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Director's Desk Fall 2021

There is much exciting news at CBI as we return to the office and evolve into a hybrid of workspaces to best advance the efficiency, opportunities, and continue the strong productivity of CBI. I share some of this in the paragraphs below. There is also some very sad news to share.

On September 9, 2021, CBI’s Founding Director, Prof. Arthur L. Norberg, who served under two tenures for a total of 19 years, passed away from cancer. I served under Arthur as Associate Director in his second tenure and have a biography and reflection on Arthur in this Bits & Bytes. CBI Senior Research Fellow Bill Aspray, who served with Arthur as CBI’s first Associate Director in the 1980s (Arthur’s first tenure), is publishing a major biographical article in an upcoming issue of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. We at CBI, HSTM, and Computer Science and Engineering dearly miss Arthur. He served as a CS and HSTM faculty member. As colleagues who worked closely with him, Bill and I teamed up to do an oral history with Arthur, in 2006, around the time of his retirement. We both draw from it in our biographies.

Also dearly missed, a month later, on October 9, 2021, retired SRI Scientist Donn Parker passed. I conducted an oral history with Donn eighteen years ago, and prep for this and meeting Donn in California for the interview got me interested in computer security and privacy history as one of my specialties. CBI is very grateful for Donn’s Papers housed in the CBI Archives. They are unparalleled primary resources for the study of computer crime, an area he was for decades (1970s through 1990s) the foremost author and expert. There is also a biography of Donn in this Bits & Bytes.

I am very pleased to announce that Gerardo Con Diaz (“Con”) and I recently were appointed Co-Editors of Johns Hopkins University Press book series Studies in Computing and Culture. We are also grateful for the tremendous scholars on the series board: Ruha Benjamin (Princeton), Hector Beltan (MIT), Lilly Irani (UCSD), Meg Jones (Georgetown), Ya-Wen Lei (Harvard), Eden Medina (MIT), and Mai Sugimoto (Kansai). As the series name and this board suggests, it is an interdisciplinary book series in computing studies, where we seek book proposals in all geographies, drawing from a range of fields and boundaries among them, examining change over time.

CBI Archivist and Curator Amanda Wick and I are co-editing our popular outreach journal Interfaces: Essays and Reviews in Computing and Culture. Its number of downloads is in the thousands and it contributes to the very strong success of our new CBI website, produced and managed by CBI Admin Melissa Dargay. We are already over 35,000 in 2021, and on track for more than 40,000 sessions for this year, more than doubling any year prior! We encourage you to submit a short essay to us at Interfaces.

In keeping with our long-established practice of grant research, we just put in a major grant proposal to NSF, and we also diversified to concentrate on our relatively new consulting model, where I am leading oral history projects for both ACM (on Human-Computer Interaction pioneers for its SIGCHI) and for the UMN Computer Science and Engineering Dept., interviewing early faculty.

Amanda and I made our 2021 CBI Norberg Travel Grant Program for remote use by providing scans of documents instead of travel support, due to the pandemic, and these grantees made use of this important joint CBI Archives and University Libraries fulfilled service. For 2022, it will be a hybrid competition where we take applications for both $1,000 travel grants and $400 remote use scanning grants.

I am busy working with Con and our authors toward submission of our contracted, open access Just Code: Power, Inequality, and the Global Political Economy of IT for Johns Hopkins University Press. I am thrilled to be partnering again with Con as well as my UMN HSTM colleague Honghong Tinn, and Colorado’s Colette Perold, all three past Tomash Fellows, for a future CBI symposium, “Automation by Design: Politics, Culture, and Landscape in an Age of Machines That Learn.” (See the CFP in Related links.)

Another collaborative project we are hard at work on is the fourth edition of Computer: A History of the Information Machine. Co-authors Martin Campbell-Kelly, Bill Aspray, Honghong, Con, and I will have considerable new content and are excited to be working with the new imprint and publisher for it, Routledge, Taylor and Francis.

I am also very glad to announce I was recently appointed to a diverse, expert National Academies’ National Academy of Engineering Committee to produce multiple symposia and a National Academy Press book, both entitled Extraordinary Engineering Impacts on Society. I am delighted and honored to be working alongside university presidents, past and current CEOs and VPs, top scholars, and a host of NAE Members on this highly distinguished committee charged to do an impactful and important project on the history of engineering and society. Read more in the NAE article also in this edition of Bits and Bytes.

Finally, it is the time of year that we also ask for your support, our stakeholder community’s donations are critical. Both directly and as demonstrated buy-in that allows leveraging other funding. Our CBI Friends are key to all that we do to build and support infrastructure for research, understanding, service, and community in interdisciplinary computing history/studies. Please take a moment to give today. Please also consider contacting me about planned gifts/bequests. It is wonderful legacy to ensure CBI continues to thrive so very strongly for many more decades and far beyond.

Jeffrey R. Yost


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