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Historical Content in Computer Science Texts: A Concern

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129979D
Original Publication Date: 1997-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 8 page(s) / 33K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

KAILA KATZ: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Authors of computer science texts -- generally not mathematics or computer science historians wrote texts in the early 1 980s to fulfill the critical need in the burgeoning field of computer science and relied on readily available historical sources that do not stand up to critical analysis. These sources include Charles Babbage's memoirs,2 W.W.R. Ball's biased celebration of Cambridge University mathematics,3 and E.T. Bell's concise and colorful tributes to various mathematicians.6 But these tributes and memoirs, cited in virtually every historical article, are no substitute for critical analysis of historical events. Proper, well-researched biographies of the various principals in the history of computer science became available during the 1980s; these included biographies of Babbage,15 Ada Byron King,4,18 and Alan Turing,14 to name a few. Despite the availability of these biographies, however, newer editions of those earlier computer texts have not revised their sections relating to the history of the discipline. A case in point is in regard to Babbage (1791-1871) and Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852). One very widely used and well-respected computer science text on computer architecture relates the following: [Figure containing following caption omitted: Nothing much happened for 150 years (after Pascal's and Leibniz's calculating machines) until a professor of mathematics at University of Cambridge, Charles Babbage ... designed and built his difference engine.... Since the analytical engine was programmable in a simple assembly language, it needed software. To produce the software, Babbage hired a young woman named Ada Augusta Lovelace, who was the daughter of the famed British poet, Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace was thus the world's first computer programmer.19]

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1997 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Historical Content in Computer Science Texts: A Concern

KAILA KATZ

Faculty teaching computer science courses -- to majors and nonmajors alike -- may have riffle chance to evaluate the historical material found in the texts assigned to their students. There are problems, however, in the presentations of the history of the field in many current texts, problems of which faculty are not always aware.

Clarification of some of the problematic historical material found in current texts is presented in this article, and some suggestions are offered for additional topics that should be included in the history component of the computer science curriculum. The examples are gleaned from several texts that have been otherwise valuable and effective in the presentation of computer science material; indeed, their continued presence and wide usage attest to the quality of their presentation. But the history of the field deserves the same careful treatment in these texts as do other aspects of computer science.

Introduction

Authors of computer science texts -- generally not mathematics or computer science historians wrote texts in the early 1 980s to fulfill the critical need in the burgeoning field of computer science and relied on readily available historical sources that do not stand up to critical analysis. These sources include Charles Babbage's memoirs,2 W.W.R. Ball's biased celebration of Cambridge University mathematics,3 and E.T. Bell's concise and colorful tributes to various mathematicians.6 But these tributes and memoirs, cited in virtually every historical article, are no substitute for critical analysis of historical events.

Proper, well-researched biographies of the various principals in the history of computer science became available during the 1980s; these included biographies of Babbage,15 Ada Byron King,4,18 and Alan Turing,14 to name a few. Despite the availability of these biographies, however, newer editions of those earlier computer texts have not revised their sections relating to the history of the discipline. A case in point is in regard to Babbage (1791-1871) and Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852).

One very widely used and well-respected computer science text on computer architecture relates the following:

(Image Omitted: Nothing much happened for 150 years (after Pascal's and Leibniz's calculating machines) until a professor of mathematics at University of Cambridge, Charles Babbage ... designed and built his difference engine.... Since the analytical engine was programmable in a simple assembly language, it needed software. To produce the software, Babbage hired a young woman named Ada Augusta Lovelace, who was the daughter of the famed British poet,

Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace was thus the world's first computer programmer.19)

A com...