Computer history is getting larger, more diverse, and more interesting — with each passing year. And the Charles Babbage Institute continues to play a central role in the field and its ever-increasing vitality. Our basic mission is to “build an infrastructure” for computer history . . . with vital archival collections, unique oral histories, cutting-edge research and publications, and imaginative outreach activities.
The Babbage Institute publications machine is in top form, the crowning result for many of our research projects. This year CBI associate director Jeffrey Yost played a key role in revising the landmark volume Computer: A History of the Information Machine, while I published Digital State: The Story of Minnesota’s Computing Industry — each described elsewhere in this newsletter. We have drafted a book-length narrative about the NSF FastLane project that will be moving into the publication process soon.
Our oral history process is also in high gear. For our NSF-sponsored project on the history of computer security, we have conducted nearly two-thirds of the project’s planned 30 oral history interviews. The results of many of these interviews are already available on the CBI oral history database (look for already-posted interviews with Roger Schell, Barry Schrager, Rebecca Bace, Steve Lipner, David Bell, Tom Van Vleck, Steve Walker, Eldon Worley, and others coming soon). We are moving more than 600 of our FastLane interviews, where we have the interviewee’s permission, also into public visibility and access.
We report elsewhere on the prominence of computer history at the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, held earlier this month in Portland, Maine. That society’s journal, Technology & Culture, also gives evidence of unusual visibility for our field: computer history articles constitute three of the four top-downloaded articles, included ones by former CBI-Tomash fellows Nathan Ensmenger on “The Digital Construction of Technology” and Paul Ceruzzi on “Moore’s Law and Technological Determinism.” There are “heavy downloads” also for the just-published article by CBI senior research fellow James W. (Jim) Cortada on “How New Technologies Spread: Lessons from Computing Technologies.”
Also in this newsletter, CBI archivist Arvid Nelsen provides an update on archiving projects that he’s overseeing. One initiative that I am especially delighted to see is the massive cataloguing of book and serial accessions. You may recall our excitement with the Tomash, Mahoney, Machover, and Cortada collections that boosted CBI title count from around 2,000 to well over 10,000. Books and serials from the Cortada collections are making their way through cataloguing and will soon be visible to the world through the main University of Minnesota Library Catalog and, also, in on-line union catalogs such as WorldCat.org. We anticipate when the other three collections also get this splendid treatment.
Computer history is experiencing an exciting and expanding period of growth. Our members’ support of the CBI Friends helps keep us at the forefront of the field. You, too, can join the excitement today!
Thomas J. Misa