Workshop on ACM History (21-22 May 2014): Call for Participation

The ACM History Committee is sponsoring a two-day archiving workshop to help diffuse knowledge of professional archival practices into ACM”s membership and others with an active interest in preserving our computer heritage. Applications are invited to a two-day archiving workshop, to be held 21-22 May 2014 at the Charles Babbage Institute (CBI) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For each successful application, one person”s expenses for workshop travel, lodging, and meals will be paid by the ACM History Committee. Project proposals are due by 15 January 2014. The details can be found here.

2013 ACM History Fellowship Winners Announced

Congratulations to 2013 ACM History Fellowship Winners: Sarah A. Bell (University of Utah), Amy Bix (Iowa State University), Irina Nikivincze (the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg), Joseph November (University of South Carolina), and Andrew Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology). The current and past winners of the fellowship along with their project information can be found here.

Erwin Tomash (1921 – 2012)

By Thomas J. Misa (ACM History Committee Member)

At CBI we wish to recognize the passing of Erwin Tomash, who died last week at his home. A funeral home announcement can be found here.

It’s not easy to give a short version of Erwin’s impact on computer history. First and foremost, he was the founder of the Charles Babbage Institute and for years its guiding spirit. In the 1970s, even before he retired from Dataproducts, he consulted with leaders in the academic, museum, and business worlds about creating an institution to support and foster computer history. Initially located in California, CBI’s first task was finding a permanent home. It turned out that the University of Minnesota put in the winning bid in a national competition; see here with a permanent link. CBI moved to Minnesota in 1980, Arthur Norberg arrived the next year as director, and the field of computer history would never be the same.

Arthur took up Erwin’s plans to have CBI engage in collecting archival materials on computer history, conducting oral histories, and engaging in research projects. In practice, these three activities have been complementary ones. A significant number of CBI’s 200+ archival collections have roots in an oral history and/or CBI research project. A special issue of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (2001) provides additional details and perspectives, as does the CBI Newsletter (Fall 2003) on CBI’s 25-year anniversary.

Since 1978 CBI has awarded the Adelle and Erwin Tomash Fellowship in the History of Information Technology, to a Ph.D. student completing their dissertation. The 32 recipients, beginning with the first awardee Bill Aspray and continuing to the most-recent Ksenia Tatarchenko, now include many leaders in our field. At the University of Minnesota an additional Tomash fund supports our Ph.D. students.

Erwin was also a book person. In the 1980s the CBI-Tomash Reprint Series published notable editions with expert commentaries. Some of these volumes are still available. Then, notably, there was Erwin’s personal efforts in rare-book collecting. A glimpse of his efforts is The Erwin Tomash Library on the History of Computing: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalog, a significant scholarly effort itself done in collaboration with Mike Williams.

We are planning our spring CBI Newsletter to deal more fully with Erwin’s long life and remarkable career. If you would like to write a personal note to Adelle Tomash, please contact CBI at for her address.

ACM History Committee New Members

The ACM History Committee welcomes two new members (effective November 2012): Roy Levin from Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley and Peri Tarr from IBM T. J. Watson Research Center! A former member of the committee, Brent Hailpern from IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center recently finished his role of the SGB Liaison in the committee, and now serves as an ACM SGB Council Representative. Brent’s valuable contributions to the committee have been greatly appreciated. An existing member of the committee, Tao Xie from North Carolina State University has taken the role of the SGB Liaison in the committee.

Call for ACM History Fellowship Proposals

The Association for Computing Machinery, founded in 1947, is the oldest and largest educational and scientific society dedicated to the computing profession, and today has more than 100,000 members around the world.  The ACM History Committee is preparing groundwork for a special history workshop in 2014.  Aiming at the workshop, we will support research projects related to ACM””s professional and educational activities and/or to ACM””s rich institutional history including its organization, publications, SIG activities, and conferences.  We may also consider support for wider synthetic projects, analyzing existing research on ACM and outlining themes to illuminate ACM””s nearly seven-decade history.

We will support up to four projects with awards of up to $4,000 each. Successful candidates may be of any rank, from graduate students through senior researchers. All awardees must be willing to present their work to a two-day ACM History Committee-sponsored workshop, to be held during the spring or early summer of 2014. Workshop travel, lodging, and meals will be paid by ACM History Committee, in addition to this project award.

The current and past winners of the fellowship can be found here.

An announcement of 2013 call for fellowship proposals can be found here (also as a pdf-format document here). Proposals are due by 15 February 2013.

ACM SIG Events on Learning from History

In this upcoming Friday, November 16, 2012 in Cary, NC, USA, there will be a SIGSOFT event in conjunction with SIGSOFT 2012 / FSE-20: Symposium on Learning from Experiences in Software Engineering (SLESE 2012), co-organized by Barbara G. Ryder (Virginia Tech), Wolfram Schulte (Microsoft Research), and Tao Xie (North Carolina State University).

The goal of this SLESE symposium is to bring together researchers with substantial research experiences to give invited presentations and panel discussions on sharing their lessons learned from their research experiences in developing a research project, area, or agenda, including lessons learned from their research-development process, strive for high-impact research.The SLESE symposium highlights five distinguished researchers: Crista Lopes (UC Irvine, USA), Brian Robinson (ABB Research, USA), Zhendong Su (UC Davis, USA), Andreas Zeller (Saarland University, Germany), and Dongmei Zhang (Microsoft Research Asia, China).

Back in 2010 in Toronto, Canada, there was a SIGPLAN event in conjunction with PLDI 2010: the International Workshop on Learning From eXperience (LFX 2010), co-organized by Shaz Qadeer (Microsoft Research, USA), Xavier Rival (Ecole Normale Supérieure, France), Koushik Sen (UC Berkeley, USA), and Eran Yahav(IBM Research, USA). The goal of this LFX workshop is to bring together researchers with practical experience to share their lessons, tips, and tricks, on how stuff really works.

Presentations by Past ACM History Fellowship Winners at SHOT 2012

At the Society for the History of Technology’s annual meeting (SHOT 2012) during 4-7 October 2012, Copenhagen Denmark, there were four presentations by past winners of ACM History Fellowships, reporting on their work:
  • Andrew Russell (Stevens Institute of Technology, a 2011 fellowship winner): “Histories of Networking vs. The History of the Internet”
  • Ksenia Tatarchenko (Princeton University, a 2011 fellowship winner): “A Plan for the Soviet Future: Programming, the Second Literacy”
  • Lars Heide (Copenhagen Business School, a 2010 fellowship winner): “Opening the Innovation Systems Black Box”
  • Bernard Geoghegan (Humboldt University, Berlin, a 2009 fellowship winner): “Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Technologies of Man: Cybernetic Reasoning and the Reform of the Human Sciences”

The current and past winners of the fellowship along with their project results can be found here.

Oral History Interviews with Pouzin and Other European Pioneers of Computer Networking

By Andy Russell (a winner of 2011 ACM History Fellowship)

I’ll never forget the day that I took my first ride on the Paris Metro. The ride itself was pleasant, but not nearly as memorable as my escort–none other than the 1997 ACM SIGCOMM Award Winner, Louis Pouzin. I traveled to Paris during the first week of April 2012 to conduct oral history interviews with Pouzin and other European pioneers of computer networking. The goal of this trip, funded by an award from the ACM History Committee, was to document European contributions to the field of computer networking–a field whose heritage is dominated by the American computer scientists who developed the Internet and one of its predecessor networks, the ARPANET. English-language histories of the ARPANET and Internet have tended to overlook the experiments conducted by European researchers, as well as the political and economic contexts in which these experiments took place. My goal was very simple: to build the documentary foundations, beginning with oral history interviews conducted in English (to complement the French-language histories written by Valerie Schafer and others), that would allow for a richer and more accurate understanding of what Europeans were doing in the 1970s and 1980s.

The oral history interviews, conducted over four days, included meetings with Tilly Bayard-Richard (secretary of French and international standards committees on “Open System Interconnection” or OSI); Marc Levilion (employee for over 30 years of IBM France and a leader of their OSI and other networking initiatives); Andre Danthine (professor emeritus at University of Liege, Belgium and ACM SIGCOMM Award Winner); Louis Pouzin (creator and leader of the French Cyclades networking research project); and the team that Pouzin recruited including Michel Gien, Jean-Louis Grange, Gerard Le Lann, Najah Naffah, and Hubert ZImmermann (yet another winner of the ACM SIGCOMM Award).

In the coming months I plan to transcribe the recordings of these interviews and donate the transcripts, thanks to the kind permission of the interviewees, into the oral history collection of the Charles Babbage Institute. The content of the interviews were too far-reaching to be adequately described here, but their overarching lesson can be summarized quite easily: Europeans–particularly the Cyclades team but also individuals such as Levilion, Danthine, and countless others–achieved great advancements in the scientific, political, and organizational aspects of networking. They worked with great collegiality and dignity, despite the occasional squabble and the presence of unfathomable technical and bureaucratic obstacles. Thanks to them, and thanks to the support of the ACM History Committee, future historians of computing and historians of the late 20th century will be able to tell richer and more complex stories.

was taken at a conference on April 3, 2012, organized by Valerie Schafer at the Institut des sciences de la communication du CNRS (ISCC) in Paris (see for details). From left: Gerard Le Lann, Jean-Louis Grange, Michel Gien, Najah Naffah, Louis Pouzin, and Andrew Russell.

By Andy Russell (a winner of 2011 ACM History Fellowship)
College of Arts & Letters
Stevens Institute of Technology