[SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "archive" in computer science

Mike Humphries mhumphries at mindspring.com
Mon Aug 6 12:36:09 PDT 2018


Don’t know if this is helpful in your context-

Around 1974 I sold access to customers (including The Electric Power Research Institute) in the SF Bay Area to a service that my company Tymshare had made available online. It was a system for retrieving abstracts from a large number of publications and papers. 

It was called DIALOG and my understanding is it was produced by Lockheed with government funding from NASA. My customers for this application were mostly corporate librarians whose previous function was to take in-house information requests and literally search in libraries for answers. 

In that period data that was stored somewhere was referred to by a number of different names. As in this case abstracts of articles that covered many years and many subjects. The publications had been ‘archived’ and made accessible online through commercial services like Tymshare and its network. It was stored in a proprietary database used by DIALOG. 

But also the term “database” was used loosely to refer to many forms of data whether they were organized into a real database or not. Most were not because there were no cross platform DBMS systems and few proprietary ones. “Archive” was a term used previously in a non computer context apparently for a long time. And like many such terms used in the non computer world which had analogies to the computing process this one gradually became a part of our computer world terminology. But instead of its common use in the non computer world meaning stored documents, in the computer world it became a more common term relating to the process of storing backed up data or materials. Or the original source of data that was eventually loaded into a database- i e “from the archives.” 

I’m guessing you are going to find that like a lot of terms it worked its way into early conversations and papers eventually becoming a normal part of the terminology. Today I believe it is safe to say “backup” is much more the go to phrase with “archive” being used as a verb some and also a noun but not as much as “backup.” 

Ironically I believe your best chance to get a good answer for this is to locate an online database of articles or abstracts from computer publications of the 60s and 70s and search for the term “archive” and follow the trend of occurances per year as its popularity grew. DIALOG was certainly one such source a long time ago. Although I have no idea what on line accessible collections exist today online I can only guess they are available. 

Hope this is helpful

Regards...Mike

Sent from my iPhone

On Aug 6, 2018, at 10:37 AM, Marc Weber <marc at webhistory.org> wrote:

Dear Matt,
My first thought would be to ask Charlie Bourne, who’s a pioneer of computerized information retrieval and wrote a couple of relevant books (one on information handling in general with a section on computers, first written in 1963, second on history of computerized retrieval from 2003). He donated his archives to us last year, including proceedings of relevant conferences going back to the late ‘50s. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch with him. 
The library science/information retrieval folks were often thinking more about these kinds of issues than computer folks at the time. Michael Buckland at the UC Berkeley i-School is another possible resource, and he in fact introduced me to Charlie.
Best, Marc

On Jul 27, 2018, at 12:09, Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com> wrote:
I've had a couple of additional backchannel responses to this (thank you) but nothing terribly decisive. Is the question too diffuse, I wonder? Too obscure? How would one go about running something like this down? What would be some good industry publications to check to try to track the emergence of "archive" as a computer systems term?

OED doesn't offer a usage in relation to computing or data before 1978, but this seems late to me; certainly Wang was using the language of an "archive" disk for much of the 1970s. 

Best, Matt


On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 2:23 PM, Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com> wrote:
Dear all,

I'm trying to find early exemplars of the use of the word "archive" in computer systems contexts, whether as a noun to denote an element of computer  architecture (i.e., the archive disk or archive tape) or as a verb, i.e. "I've archived those files."

Examples might include the TAR ("Tape ARchive") format, Wang's nomenclature of an "archive disk" in its systems, and Gmail's early mantra, "Archive, Don't Delete." 

I'd love to run down some early instances of this sort of thing, which I assume goes back to the mainframe era.

Thank you--

-- 
Matthew Kirschenbaum
Professor of English and Digital Studies
Director, Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies
University of Maryland
mkirschenbaum.net




-- 
Matthew Kirschenbaum
Professor of English and Digital Studies
Director, Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies
University of Maryland
mkirschenbaum.net

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Marc Weber  |   marc at webhistory.org  |   +1 415 282 6868 
Internet History Program Curatorial Director, Computer History Museum            
1401 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View CA 94043 computerhistory.org/nethistory
Co-founder, Web History Center and Project, webhistory.org 

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This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org

Sent from my iPhone

> On Aug 6, 2018, at 12:13 PM, Barbara B Walker <bbwalker at unr.edu> wrote:
> 
> Thanks so much for this info, Henry! I was following this topic with interest, nothing “duh” about it.
>  
> If this is connected with the rise of the social sciences in government and military in the Cold War US, there’s a growing scholarly literature about that out there. It would be interesting to see if ARPA/DARPA were involved.
>  
> Barbara Walker
>  
>  
> From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> on behalf of Henry E Lowood <lowood at stanford.edu>
> Date: Monday, August 6, 2018 at 11:48 AM
> To: Henry E Lowood <lowood at stanford.edu>, Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com>, members <members at sigcis.org>
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "archive" in computer science
>  
> Matt,
> Another method – duh – would be to use online databases such as INSPEC.  Found this, for example:
> Short Note On Information Retrieval Systems Applicable To Archive Data
> Éric De Grolier,
> First Published September 1, 1965 Research Article
> https://doi.org/10.1177/053901846500400313
> Noticed that most uses of “archive data,” “data storage” etc. that popped up seem to be related to social science data systems; the first big ones were developed in the late 1960s, early 1970s, I believe, though I am no expert.
> Henry
>  
> Henry Lowood, PhD
> Curator for History of Science & Technology; Film & Media Collections
> HSSG, Green Library, 557 Escondido Mall
> Stanford University Libraries
> Stanford CA 94305-6004
> PH: 650-723-4602
> EM: lowood at stanford.edu
>  
> From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> On Behalf Of Henry E Lowood
> Sent: Monday, August 6, 2018 11:27 AM
> To: Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com>; members <members at sigcis.org>
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "archive" in computer science
>  
> Matt,
> As Paul already suggested, industry publications (including ads) would be a great place to start. The other place I would begin my search is in the various encyclopedias and published lists of terms.  That’s what I used to track down the use of “virtual” a while back.
> Interestingly, even relatively recent encyclopedias do not define “archive.”  Just checked the 4th ed. Of the Encyclopedia of Computer Science on my shelf – not in the glossary of terms.  Only “archival storage” (twice) and “archive compression test” (once) are even listed in the general index.
> Henry
>  
> Henry Lowood, PhD
> Curator for History of Science & Technology; Film & Media Collections
> HSSG, Green Library, 557 Escondido Mall
> Stanford University Libraries
> Stanford CA 94305-6004
> PH: 650-723-4602
> EM: lowood at stanford.edu
>  
> From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> On Behalf Of Matthew Kirschenbaum
> Sent: Friday, July 27, 2018 12:10 PM
> To: members <members at sigcis.org>
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origins of "archive" in computer science
>  
> I've had a couple of additional backchannel responses to this (thank you) but nothing terribly decisive. Is the question too diffuse, I wonder? Too obscure? How would one go about running something like this down? What would be some good industry publications to check to try to track the emergence of "archive" as a computer systems term?
>  
> OED doesn't offer a usage in relation to computing or data before 1978, but this seems late to me; certainly Wang was using the language of an "archive" disk for much of the 1970s.
>  
> Best, Matt
>  
>  
> On Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 2:23 PM, Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear all,
>  
> I'm trying to find early exemplars of the use of the word "archive" in computer systems contexts, whether as a noun to denote an element of computer  architecture (i.e., the archive disk or archive tape) or as a verb, i.e. "I've archived those files."
>  
> Examples might include the TAR ("Tape ARchive") format, Wang's nomenclature of an "archive disk" in its systems, and Gmail's early mantra, "Archive, Don't Delete."
>  
> I'd love to run down some early instances of this sort of thing, which I assume goes back to the mainframe era.
>  
> Thank you--
> 
> --
> Matthew Kirschenbaum
> Professor of English and Digital Studies
> Director, Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies
> University of Maryland
> mkirschenbaum.net
> 
> 
> 
> 
> --
> Matthew Kirschenbaum
> Professor of English and Digital Studies
> Director, Graduate Certificate in Digital Studies
> University of Maryland
> mkirschenbaum.net
> 
> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org
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