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[1] does seem to be the paper of interest. It's not clear what Knuth is unhappy about. Campbell-Kelly's big complaint seems to be that the early history of computing mentions machines, languages, and algorithms too much, and doesn't discuss applications and users enough. That's a reasonable comment from a historian.

When Knuth wrote Vol. I, "Fundamental Algorithms", there were almost no computer books published other than manufacturer manuals and a few introductory programming language books. Knuth's series is really a history of algorithms, with each one traced back to its originator. The early history is on the record.

We're now inundated with corporate histories, mostly of applications companies. There's a glut of CEO biographies. There are academic papers on the history of the spreadsheet. There's no longer a lack of history on the user-facing side.

This comes with progress in the field. A book-length history of the electric motor, from Henry to Edison to Sprague to Tesla and up to modern brushless motors, would be interesting - to a very small number of people. Popular articles on motors can be found in mainstream publications from 1880 to 1925 or so. After that, they were just routine items, not newsworthy. Low-level algorithms now belong in that category. A few people still have to study how to do hash tables, just as a few people have to study rotating electrical machinery theory and design new motors.

The important thing is not to lose the history. Campbell-Kelly says "we can't save everything". Well, we can. Disk space is cheap. Future generations (of humans and machines) can re-summarize it.




What I've seen is that history is saved, and even accessible, but mythology is often stronger than history. Here on HN I've seen people say that Apple was the origin of the garage startup, when that goes back to at least HP, or the Apple was the inventor of profit sharing, when that was a Valley practice predating even Intel. Elsewhere I see people say that PARC invented the mouse, when that came out of SRI, or that Xerox flubbed on the laser printer, when laser xerography was making them over a billion dollars a year in the late 1980s. I see people sell Agile using waterfall as the strawman opponent, as if those were the only two possibilities. (See http://www.infoq.com/articles/bossavit-agile-ten-years-on for one commentary.)

I personally think there's a rebranding of Linked Data as a way to rescue the real-world failures of the Semantic Web dream by saying that all interlinked databases are part of Linked Data and ergo the Semantic Web, and my limited research of the historical record backs that up.

But this knowledge doesn't really affect how most people do business now. (Though we end up with highly paid consultants who peddle a false mythos rather than paying historians for the real information.) It's mostly relevant for those points that Knuth enumerated, which are superb humanistic goals that few beyond the academically secure or retired can afford to advance.

While much can be saved, many things are only in people's heads, or in their personal effects. Doing that history now, rather than waiting, means that more of those can be recorded for the future.


And there's other examples of that, less obvious but more pervasive. For example, every single 'first' is mired in definitional issues which all serve to recast previous things in the light of more modern technology. It does a disservice to those older things to only view them through the lens of what we have now.

It's hard to fight because it is rarely based on outright lies, per se, just pervasive misinterpretations which cast things in a false light. Disputing it makes you look like a nitpicking fool picking at things which barely even exist, but accepting it makes history seem like a teleological process, inevitably aimed at today like an arrow aimed at a target, with all previous processes culminating in what we have now.




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