Director's Desk, Fall 2022
It has been a busy Summer and start to the Fall Semester at the Charles Babbage Institute for the History of Computing, Information, and Culture—participating in four major events, acquiring new collections, publishing new scholarship, editing a book series and journal, working with incredible Sr. Research fellows, mentoring great doctoral fellows and other graduate students, advancing outreach, and much more.
In mid-August I had the pleasure of serving as the moderator for the opening session of the two-day National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) “Extraordinary Engineering Achievements and Impacts on Society” Symposium, an event, and a future National Academies Press book funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). I was privileged to moderate the premiere session, which included talks by William Bonvillian, Science, Technology, and Society, MIT, and Thomas Woodson, Technology and Society, Stony Brook University. Following their talks, I led an hour-long conversation of three of us. We focused on the history and political economy of engineering over the past half century, and particularly on inequality, and efforts for broader inclusion in STEM. We had a live audience of 560 people and will reach many more students and others through educational videos the NAE will produce. The structure of the overall event is briefly discussed in an article in this issue of Bits and Bytes. I am honored to be the one historian on our distinguished Committee for this engineering history project and to collaborate with tremendous colleagues including our Chair University of New Mexico St. Chancellor Dan Arvizu, Very Large-Scale Integration (VSLI) pioneer University of Michigan Prof. Lynn Conway, and Vice President of Research, University of California System Theresa Maldonado.
In September, CBI Curator and Archivist Amanda Wick, partnered with Vicki Almstrum and Anna Loup as co-organizers of the ACM History Committee’s “Capturing Hidden ACM Heritage Seminar” (Amanda and I both serve as committee members for ACM’s HC). The seminar included a range of insightful talks and conversations on archives, documentation, accessibility, oral history, diversity, and other topics. I moderated the session on oral history, partnering on this panel with Vicki Almstrum. One special highlight from the event was a terrific keynote by Associate Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation at University of Illinois’ College of Medicine Professor Ruby Mendenhall, “The Emerging Renaissance: Communiversity Science.” She richly explored and contextualized the work of her group in partnering with the public in urban African American neighborhoods, working with “community scientists (the public),” in continuously collecting data with wearable devices (such as heartrate, blood pressure, etc.) that aid with understanding the impacts on violence on mental and physical health.
I continue to publish longform essays (generally 2,500 to 5,000 words) on the critical inquiry of blockchain in my blog Blockchain and Society. My work on blockchain studies led to multiple invitations—In August I conducted a keynote interview with Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) guru Daniel Ospina at “Researching Web3” conference” led by University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Quinn Dupont and Dr. Frances Liddell; and in September I attended/participated in a Stanford University “Science of Blockchain Conference” and side DAO event. I wrote up essays on the UBC and Stanford conferences, and my latest essay is “A Merge in the Ether: Maintenance and Making a ‘Mundaner’”—all available from the link under related news.
On the oral history front, I am PI partnering on a new CBI NSF multiyear project on Security and Privacy with University of California, Davis’ Gerardo Con Diaz (Co-PI) [Con]. And solo, I am continuing work on a multiyear sponsored oral history project to document the 50-year history of the University of Minnesota Computer Science (and Engineering) Department.
Amanda and I, the co-Editors-in-Chief, are joined by Melissa Dargay, Managing Editor, on Interfaces: Essays and Reviews in Computing and Culture. It continues to thrive. We have recently published essay articles by MIT’s Kelcey Gibbons, and University of Michigan’s Merve Hickok, on, respectively, the “Whiz Kid,” Ebony Magazine and models of computing in African American communities; and on surveillance being an unethical employer response to so-called “quiet quitting.”
Amanda continues to bring in incredible new collections, at times benefiting from connections made on the historical research side, exemplary of the great synergy of our programs. I did an ACM oral history project for SIGCHI on Human Computer Interaction (HCI), making new contacts in this area. This helped foster relationships with Aaron Marcus, whose amazing papers Amanda is adding to the CBI collection, extending this strength. Also, a connection with another HCI pioneer, Ben Shneiderman, led to both a wonderful collection of his photographs, some of which are on display in a virtual exhibit created by CBI Administrator and communication specialist Melissa Dargay, as well as our new Ben Schneiderman Human Computer Interaction History Award.
Our Senior Research Fellows, Colorado Emeritus’ Bill Aspray, MIT’s Jen Light, IBM Emeritus’ Jim Cortada, and University of S. Denmark Emeritus’ David Nye continue to publish important new books, in fact Bill and Jim teamed up for the just published, highly insightful Authenticity: Understanding Misinformation Through the Study of Heritage Tourism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022), which I highlight in this issue of Bits and Bytes. Meanwhile our new Tomash Fellow Historian Sam Schirvar, and UMN Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellows Sociologist Snigdha Kumar and Anthropologist Yun Feng have joined us this year. Indicative of the success of our new interdisciplinary model, I am now mentoring/advising ten doctoral students in seven different fields in the social sciences and humanities.
Also displaying how CBI is operating on all cylinders is the success of our outreach and the growth of the website and our network. The projects and activities mentioned above, and especially our past events, Just Code, and upcoming ones, have raised our profile greatly. Both our mailing list and our website visitors have tripled from their already all-time annual highs of just two years ago.
Speaking of upcoming events, Program Committee (Colette Perold, Con Diaz, Honghong Tinn, and me) are thrilled to announce the program for “Automation by Design: Politics, Culture and Landscape in an Age of Machines That Learn.” We had a tremendous response to the CFP, which resulted a stellar program, a highly diverse and talented group of speakers from many fields and from around the world.
Computer: A History of the Information Machine, third edition (Aspray, Campbell-Kelly, Ensmenger, and Yost) is now being published in Italian, to join versions in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Computer fourth edition (Aspray, Campbell-Kelly, Yost, Con Diaz, and Tinn) is off to the publisher. In all, Computer has sold tens of thousands of copies and is the most used text in computer and software history worldwide.
CBI is having an unprecedented impact on resources and knowledge in history of IT, and interdisciplinary computing and software studies, and we need your help to continue this great momentum. Please consider donating to the CBI Friends program, it is critical to all we do. At CBI we build infrastructure that has a major multiplier effect in giving back to students, other researchers, and the public with our resources and programming. Please consider CBI as part of your planned giving, which is so impactful. If I can be helpful in any way, please let me know. Wishing everyone a happy Fall and subsequent holiday season.
Jeffrey R. Yost