[SIGCIS-Members] Importance of history to practitioners

William Aspray William.Aspray at Colorado.EDU
Thu Nov 17 15:23:39 PST 2016

Dave Patterson used to be my boss when he was chairman of the board of Computing Research Association and I was executive director. We had several conversation about history, and it was clear that he and his colleague Randy Katz both had a serious appreciation for history. Dave made his graduate students read back in the computing literature much more extensively than many other advisors do, so as to give these students a historical sense of their discipline.

By the way, here at the University of Colorado Boulder we have a junior-level course in our information science department, which I teach, which covers both computing history and information history. It is an elective but counts towards the undergraduate degree in our department (which is a technically oriented degree with an orientation towards data science, machine learning, visualization, computational social science, network science, design, and human-computer interaction). The course fulfills a history requirement across all the departments in my college (College of Communication, Media, and Information). It looks as though the computer science department, which is in the college of engineering, will approve this course as an elective for its undergraduate majors.

Cordially, Bill

On Nov 17, 2016, at 3:20 PM, Hansen Hsu <hansnhsu at gmail.com<mailto:hansnhsu at gmail.com>> wrote:

I’m curious, what do people on this list think of the historical sections in Patterson and Hennesy’s Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface and Hennesy and Patterson’s Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach? Those seem to follow the kinds of historical asides in physics textbooks.
Of course, it’s history from a particular polemical perspective, how did computer architectures evolve from ENIAC up through the epitome of CISC designs, VAX, and how RISC represents a new approach beyond this. But it’s better than nothing.

When I took CS152 as an undergrad at Berkeley in 1998, we weren’t assigned to read any of those historical chapters at all, except for a small aside on what an accumulator architecture was. It left me largely ignorant of computer history.
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