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October 3, 2016

Dear CBI Friends:

Last year in my letter to the CBI Friends, I dazzled you with numbers.  I described CBI with nearly 8,000 linear feet of archival collections, 1,000 oral-history transcripts, 10,000 accessible titles, and 10 recently published books or Annals special issues, and more than $1 million in externally sponsored research.  But perhaps you’d like to know something of the personal side of CBI.  How do we find our archival collections?  And what about small and valuable collections at CBI alongside the larger “anchor” collections that we typically put in boldface?

Large or small, all CBI collections begin with personal contact.  After all, a potential donor is entrusting to CBI’s care one of their most valued legacies.  We emphasize the professional attention given to all archival collections, the re-boxing and re-foldering if needed, the preparation of a detailed finding guide (accessible online), and the collection’s permanent and public accessibility.  CBI is embedded in the University of Minnesota Libraries, with state-of-the-art climate-controlled storage and a friendly and inviting reading room.  Families can visit their loved-one’s collection, any time; the same for researchers from across the country and around the world.

One early “anchor” collection—the Edmund Berkeley papers—came to CBI after then-CBI archivist Bruce Bruemmer worked hard to convince Berkeley that, indeed, CBI would be highly interested in the dozens of boxes documenting his career as ACM founder, author, and professional gadfly.  Subsequent “anchors” include the papers of software pioneer Marty Goetz, computer scientist Alan J. Perlis, graphics pioneer Carl Machover, IT industry guru Gideon Gartner, and others.  Sometimes, as with Charlie Bachman and Walter Anderson, an initial archival donation was added to over the years to create a comprehensive archive.  Bachman’s CBI papers document not only his early work creating database management systems and his later standards-setting efforts with ISO, but even more recently his receiving the 2012 National Medal of Technology and Innovation.  Large corporate collections, such as Control Data, Burroughs, and Lockheed Martin, also result from building trust with decision-makers over the years.

One of my favorite “small” collection stories started in October 2011 when Mike Svendsen walked into CBI, introduced himself, and asked whether we’d ever heard of Univac’s Semiconductor Control Facility (SCF).  It happened that Jeff Yost had just prepared a paper for publication on semiconductor strategy and had lamented, in a footnote, that a paucity of available records prevented a proper evaluation of SCF’s accomplishments.  Mike had led SCF for a number of years, and generously let me see enough material to write a few pages on SCF and the semiconductor “quality revolution” in my book Digital State: The Story of Minnesota's Computing Industry.  Mike mentioned that he wanted to go through the materials himself—leading to his 31-page write-up “Semiconductors at Univac” at <vipclubmn.org>—and he duly deposited two boxes of records at CBI in 2014.  Thanks to Mike’s attention and care, we have an essential piece in hand to better understand the digital revolution.

CBI’s inaugural collection is the Honeywell v. Sperry Rand Records (CBI 1), whose 52 boxes document early computing as well as the landmark court decision that defined the “first computer” in 1973.  After using these papers in her biography of Edmund Berkeley, Bernadette Longo told me she found information there that “no one” had ever seen.  I agreed, since my own research had turned up an unknown “secret” computer that Pres Eckert and John Mauchly had worked on alongside BINAC.  Some 250 collections later, CBI is proudly making accessible archival collections offering exciting new insights in computer history (and facilitating research through the Tomash fellowship and Norberg travel grants).

One thing hasn’t changed in 36 years: CBI is still at the forefront of archiving and scholarship in computer history.  This year, for all renewing and new CBI Friends, we will send you a volume forthcoming this fall from ACM Books.  Communities of Computing: Computer Science and Society in the ACM is the fourth history title in the series 1 and the first book-length history of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  The book’s 12 core chapters, plus my editor’s introduction, profile ACM’s notable SIGs, active chapters, and many individual members, setting ACM’s history into a rich social and political context.  One key focus is ACM’s role in defining “computer science.” The chapters originated as ACM History Committee fellowship projects, and many draw extensively on CBI’s ACM-related historical collections.

Please help us keep CBI’s core activities strong through your contribution to the CBI Friends.

Thomas J. Misa
Director, Charles Babbage Institute


1 The first three are: John Cullinane, Smarter Than Their Machines: Oral Histories of Pioneers in Interactive Computing (2014); Bernadette Longo, Edmund Berkeley and the Social Responsibility of Computer Professionals (2015); and Robin Hammerman and Andrew L. Russell, Ada’s Legacy: Cultures of Computing from the Victorian to the Digital Age (2015).



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