[SIGCIS-Members] Paul Allen and the communities of IT History

Evan Koblentz evan at snarc.net
Thu Sep 1 23:17:46 PDT 2011

Tom et al,

 >> there's a broader question of how to bridge the interests of 
scholars, donors, and enthusiasts which is a challenge not just for 
SIGCIS but for the history of computing community as a whole. Any 
thoughts on contributions SIGCIS could make in this area are welcome.

I made an observation at the DC meeting: collectors / hobbyists in 
general are as far removed from UNIVAC and Burroughs as history 
professors are from Apple and Sinclair, however, as scholars of the 
histories of computing begin to cover the minicomputer / homebrew / 
microcomputer generations, that will naturally appeal more to hobbyists' 
first-person experiences.

So I have three suggestions for SIGCIS members:

- Change gears! Rather than clawing for fresh angles about Babbage, 
mainframes, and business software, consider "the many histories" of the 
PDP-11, CP/M, the S-100 bus, single-board computing, small-scale storage 
media, user groups beyond just SHARE, the BBS, x86 chips (and rivals), 
and the early days of graphical interfaces, to name a few.

- Embrace grassroots history. Make consumer end users a priority, not a 
curiosity. Learn about computer museums that aren't professional 
institutions. CHM isn't the only computer museum doing good work. Attend 
the Vintage Computer Festival (as Peter Meyer said in a May 27 SIGCIS 
post, "The whole thing was quite electric, memorable, and worthwhile.") 
Unfortunately, for each of the past three Vintage Computer Festival East 
shows, I posted on this list asking for guest lecturers to creatively 
show hobbyists a scholarly perspective -- and received no responses.

- Touch something! Obtain a piece of vintage computer gear and play with 
it. Whether it's an ASR-33 teletype, IMSAI, an ordinary TRS-80, or a 
BASIC emulator for Windows 7 -- it doesn't matter what.

 From the opposite perspective, several of us on the hobbyists side are 
ourselves easing into scholarly topics, and convincing others to do so. 
We've had VCF lectures about ENIAC, UNIVAC, RCA, Monrobot, and the 
ARPAnet -- all from people in the industry. My user group's mailing list 
is how Ian King learned about the Allen job. CHM's Al Kossow is an 
esteemed member of the discussion list at classiccmp.org and also runs 
the precious hobby resource at Bitsavers.org.

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