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From Computer Celebrities to Historical Biography
October-December 2011 (vol. 33 no. 4)
pp. 88, 86-87
Nathan Ensmenger, University of Texas

The dominance of the celebrity biography in the popular history of computing poses some significant challenges for scholarly historians. Much of the literature in this genre, while entertaining, is more sensational than meticulous. So how can historians of computing take advantage of the appeal and power of biography without succumbing to its pitfalls? Nathan Ensmenger looks at why popular biographies of high-profile figures tend toward formulaic, deterministic narratives and explores possible future approaches to producing more rigorous scholarly biographies.

1. M.T. Greene, "Writing Scientific Biography," J. History of Biology, vol. 40, no. 4, 2007, pp. 727–759.
2. T.M. Porter, "Is the Life of the Scientist a Scientific Unit?" Isis, vol. 97, no. 2, 2006, pp. 314–321.
3. R.X. Cringely, Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date, Addison-Wesley, 1992; B. Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, Anchor Books, 2010.
4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/ filmmakersonfilm/8066074The-Social-Network- Aaron-Sorkin-interview.html
5. M.J. Nye, "Scientific Biography: History of Science by Another Means?" Isis, vol. 97, no. 2, 2006, pp. 322–329.

Index Terms:
history of computing, celebrity biography, historical biography, hagiographies, prosopography, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg
Citation:
Nathan Ensmenger, "From Computer Celebrities to Historical Biography," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 88, 86-87, Oct.-Dec. 2011, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2011.72
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