Race and Computing: The Problem of Sources, the Potential of Prosopography, and the Lesson of Ebony Magazine

Nelsen, R. Arvid
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

Historians recognize the need to examine race and technology, but published scholarship has not kept pace. This has been attributed to the absence of archival source materials. In response, scholars have approached "race" from a broad definition, rather than having sought to place persons of color who contributed to the development and innovative application of computing into the historical record. It remains critical to do so. Archives and libraries should undertake to identify and collect materials from persons of color. Meanwhile, scholars may find material in nontraditional sources, and prosopography may prove useful for examining computer professionals of color. At least 57 African Americans working in computing fields between 1959 and 1996 are listed in Ebony magazine. If computing has had little to say about persons of color, it may be better to examine what communities of color have had to say about computing.