This article is published in the January 2005 issue.

CRA Issues New Report

The Computing Research Association has recently published a new report, Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines. This report, compiled by historians William Aspray and Atsushi Akera, offers innovative ideas on how to use the rich, empirical material of history to enhance student learning and appreciation for fundamental concepts in computer science and related disciplines.

The volume is the outgrowth of a series of workshops, made possible through the generous support of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF-DUE-0111938). More than a mere proceedings document, the volume was produced through ongoing discussions among computer scientists, historians, ethicists, and those representing other disciplines. Separate workshops were held at Amherst College on August 6-7, 2001 and the University of Minnesota on April 26-28, 2002, each with an attendance of about forty people. These workshops were followed by a pair of authors’ workshops held in Chicago and Boston during spring and summer of 2004. Twenty authors, representing more than fifteen institutions, contributed to the final volume.

The report is meant to address current concerns not only in computer science education, but in the related disciplines of information science, information technology, and social informatics. One of the contributors also addresses a novel curriculum for introducing computer science skills and perspectives to students in liberal arts degree programs. The volume consists of five parts: 1) two introductory papers; 2) six essays on curricular issues and strategies; 3) twelve course syllabi; 4) five historical case studies; and 5) two essays on key resources in the history of computing. The report itself, including its table of contents, is posted on the CRA website at: (Need to insert URL.)

The papers in this report explore the challenges of introducing history into a computer science curriculum; using history to develop an awareness of the important linkages between technical and non-technical curricula that has become increasingly vital to contemporary social informatics and information technology curricula; and exploring the important precedent of the productive use of history in mathematics education. The detailed course descriptions that accompany five of the twelve syllabi also describe the more pragmatic aspects of introducing history into an introductory computer science course; enhancing student learning among non-computer science majors; and using historical case study methods to improve student engagement in an introductory social informatics course as well as an advanced professional development course designed for computer scientists.

The historical case studies pertain to the theory of computation, computer architecture, women in computer science, human computers and mathematical labor, and the engineering ethics of computer systems design. The volume closes with an extensive bibliographic essay that points to many of the printed and online resources available for the history of computing, as well as a separate essay that is tied to a publicly available online resource, created by Dr. Thomas Bergin (American University) and Jack Hyman (SRA International). This site provides a digital slide library, PowerPoint lectures, and other practical resources for an instructor teaching an introductory history of computing course.

Requests for a copy of Using History to Teach Computer Science and Related Disciplines ($15.00) can be e-mailed to: The report is also available on CRA’s website at:

Atsushi Akera is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a co-author of the report.

CRA Issues New Report