News from the Archives



Next Article

Previous Article


Table of Contents


CBI Home

News from the Archives

Arrival of the Jean E. Sammet Collection

From the collection
From the Jean E. Sammet Collection

Previous newsletter columns have provided me with a platform to discuss the wide-ranging activities that have taken place in the archives and by archival staff in intervening months. This column will be slightly different as I hope to tell the story of the Jean E. Sammet papers and their subsequent arrival at the University of Minnesota in early March 2018. While a great many achievements and accomplishments have occurred within the archives since the last newsletter, this truly is the biggest story of the year for us!

Sammet collection in storage
Sammet papers in original storage, Silver Springs, MD

The story of how Jean Sammet’s papers came to the Charles Babbage Institute Archives (CBIA) is one that is more than 30 years in the making. In 1990, after considerable negotiation, the initial installment of Jean’s papers arrived at the archive. This installment comprised 178 boxes of material that included her personal research notes, correspondence and membership documentation for some of the many organizations that she had been professionally involved in over the years (AFIPS, ACM, etc.), and her professional files from her tenure at IBM. This installment promised a taste of the collection in total, the remainder of which would not come to CBIA for some time. As documented in one of the most complex Deeds of Gift ever executed by the University of Minnesota Libraries, the remainder of Sammet’s papers would include selections from her personal library, her voluminous personal correspondence, presentations from speaking engagements, and her subject files utilized in the authoring of her seminal history of programming languages. So complex was the Deed of Gift with levels of restriction and dates for accessibility, that the initial installment was never processed beyond a basic survey.

Sammet papers in storage 2
Another view of the Sammet papers in
original storage

When Jean Sammet passed away in the spring of 2017, she left behind an immense legacy of professional contributions and accomplishments. An engineer with IBM for much of her career, she was formative in the development of numerous computing languages, including COBOL, FORMAC, and Ada. She was also the first female president of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and a leader in the SIGPLAN group. This legacy is firmly documented in the remainder of her collection, which became available to CBIA for acquisition upon her death.

In the Deed of Gift, executed in 1990, Sammet indicated that the final installment of her papers would consist of “three bookcases, 36 five-drawer file cabinets, and five shelving units of miscellaneous materials housed at a remote storage unit.” When I read this short notice within the Deed, I admit to being filled with some trepidation. As many know, “collection creep” is a reality and I fully anticipated that the volume of Sammet’s papers to come would exceed the original estimate. I visited the remainder of the collection twice in 2017, the first to ascertain any collection creep and make an initial survey of the material and the second to prepare the collection for transfer to the University of Minnesota. Working hand in hand with the executors of the estate at Mt. Holyoke College (Sammet’s alma mater), I was pleasantly surprised to find that the collection had not ballooned in size and, moreover, was in pristine condition despite sitting for more than 20 years in a storage unit in Silver Spring, MD.

CBI archival staff_Sammet_2 After the Sammet papers arrived at Andersen Library, CBI Archivist Amanda Wick and student worker Mitchell Iverson work on rehousing the materials.

While sorting through the file cabinets, book shelves, and boxes in the storage units, I quickly realized that the collection would be a breakthrough for CBIA’s researchers. Touching on issues of gender hierarchies in technology, programming language development, the organizational shifts and politics within major computing professional organizations, and tantalizing hints of Sammet’s forceful personality, this collection is an incredible resource. A small bequest in Sammet’s will allows staff to process the now 438 boxes of material and we look forward to sharing it with you early next year. Staff will provide periodic updates via the Charles Babbage Institute Facebook page, so be sure to check back in for pictures and stories from the collection.

Sammet collection on the dock
Jean E. Sammet papers upon arrival at Andersen Library


New and Notable Collections:  Ben Shneiderman Photographs

In late August, Dr. Ben Shneiderman completed the donation of his significant collection of photographic prints and digital images. These still images document key figures in computing history and significant happenings at events and conferences, as well as some personal and biographical photographs. 

Dr. Ben Shneiderman
Dr. Ben Shneiderman

Dr. Shneiderman is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Computer Science, the Founding Director (1983-2000) of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory and a Member of the UM Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) at the University of Maryland, as well as the nephew of world-renowned photojournalist David Seymour. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, ACM, IEEE, and NAI, as well as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, in recognition of his pioneering contributions to human-computer interaction and information visualization. Dr. Shneiderman’s most widely-used contributions include clickable highlighted web-links, high-precision touchscreen keyboards for mobile devices, and tagging for photos, among many others. Dr. Shneiderman is the author and co-author of numerous publications and his book Leonardo’s Laptop (2002) won the IEEE book award for Distinguished Literary Contribution. 

An important (and often personal) component of Dr. Shneiderman’s work has been related to photography, including development of the Photofinder and PhotoMesa tools. During his professional career Dr. Shneiderman photographed conferences and colleagues, and his MyLifePix archive of 12,000 photos is available with descriptions and indexing by name, date, and location. He has selected a set of key personalities who are leading HCI researchers and developers to profile through text and photos with Encounters with HCI Pioneers: A Personal Photo Journal, which was featured in the New York Times (September 7, 2015). The Computer History Museum features Shneiderman’s photos of 22 key personalities in its exhibit Computer Pioneers: Photos from the Field. The Archives at CBI is honored that Dr. Shneiderman selected us as recipients of his significant collection, and we look forward to sharing it with our researchers in coming months.

Amanda Wick
CBI Interim Archivist
and Curator


Back to Top | Next Article | Previous Article