Director's Desk



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Director's Desk

From the origin of the Charles Babbage Institute nearly four decades ago, CBI historians and archivists have been dedicated to publishing impactful books, edited volumes, journal special issues, and articles. Nearly all of the more than 20 books and most of our many dozens of articles are peer-reviewed scholarship. These books and articles, along with our more than 500 oral histories, often were deliverables on sponsored research we conducted for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and others. We have also edited multiple IT history book series as well as IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.

Alongside this focus on writing, editing, presenting, and facilitating IT history scholarship, CBI has engaged in public history—popular history for broad audiences—through print and online works, and public lectures intended for local, national, and even international audiences. Over the past few years, CBI Archivist Amanda Wick has been extremely important to these efforts and frequently does public programming and classroom instruction in addition to running the CBI Archives.

A quick sampling of our past public history work here at CBI includes a short book former director Arthur Norberg and I published: IBM Rochester: A Half Century of Innovation (IBM, 2006). IBM printed 8,000 copies and freely distributed them to stakeholders in Minnesota and beyond. (It is also available as a CBI web hosted publication). As another foray in writing for larger audiences, I recently published biographical articles on public key cryptography co-inventors and Turing Award Winners Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman for the frequently visited ACM Turing Award site. Former CBI Director Tom Misa published multiple major reviews on popular IT history books in the wide-circulation journal Nature. And while his Digital State is unquestionably a deeply insightful scholarly book, it has a public history topic and stylistic flair that grew out of his ten-part evening CBI lecture series—geared for a general audience—on Minnesota’s computer history.

Digital State was the inspiration for a recent year-long public history collaboration CBI just completed with the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA), the Dakota County Historical Society, local public television channel TPT, and industry veterans, to produce a major new Minnesota computing history website and to conduct video interviews toward a future TPT documentary. Funding for this endeavor was provided by the Minnesota Cultural and Historical Heritage Grants program administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. We are very pleased with the outcome of this multi-institutional effort (see related article), a project for which History of Science, Technology, and Medicine doctoral candidate and lead researcher and project manager Elizabeth Semler deserves special credit for her terrific work.

Even though public history is not new to us here, moving forward we want it to be equally prominent to scholarly research in our programming—and with both scholarly and public history publications and projects we want to connect to ever broader audiences. After all, many people are deeply interested in the IT revolution and how it has and is changing our world. To this end, I am thrilled to announce a new hire, CBI Outreach Historian and Administrator Dr. Juliet Burba, who will be key to this effort.

Dr. Burba comes to us from a highly distinguished career at two major history of science museums—the Science Museum of Minnesota (in St. Paul), and, more recently, The Bakken Museum and Library (in Minneapolis), where she served as Chief Curator and Director of Exhibits and Collections. It is, in fact, a return to CBI for Juliet; she worked with me on CBI’s NSF-sponsored Software History Project in the early 2000s as a doctoral candidate GSRA. While I will split my time but be more engaged in scholarly research, Juliet will concentrate on public history, in addition to her important administrative leadership role at CBI. Her tremendous knowledge and skills have already had a major positive impact and will help us raise CBI’s public history and outreach to the next level. As just one example with regard to outreach, Juliet is taking over as the editor of the CBI Newsletter.

As we welcome Juliet, we are also extremely sorry to see CBI Administrator Kathryn Charlet move on (in May) after more than a dozen years. Katie’s work for CBI was truly exceptional. Some of her efforts were more public, while much was behind the scenes and greatly added to the institute’s productivity and success. We cannot thank her enough for her extraordinary dedication and the important role she played at CBI. She is pursuing an exciting new venture in leading/managing/working an organic farm. We wish her all the best with this opportunity.

Finally, recent Carlson School of Management (Univ. of Minnesota) graduate Dr. Paul Nary, a CBI fellow last year, accepted an offer of Assistant Professor at the Wharton School of Management (Penn). Paul made extensive use of the Control Data Corporation Records in examining mergers and acquisitions in IT, as well as other coordination mechanisms between IT firms. We congratulate Paul on his doctorate and this prestigious appointment.

Jeffrey R. Yost

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