Oral Histories with Pioneers of European Computer Networking

July 28, 2014

by Andrew Russell

The Charles Babbage Institute oral history database now has transcripts available of oral histories with pioneers of European computer networking. These transcripts include several interviews conducted by Andrew Russell, as well as additional interviews conducted by Valérie Schafer and Tom Misa. As a collection, these interviews complement existing interviews with American pioneers of computer networks such as the Arpanet and Internet.

Insights from these oral history interviews have already been used in published work, including Russell’s 2014 book Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks and an article by Russell and Schafer, “In the Shadow of Arpanet and Internet: Louis Pouzin and the Cyclades Network in the 1970s,” which will appear in the October 2014 issue of Technology & Culture. The travel and transcription costs of Russell’s and Schafer’s interviews were supported by a 2011 grant from the ACM History Committee.

Interview list (transcripts are available from http://www.cbi.umn.edu/oh/):

John Day (OH 422) http://purl.umn.edu/155070

Andre Danthine (OH 428) http://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/162412

Rémi Després (OH 421) http://purl.umn.edu/155671

Gérard Le Lann (OH 420) http://purl.umn.edu/155670

Jean-Louis Grangé (OH 419) http://purl.umn.edu/155669

Michel Gien (OH 418) http://purl.umn.edu/155668

Louis Pouzin (OH 416) http://purl.umn.edu/155666

Najah Naffah (OH 415) http://purl.umn.edu/155665

Marc Levilion (OH 417) http://purl.umn.edu/155667

Tilly Bayard-Richard (OH 414) http://purl.umn.edu/155221

2014 ACM History Committee Archiving Workshop

The ACM History Committee”s archiving workshop met for two days at the University of Minnesota”s Andersen Library, with Charles Babbage Institute archivist-curator R. Arvid Nelsen leading the sessions. The workshop brought together a diverse group of people from computer science, libraries, archives, national laboratories, and museums. Hands-on exercises, lectures, discussions, tours, and social time contributed to the workshop”s success in disseminating professional knowledge about archival policies and procedures to the ACM members and other attendees. Focused discussion of attendees” own archiving projects highlighted the importance of archival “users” in forming archival collections. Examination of digital archiving practices (at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere) led workshop members to consider similarities and differences between traditional paper and born-digital archiving. Software tools for archiving (including Greenstone, Omeka, Collective Access, and others) were discussed. Among the workshop”s outcomes, in addition to re-doubled emphasis on the centrality of ACM SIG activities, were three specific recommendations for the ACM History Committee [see here]. See here for a list of workshop participants and the workshop schedule. (Arvid Nelsen”s post on the Libraries” blog Primary Sourcery is posted here.) The HTML version of the workshop report can be found here, and the PDF version of the workshop report can be found here.

Call for Proposals: 2014 Program for Research in ACM History

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 100,000 members around the world. To encourage historical research, the ACM History Committee plans to 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, tentatively scheduled for the late spring or early summer of 2015. Workshop travel, lodging, and meals for that event 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 2014 call for proposals can be found here (also as a pdf-format document here). Proposals are due by 15 January 2014.

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 cbi@umn.edu 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.