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The use of history in IS research: an opportunity missed?

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The article is shaped by two regularily repeated cliches. The first is History is bunk. Henry Ford's well known saying has two implications: (1) that what purports to be history is more often than not inaccurate if not a downright lie, and (2) that we have nothing to learn from history as modern innovations make the past irrelevant. The second cliche is We will heed the lessons we have learned from past disasters. How often do we hear that claim with respect to information systems (IS) failures? Again there are two implications: (1) that history repeats itself, and that if we learn how prior mistakes were made we can avoid the same mistakes being repeated, and (2) that we have the capability to analyse the past with sufficient accuracy that we can identify all the problems that led to the mistakes being made. In this article, I will argue that the historiography of IS is important to understanding IS and its evolution through time, and that understanding even the most transformative, revolutionary, innovations benefits from the study of the historical context. Henry Ford's viewpoint is far too prevalent, and in my view damaging to IS research. The argument will be supported by a number of examples.

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