writing the history of computing, the paper 
“A Trilogy of Errors in the History of Computing” by Metropolis and Worlton 
(AHC, v.2 no. 1, January 1980, pp. 49—59) may be a relevant read.  The lead 
sentences are:

“The critic who investigates the inadequacies of the history of computing is 
at once faced with an embarrassment of riches. Computer scientists seem 
determined to confirm the judgment of professional historians that 
scientists should not be depended upon to produce the histories of their own 

and yet further on the authors say:

“Computer science is fortunate to have people trained in both history and 
computing to direct the major project on the history of computing at the 
Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, but there is an essential role 
for the “good amateur” to play in preparing this history. The field is so 
broad and the professional historians so few that they cannot do all of the 
detailed work of collecting, organizing, and documenting that is necessary; 
further, much of the information is known only to the computing pioneers who 
are, by and large, amateurs in the field of history.”

Cheers, Scott

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