I don't see any example questions among the 87 thus far about computing/computer science. Is the history of these considered to be on-topic here?

Proposal: History of Science And Mathematics

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    Note that the purpose of the example questions is to actually get an idea about what is on topic here. So the default way to find out should be to ask such questions and see whether they get up- or downvoted.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 21:55
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    @Wrzlprmft Agreed, but my choice to diverge from the default way was a conscious one. Given the high level of participation in this proposal and the number of existing questions, it seemed pretty clear that the community did not have much of an existing interest in this topic. Thus, a discussion to "prime the pump" made more sense as a way to gently introduce the topic's impending arrival in the proposed questions queue. Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


I say absolutely provided it is actually a "history" question with a reasonably definitive answer. Computer science is a science, and I think a science that spawned at least early on in no small part from the work of mathematicians (the word "computer" used to refer to a human calculator in some circles). Now it is such a big field, deserving of its own title. I still see the two fields as sister fields to some extent. It definitely has a history.

As far as questions go, I might guess that someone with their mind stuck in the middle ages might need to take a mental gear shift to think of a question from the 60's or 80's as "history". I personally have no such problems. In fact computer science history questions from the 90's could be history questions to me (question quality and historical relevance being paramount here). You would have to test the waters to see what others think.

The lack of "computing/computer science" questions is probably due to a lack of computer scientists and programmers developing canonical questions in their field on this site proposal and nothing more. I will endeavor to list some questions as they come to my mind, but an actual computer scientist/computer science historian will do much better here than myself.

Today "Computer Science/Computer Scientist (etc.)" are used to denote a distinct discipline, field, and even an academic major. What is the history of this designation?

What is the earliest use of the word "Computer" in the English language and what did it originally mean?

What is the earliest use of the word "Computer" as a reference to a non-human computing device, and what was that device?

What was the first "Programming Language" (even predating the modern computer)? If possible, could we see a sample of this language or reference to a sample? Tags: (Programming Languages), (reference-request)

What was the first electronic calculator (looking for a specific name/model here), and what language was used to program it?

What was the first commercially available handheld electronic calculator (looking for a specific name/model here), and what language was used to program it?

How was the C programming language developed? I am particularly interested in the amount of bootstrapping involved in the evolution of the compilers from BCPL to B and then to C.

Again, a real computer scientist/computer science historian would do a much better job here. I leave it at this for now. I will try to come up with better examples later, and encourage anyone to critique these hasty examples, and come up with examples of their own in this page and in the actual proposal.

  • Precisely the sort of thing I had in mind, and I think you've presented a good array of samples from the relatively simple fact-check (e.g. first calculator) to a more in-depth exploration (e.g. details of the development of the C language). Marvelous answer, thank you! While I too regard myself as unqualified to generate truly expert-level questions in this arena, I will do my best to add a few good examples to the proposal. Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 20:25
  • Excellent,I am definitely glad to hear that. Your proposal samples might even attract the throngs of members from the various stackexchange CS type communities. That would be a major boon to the proposal. Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 20:28
  • Windows is not science but kind of magic :-) Commented May 8, 2014 at 20:39

Depends what you mean. The details of Boole's proposed computing machine: great. The history of differences between Windows and MacOS: not so great.

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    Definitely more the former than the latter. However, as J.W. has implied, I can see some more recent history than Boole being of interest, but still firmly along the lines of the science of computing as opposed to the culture of computing. Things like: the evolution of functional programming as a paradigm, milestones in computability theory, how advances in semiconductor science have contributed to the evolution of processing architectures, etc. Computing has much in common with genetics, as both are fields where a lot of landmark history has been made in the past 50 years. Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 20:22

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