The Charles Babbage Institute conducts major research projects in the history and social study of computing, information, and archival theory. CBI holds major symposiums and other events and advises and assists to advance the research of scholars worldwide. Many of our research projects are conducted as part of sponsored research from public and private foundations and organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), DARPA, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Historic Records and Publications Commission, and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
CBI historians, archivists, and our fellows regularly publish impactful books, articles, and strongly help advance research and publications of others through editorial leadership. CBI’s historians and our senior research fellows also publish edited career-spanning, research-grade oral histories, and we have one of the premier and most esteemed oral history programs in the history of science and technology worldwide.
To learn more about all of CBI's projects, check out the Research Projects section on this page.
CBI Director's Research
CBI Director Jeffrey R. Yost has published six books (most recently, Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry) and many dozens of articles/chapters. He is a co-author in the leading textbook in his field, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Third Edition. Yost has led/co-led more than $2.1M in sponsored research for the NSF, DOE, and the Sloan Foundation.
His current research includes authoring a book on the history of computer security for MIT Press and co-editing a book, Just Code with Gerardo Con Diaz, for Johns Hopkins University Press—revised papers from CBI’s impactful symposium with 345 attendees. Yost also currently serves as co-editor with Gerard Alberts of Springer's History of Computing series, is co-editor with Amanda Wick of the journal Interfaces, has conducted 275 oral histories, and currently is leading an oral history effort for ACM on HCI.
CBI Archivist's Research
CBI Curator of Manuscripts and Archivist Amanda Wick has published three recent articles in one of the leading archives scholarly journals, Journal of Archival Organization, including “We’re All Vegans Here: The Twenty-First Century Archival Ecosystem.” (Jan. - Jun. 2017). Other articles focus on theory and practice with the ArchivesSpace.
CBI Affiliate Historian's Research
CBI Affiliate Historian Honghong Tinn will soon be publishing her book Island Tinkerers, with MIT Press. It examines the technical, business, and cultural history of computing in Taiwan. She recently published “Modeling Computer and Computer Models…” in our field’s top journal, Technology and Culture (Oct. 2018).
CBI Senior Research Fellows
CBI’s Senior Research Fellows are global leading historians, social informatics, and communication scholars of computing, software, and networking. Collectively they have published more than 60 IT history books and hundreds of peer reviewed articles.
Recent path-breaking books by these scholars include William Aspray and James W. Cortada, From Urban Legends to Political Fact Checking: Online Scrutiny in America , 1990-2015 (Springer 2019); Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light, eds. From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (University of Chicago, 2015); William Aspray, Women and Underrepresented Minorities in Computing (Springer, 2016); James W. Cortada, IBM: The Rise, Fall, and Reinvention of a Global Icon (MIT Press, 2019); and Robert S. Emmett and David Nye, eds. The Environmental Humanities: A Critical Introduction (MIT Press, 2017).
Tomash Fellows Research Projects
Our standout Tomash Fellows of yesterday are many of the thought leaders in IT history/studies today. Recent fellows are completing or have defended dissertations on the social history of artificial intelligence and machine learning (Aaron Plasek, ABD, History, Columbia University); business, culture, and politics in Brazilian computing (University of Colorado Communication Assistant Professor Colette Perold) algorithmic thinking, data analytics, and the environment (NYU AI Now Institute’s Dr. Theodora Dryer). For more information and a list of the four decades of recipients, see the Tomash Fellowship page.
CBI Director Jeffrey Yost and Past CBI Tomash Fellow and University of California, Davis STS Associate Professor Gerardo Con Diaz are working on producing a book under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press entitled, “Just Code: Power, Inequality, and the Global Political Economy of IT.” The book will draw from the 2020 CBI online symposium of the same title, and event with 20 papers that brought together eminent historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and other interdisciplinary scholars focused on how code (software, platforms, systems, AI) and codes (processes, practices, and culture) structures and reinforces power relations. It explored the ways that individuals and institutions use software, algorithms, AI, and computerized systems to establish and reinforce widespread social, material, commercial, and cultural inequalities and power imbalances. With 345 attending Just Code, it was one of the largest one-time, multiday events ever in the 100-year history of the history of science, and the largest event to date in the history and social study of computing/software.
Jeffrey Yost is currently writing a book under contract for MIT Press entitled “From Time-Sharing to the Cloud: A History of Computer Security. It draws in part from his co-leadership of a project that Thomas Misa and he conducted for the National Science Foundation. For that project Yost conducted 29 career oral history with computer security pioneers. Another aspect of the project was holding a major workshop at CBI that resulted in two special issues that Yost guest edited—authors include Cornell University’s Rebecca Slayton, U. of Minnesota’s Tom Misa, Microsoft’s Steve Lipner, American University’s Laura DeNardis, Indiana University’s Dongoh Park, CBI Sr. Research Fellows William Aspray and James Cortada, and Yost (who published an article for each of the two issues). The combined article downloads for the 10 articles is approaching 10,000 on IEEE Xplore alone (many additional readers/researchers access through Project Muse), making these two of the most downloaded special issues in the history of IEEE Annals.
Jeffrey Yost continues to do research on various aspects of the history of computer security and presented a paper drawing from this research that focuses on IBM, field service, gender, and antitrust in a paper for the Just Code symposium and the resulting volume. In addition to multiple articles on services, Yost has published a major book on the history of the US computer services industry from the mid-1950s to the present, Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry (The MIT Press, 2017). The study analyzes the growth and rapid change in the computer services industry during the 1950s and 1960s, the subsequent success of focused providers, the role played by industry trade organizations, the broadening of services in both scale and scope, and the growing globalization of the trade and cloud services in recent years.
This is an area of research and ongoing oral history project that Yost is conducting for the Association for Computing Machinery. Yost has interviews such HCI pioneers as Don Norman, Stuart Card, and Susan Dray. He plans to publish from this research and is particularly interested in intersections and divergences in the distinct but overlapping fields of HCI and artificial intelligence/machine learning.
Yost is the co-editor of this series with the University of Amsterdam’s Gerard Alberts. Alberts and Yost have concentrated on publishing a wide range of monographs and edited volumes that address the social, cultural, institutional, and scientific history of computing, software and networking. Among the recent books CBI Senior Research Fellow William Aspray edited a volume entitled Historical Studies in Computing, Information, and Society (2019), which included chapters by CBI Sr. Research Fellow and MIT STS Professor Jennifer Light, MIT Sloan School Professor Emeritus JoAnne Yates, and Cornell University STS Professor Ronald Kline. Another recent highlight in the series is a volume edited by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee History Professor Thomas Haigh, Exploring the Early Digital (2019). This includes chapters from Ronald Kline, the Smithsonian’s Paul Ceruzzi, and University of Warwick’s Martin Campbell-Kelly, and Singapore Business University’s Ksenia Tartarchenko.
CBI Archivist/Curator of Manuscripts Amanda Wick, HSTM ABD Elizabeth Semler, and Jeffrey Yost collaborated with TPT public television, the Minnesota High Tech Association, the Minnesota Historical Society, VIP Club (UNIVAC retirees), and the Dakota County Historical Society to produce content for this public television documentary, Solid State: Minnesota High Tech History. Wick was the principal archivist advisor, Semler the principal researcher, and Yost the principal historian advisor on the project. Past CBI Director Tom Misa, author of Digital State, is interviewed and appears throughout the documentary. The documentary was nominated for an Emmy and details the rich history of Minnesota in computing from ERA and Sperry Univac to Control Data, Cray Research, and IBM Rochester. It also examines how high tech labor, know-how and infrastructure in one high tech industry feeds another—from computing to Medical Alley (Minnesota’s prominent medical device industry).
In 2020-2021 Yost conducted research and oral histories for this department in association with the department’s 50th anniversary. The project included a white paper overview to advise the department, followed by oral histories with some of the early pioneers with the department including Professors Jay Leavitt, William Franta, Maria Gini, Kurt Maly, and Elaine and Krzys Frankowski.
Affiliate CBI historian Asst. Professor Honghong Tinn is publishing a book with MIT Press entitled Island Tinkerers: Emulation, Innovation, and Transformation in the Making of Taiwan’s Computing Industry. This study “explores the transnational exchanges of computing technology and expertise between Taiwan and the United States,” and “emphasizes the agency exercised by local Taiwanese engineers, scientists, technocrats, and computer users.”
Thomas Misa and Jeffrey Yost have competed an historical assessment of NSF's FastLane system, Fastlane: Managing Science in the Internet World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016). The project developed a new Web-based interview platform, in addition to traditional oral histories and documentary analysis, to investigate the design and development of FastLane and the use of the system by different higher education institutions (especially at HBCU and EPSCoR-state universities) as well as NSF itself. The project's 400 in-person interviews as well as 400 online interviews created a unique dataset where 643 of these interviews are publicly accessible. Read more about the project.
With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, CBI investigated a two-decade period when computing was singularly hospitable to women. The proportion of women gaining computer science undergraduate degrees tripled from 1967 to mid-1980s, from 12 to 37 percent, while the proportion of women in the white-collar professional IT workforce climbed impressively as well, topping out in the mid-1980s at 38 percent. CBI researched archival records to better understand industry attitudes and perspectives, conducted over thirty oral histories with women active in industry during the 1965-85 period, and HST Ph.D. student William Vogel published on the findings in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Director emeritus and SHOT President Misa is currently writing a major monograph on computing and gender and has published a core article from this research in ACM’s flagship journal, Communications of the ACM.
With funding from the Department of Energy, CBI in 2014 established a multi-year collaborative research project with the High-Performance Computing Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. HST Ph.D. student Nicholas Lewis was in residence at Los Alamos the summers of 2014 and 2015, where he conducted 30 oral histories, accessed rare and valuable archival resources, compiled online history resources, and wrote several essays on Los Alamos computing, including a 60-page survey of the lab's distinctive networking activities and papers delivered at Los Alamos and at the SHOT-SIGCIS workshops in 2014 and 2015. His LANL presentation on "Increasing the Yield: Nuclear Testing, Weapons Strategy, and Supercomputer Selection at Los Alamos" won an award for best poster in August 2015.
Thomas Misa published Digital State: The Story of Minnesota's Computing Industry (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). It is the first archive-based examination of the state's unique computing history, featuring in-depth profiles of the Engineering Research Associates, Remington Rand Univac, Control Data, Honeywell, and IBM Rochester as well as consideration of how the computing industry paved the way for the state's notable medical devices industry. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president and CEO of Minnesota High Tech Association, calls it "thoroughly researched and engagingly written." The book draws extensively on CBI oral histories, photographs, and archival collections.
Jeffrey Yost collaborated with Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, and Nathan Ensmenger on the third edition of the classic text on the history of computing, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, 2014. This is the leading textbook used in the history of computing.
In 2005 Jeffrey Yost’s synthetic historical overview, The Computer Industry, was published by Greenwood. This book concentrates on the trajectories of different sectors of the industry as well as strategy and implementation within firms in the computer hardware, software, and networking trades. Also in 2005, Yost published an overview chapter on the cultural history of computing, “Computers and the Internet: Braiding Irony, Paradox, and Possibility”, in Carroll Pursell's edited volume, Companion to American Technology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers).
CBI hosted an international workshop on gender and computing in May 2008, and an edited volume is published by Wiley/IEEE-Computer Society Press: Gender Codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing (2010).
Arthur Norberg and Jeffrey Yost completed research on the history of IBM's Rochester, Minnesota facility and wrote the text IBM Rochester: A Half Century of Innovation (2006). The publication places IBM Rochester's developments and contributions within the broader context of the corporation and the computer industry. It documents the facility’s early history as a manufacturing unit for record equipment, its formation of a development laboratory, the interaction of the lab and manufacturing, the development and production of IBM's mid-range systems (from System/3 to the AS/400 and beyond), and the origin and growth of its Engineering and Technology Services Division.
In 2005 Arthur L. Norberg’s Computers and Commerce: A Study of Technology and Management at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, Engineering Research Associates, and Remington Rand, 1946-1957 was published by MIT Press. This book provides analysis of the origins, development and contributions of ERA and Eckert-Mauchly in the early computer industry, with a focus on their R&D efforts as independent companies as well as after they were absorbed by Remington Rand in 1952. The study details the activities of the Norwalk Laboratory of Remington Rand from the early to late 1950s.
In 2005 the Charles Babbage Institute (CBI) completed an 18-month National Historical Publications and Records Commission project entitled, “Documenting Internet2: A Collaborative Model for Developing Electronic Records Capacities in the Small Archival Repository.” The project, led by CBI Archivist Elisabeth Kaplan, evaluated methods for selection, description, and long-term preservation of historically significant born-digital records in the subject area of history of information technology. CBI was fortunate to have for its partners in this project the University of Minnesota Libraries Information Technology division, the University of Michigan School of Information, and Internet2. More details about the project are available on the project website.
In 2004 the Charles Babbage Institute completed its multi-year NSF project to develop, organize, and disseminate resources and knowledge on the history of software. The project, led by Jeffrey Yost, was among those highlighted by NSF's KDI Program for its successful deliverables.
The project consisted of the following components:
- Iterations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Software History
- Software History Dictionary
- Oral Histories
- Software History Bibliography (This is from 2003)