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A few historians of computing among lots of historians of science

When recently I got contacted about the opportunity to contribute to this blog, I thought as a first post to report on the panels on the history of computing of the 6th Three Societies Meeting . This joint meeting of the British Society for the History of Science, the History of Science Society and the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science took place at Keble College, Oxford, the week-end just gone, and gathered together no less than about 400 researchers in the history of science.

Besides for its fascinating emphasis on the theme of Connecting Disciplines, the programme looked promising from a standpoint focused on the history of computing too. There were no less than three panels on computing, a first for me as far as history of science conferences are concerned. These were 'Computing Without Borders', 'Computing in Industry and Academe' and 'Computing and its Applications'. There was also a wealth of other interesting papers on computing, e.g. Lean, but also on other themes wherefrom learning some methodological tricks on how to explore computing history in its relations with uses and users, emergence out of electrical engineering research and its later dissemination.


Being a historian of computing in the European periphery, there were also some most interesting papers methodologically, i.e. by Navarro on Zwicki's neutron star research in the 1930s (Panel 3I), and Murphy and especially Terrall (Panel 5E) on the theme of circulation in early modern science. These papers highlighted that the emergence of interdisciplinary research programme, such as those of early computing research, are to be analysed as local wherever they happen. If ideas and concepts indeed travel distances, implementation always occurs locally. I was quite fascinated to listen to mounting evidence on the methodological relevance of the broader history of science recent literature at helping historians of computing analyse the spread and acceleration of the process of the computerisation of modern societies over the last 50 years.

These panels and papers got me to think that the field of the history of computing is quite under mutation at the moment, with books and papers on uses, users, and practices multiplying all around, for instance Akera' s recent Calculating a Natural World ... No doubt Edwards's "Virtual machines" comments on the importance of uses and users have been heard and are starting to fructify. More interestingly for me, who came to the history of computing through the history of science, this is an evolution that tells too that the history of computing is starting to get out there and take on, critically, some relevant methodological tools devised initially for the history of science more broadly construed.

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