Open Standards
Charles Babbage Institute

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Digital Age

We knew that Andrew Russell, Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, was bringing out an important book with Cambridge University Press, published in April 2014 and entitled: Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks.  We read the book in my graduate seminar in history of computing, and we fully expect the reviews to be full of splendid accolades.  For the moment, we want to spotlight Andy’s unusually deep research in CBI archival sources and oral histories.  History depends on rich archival resources, and Andy has made the best of some of CBI’s most valuable collections.

Russell Open StandardsAndy is no stranger to these pages.  A Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University at the time, Andy was awarded the 2006-7 CBI-Tomash fellowship for his dissertation project, “‘Industrial Legislatures’: Consensus Standardization in the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions.”  His set of oral history interviews with nine European networking pioneers – André Danthine, Gérard Le Lann, Jean-Louis Grangé, Louis Pouzin, Marc Levilion, Michel Gien, Najah Naffah, Rémi Després, and Tilly Bayard-Richard – added significantly to CBI’s resources in this area.  Andy also deposited with CBI his oral history with Internet pioneer David Mills.  And, as reported elsewhere in this Newsletter, Andy has assumed leadership of SHOT’s SIGCIS computer history group.

Jeff Yost described some relevant CBI resources in “Exploring the Archives: Resources on Computer Networking” (Fall 2011 Newsletter).  One of the best known is the Alex McKenzie Collection of Computer Networking Development Records, 1969-1990 (CBI 123), which Janet Abbate also used for her Inventing the Internet (MIT 1999).  The McKenzie collection documents a brief moment of deep transatlantic cooperation when Vinton Cerf chaired the Europe-centered International Network Working Group (INWG) and worked, for a time, to bridge the rival ISO and Internet networking models.  Andy profiles two other networking figures, John Day and Brian Kahin, for whom CBI also has archival papers.

Andy also extensively used CBI’s archival papers of database pioneer Charlie Bachman (CBI 125).  We note elsewhere in this newsletter the breaking news that Charlie was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Technology and Innovation.  As a follow-on to his early work for American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) pivotal database standards committee, Charlie took over leadership also for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) subcommittee 16 on networking standards.  This was the body that formulated, under Bachman’s guidance, the famous seven-layer reference model known as Open Systems Interconnection.  It is all detailed in such seemingly cryptic documents, cited in Andy’s book on page 208 note 27, as “Meeting ANSI/X3/SPARC/Study Group on Distributed Systems.”

Yet further CBI collections that Andy mined include CBI’s Auerbach and Associates Market and Products Reports as well as several smaller collections that detail the standard-setting process in computing: Herbert S. Bright Papers (CBI 42); Honeywell, Inc. X3.2 Standards Subcommittee Records (CBI 67); and, although not listed in his appendix, Charles A. Phillips Papers (CBI 39).  Another resource was the journal ConneXions: The Interoperability Report (1987-96), available online.

And, last but not least, Andy mined the riches of CBI’s networking oral histories including Paul Baran, Vinton Cerf, Steve Crocker, Robert Kahn, J.C.R. Licklider, David Mills, Lawrence Roberts, Jack Ruina, and Robert Taylor as well as the nine European interviews noted above.  Transcripts for these interviews can be accessed online at <> with finding guides to archival collections at <>.

Thomas J. Misa

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