CHM’s Software History Roundtable



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CHM’s Software History Roundtable,

Honoring Burton Grad and Luanne Johnson
A Xerox Alto under restoration by CHM
xerox alto

On Friday, March 17th roughly twenty leading computer/software historians gathered at the Computer History Museum (CHM) for an afternoon workshop exploring methods, practices, ideas, and boundaries in the field of software history.   Earlier that day, many in the group took a field trip to the new CHM Shustek Center—a home for the museum’s archival collections, and a laboratory for computer hardware and software restoration.

The meeting was organized by Burton (Burt) Grad and Luanne Johnson, as well as by the Director of the new CHM Center for Software History, David Brock (who moderated the roundtable discussion).  The event began with short talks by representatives from institutions focused in whole or part on software history. CHM Board Chair Len Shustek kicked this off by discussing the museum’s evolution as well as new initiatives, including its new exhibit on software applications and the recently opened Shustek Center.  Next, CBI associate director Jeffrey Yost spoke about CBI’s past, present, and future—highlighting sponsored research projects, archival collection development, oral histories, and publications.  He expressed how helpful Burt and Luanne (and their many software and services history workshops) were to the research for his book, Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry (MIT Press, forthcoming September 2017).  Brock discussed the new Center for Software History, which hosted and helped organize the SIGCIS “Command Lines: Software, Power, and Performance” conference (see related article). Among the other speakers, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Editor-in-Chief Nathan Ensmenger spoke about the journal’s upcoming content (including former CBI archivist Arvid Nelsen’s cover article drawing on Ebony Magazine, and the possibilities for prosopography, in examining African-American history and computing), and SIGCIS Chair Andy Russell spoke about “Command Lines,” and other programmatic activities of the special interest group.

Burton Grad
Burt Grad
Luanne Johnson
Luanne Johnson
The meeting also served the important purpose of honoring Burt and Luanne, the longtime leaders of CHM Software Industry SIG, and its predecessor, the Software History Center (they retired from this major volunteer leadership effort last year).  Burt and Luanne helped facilitate important collection development for both CBI and CHM, and they donated many dozens of oral histories from software and computer services history workshops to both organizations. They also guest edited six special issues of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (Luanne was a longtime editorial board member and Grad a longtime advisor to the journal). Burt and Luanne were instrumental to Information Technology Association of America’s (ITAA) donation of the ADAPSO Records (the processor name to ITAA) to CBI. ADAPSO was the pioneering and longtime leading computer services and software products trade association, and its records document not only the organization’s development and activities, but also these two industries through the research reports it sponsored.  Luanne Johnson was a past Executive Director of ADAPSO and Grad was also very active in the organization for decades.  Prior to leading ADAPSO, Johnson had founded and served as president of a software products company, Argonaut Information Systems.  Grad also had a distinguished career in the software field, working many years for IBM and later as a strategy and M&A consultant in software and services. A finding aid is now available for the Burton Grad Papers at CBI.

Following the roundtable discussion, Len Shustek and CHM honored Burt and Luanne’s longtime contribution to the museum and software history with a plaque unveiling ceremony.  Johnson attended in person and Grad through video conferencing.   Like CHM, CBI is deeply indebted to Burt and Luanne for their many lasting contributions to the field of software history.

Jeffrey R. Yost


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