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15 September 2014

Dear CBI Friends:

The world of computer history is getting bigger and wider, with more people around the world vitally interested in a field that the Charles Babbage Institute has been cultivating for more than three decades.  We have visitors from many countries and with diverse research interests.  But, equally important, the Charles Babbage Institute itself is taking an impressive lead in research, scholarship, and outreach.  From one solid founding vision, much has resulted . . . .

CBI hosted two major workshops in May and July.  With the support of the Association for Computing Machinery, we held a two-day workshop in May to disseminate knowledge and practices in professional archiving to the ACM membership.  We had a lively group, hailing from five countries and including colleagues from computer science, library science, history, and journalism with varied homes in museums, research libraries, national laboratories, and academia.  For a write-up see here.  And in July, with the support of the National Science Foundation, we organized the Computer Security History Workshop 2014 as part of our multi-year NSF-funded research project.  The workshop focused discussion on more than a dozen specially written papers, and the authors are submitting their work for publication in a special double-issue of Annals of the History of Computing.  As noted in the Fall 2012 CBI Newsletter the project is putting computer security on the agenda of historians as well as putting history on the agenda of computer-security professionals.  Already, 22 oral histories from this project are at <tinyurl.com/CBI-2014-A>.

We have in hand three externally funded grants.  In addition to the NSF computer-security history project, noted above, this spring we began research on two other multi-year research efforts (see the Spring CBI Newsletter).  The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is supporting “Tripling Women’s Participation in Computing (1965-85),” a pioneering examination of the legion of profession women who experienced astonishing growth in the early computer industry.  We will be interviewing 30 women who worked in the industry and conducting archival research in CBI’s Burroughs and Control Data corporate records to better understand how and why women flooded into computing—literally tripling women’s share of computer-science bachelor’s degrees and making impressive strides in the workforce.  And with the support of the Department of Energy, Ph.D. student Nic Lewis spent this summer in residence at the Los Alamos National Laboratory doing research on LANL’s notable efforts in high-performance computing.  He completed a 60-page report on LANL’s networking, did a public presentation on LANL’s operating system research, conducted several oral histories, and created a path to access the riches of LANL’s archives.

CBI staff and students are presenting four papers at the SHOT SIGCIS workshop on 9 November in Dearborn, Michigan.  Ph.D. student Jonathan Clemens, one of our NSF FastLane project’s research assistants, is discussing the moral panic surrounding video arcade games, while Nic Lewis is sharing early results from the LANL HPC project.  Ph.D. student Will Vogel is presenting his archival research for the Sloan project, and CBI’s archivist-curator R. Arvid Nelsen is giving a slice from his research project, on social issues in computing, in a paper entitled “Debates on Automation in the 20th Century.”

CBI and our colleagues in the history of technology appear five times on the main SHOT program this November.  Jeffrey Yost’s “The March of IDES: The Advent and Early History of Intrusion Detection Expert Systems” and Nic Lewis’s “Gorbachev’s Gamble: The Personal Computer, Glasnost, and the Fall of the Soviet Union” come from our NSF computer security project.  Jonathan Clemens is presenting “Defining Play: Mediators in the Rise and Fall of Video Arcades” from his Ph.D. dissertation.  I am chairing a SHOT session on “Conceptualizing Computing,” and historian of technology Jennifer Alexander is chairing a session on “The Sacred and the Unseen.”

I have done six outreach talks.  Most have been to local community groups based on my Digital State: The Story of Minnesota’s Computing Industry (2013) but a favorite of mine was “Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Bernoulli numbers” at Stevens Institute of Technology.

And CBI has seven exciting archival collections.  Among the highlights we include . . . Gideon Gartner’s donation of Gartner Group materials . . . Scott Grabow’s Cray computer manuals, videos, posters . . . Charlie Bachman’s digital materials on 5 hard drives . . . BBN Raytheon’s  original RFQ for Arpanet (and 6 boxes) . . . George Gourrich’s notebooks, monographs, and serials . . . Ellen McEvoy’s PLATO educational materials . . . Peter Patton’s additions . . . David Zimmerman’s Byte magazine holdings . . . Lockheed Martin’s publications . . . Stuart Umpleby’s Y2K resources . . . Kimberly Schwenk’s computer zines . . . Roger Angvall’s Unisys materials . . . Ken Gange’s on-going donation of Juiced.GS, a quarterly Apple II journal.  Hmm, well, more than seven: you know that Arvid Nelsen is always over-achieving!

Doing the math, it is clear that CBI is achieving some impressive results.  Your support of CBI’s core activities—archival collections, research projects, oral histories, and outreach efforts—through an annual contribution to the CBI Friends can keep the mathematics in the stratosphere.  We send the best of CBI scholarship to CBI Friends, books like Computer, Digital State, and The IBM Century as well as articles appearing in Annals of the History of Computing!


Thomas J. Misa
CBI Director
Engineering Research Associates Land Grant Chair in the History of Technology
Program in History of Science, Technology & Medicine
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


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