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Female Inventors and Narratives of Innovation in Late Twentieth-Century Computing


Cheng, Myra Miaobo (2022) Female Inventors and Narratives of Innovation in Late Twentieth-Century Computing. Senior thesis (Major), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/79me-jr94.


I examine the history of women’s labor and representation in computer science by studying two distinct categories: women involved in authorial, creative work versus manual, computational labor. Building off the work of historians of technology, I question why we tell the histories we do about the “forgotten women.” The gaps in the histories of computer science innovation are mirrored by shortcomings in the actual practice of computer science: Both the historiography of computer science and the field itself have been shaped by the myth of the lone genius. I trace the shortcomings of this myth throughout the history of modern computer science, finding that narratives of female innovators and movements to incorporate more women into computing only perpetuated connections between individual genius, masculinity, and scientific progress. I explore community-based perspectives from feminist epistemology as possibilities for shifting away from the myth of the lone genius.

Item Type:Thesis (Senior thesis (Major))
Subject Keywords:computing, Cold War, Grace Hopper, programming, innovation, feminist epistemology, women in computer science, narrative, labor, myth of the lone genius, Title IX
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Computer Science
Awards:Senior Undergraduate Thesis Prize, 2022. Eleanor Searle Prize in Law, Politics, and Institutions, 2021. Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, 2020.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Dykstra, Maura
Group:Senior Undergraduate Thesis Prize
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:2022
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:08012022-200204789
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14990
Deposited By: Myra Cheng
Deposited On:02 Aug 2022 16:02
Last Modified:02 Aug 2022 21:32

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