About SIGCIS - History

Chairs of the SIG

Years shown are the SHOT annual meetings on which the terms began.

• 1987: Founding meeting – chair unknown.
• 1988: William Aspray, Charles Babbage Institute
• 1989: David K. Allison, Smithsonian Institution
• 1990-91: Judy O’Neil, Charles Babbage Institute
• 1992: Janet Abbate, University of Pennsylvania
• 1993-2005: Paul Ceruzzi, Smithsonian Institution
• 2005-2014: Thomas Haigh, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
• 2014-Present: Andrew Russell, SUNY Polytechnic Institute

SIGCIS History 1987-2005

The story of SIGCIS begins in 1987 when an unofficial Special Interest Group on the History of Computing was convened during SHOT’s annual meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina. The history of computing was represented in several sessions at this meeting, including one chaired by Arthur Norberg, with papers by Aspray, I.B. Cohen, and Norberg, with Mike Mahoney commenting. Paul Ceruzzi commented on a session with papers on Soviet computing & nuclear technology. No records of the meeting survive. We know more about its second meeting, which was reported in the Charles Babbage Institute’s newsletter for Winter 1989 (http://www.cbi.umn.edu/about/nsl/v11n2.pdf) as follows:

The Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) Special Interest Group on the History of Computing held its second annual meeting at the Hagley Museum and Library on 28 October 1988. Representatives from many United States and Norway (sic.) organizations and companies attended. The group first selected William Aspray (CBI) chair for the coming year. The group then changed its name to the Information, Computing, and Society Interest Group and will request official recognition from SHOT. The assembled members discussed to principal items of business: the sharing of information about current projects and plans for a session at next year’s meeting of SHOT. Henry Lowood (Stanford) and Arthur Norberg (CBI) agreed for a session to be submitted to the SHOT Program Committee. The members also discussed ideas for the next joint SHOT/History of Science Society meeting, to occur in either 1990 or 1991. Anyone wishing to become associated with this interest group can do so by writing to William Aspray at CBI.

Today, Aspray recalls (email to Thomas Haigh, 26 June 2009) that:

Part of the rationale for the organization of SIGCIS was that there was a growing number of historians of computing, and they had been meeting together with the Jovians and the Mercurians but were unhappy that they did not have their own organization. There were several examples of SHOT meetings where computing history sessions overlapped with electrical or communication history meetings, and we wanted a bit more power as computing historians to control the scheduling. My recollection of the first couple of meetings is that there were few enough people that we all went around the room to talk about what each of us was doing - and this represented the most significant part of the meeting.

Until 1993 the chairmanship of the group changed hands every year or two. Its progress was chronicled with frequent updates in the CBI newsletter. In those days around a dozen people attended the SIG’s annual meeting, which was devoted primarily to informal introductions and exchange of information. At the 1989 meeting it adopted the CBI newsletter as its official communication medium, and in 1991 threw itself into the world of new technology with a decision to “start an electronic bulletin board or mailing list.” This was followed in January 1992 with Paul Ceruzzi’s establishment of a list serve distribution list (oddly announced as an “electronic bulletin board” http://www.cbi.umn.edu/about/nsl/v14n2.pdf) “in response to the group’s desire for an informal forum to discuss ideas, questions, and themes.” Called SHOTHC-L it was distributed for some years from the Smithsonian’s mainframe via BITNET. (By the late 1990s had fallen victim to unchecked spam and the retirement of the Smithsonian’s mainframe). Paul Ceruzzi writes of the email list (in a message to Thomas Haigh dated December 12, 2006) that:

I recall some very early instances of flame wars, “newbies,” lurking, etc. before those things became commonplace. They were so interesting, and so novel, that a sociology professor asked me for permission to use transcripts of a flame war for a research paper he was writing, on the social interactions spawned by Listserv. I did find a draft of the sociology paper written in 1993: “Electronic Mail as an Academic Discussion Forum,” by Paul F. Burton (Univ. Strathclyde, Glasgow). I do not know where, or if, it was published. It is kind of fun to read, especially his remarks about “flaming” (in quotes). I had one of the first e-mail accounts at the Smithsonian, and that my e-mail address in those days was “NASEM001@SIVM (“National Air and Space E- Mail [serial number] One”). So my geek credentials are impeccable. I may have some old business cards to prove it – again it was a novelty to have one’s e-mail address printed on a business card. I moderated the list for a while but then opened it up. For a while it was really great—a lot of postings every day, but not so many as to be overwhelming, and the quality was usually very good. I remember Mike Mahoney was an enthusiastic contributor, as were a few other Annals people. It was the definitive place to discuss history of computing on-line, until a few years later, when someone on the West Coast established a “community memory” listserv which competed. That was a more Silicon-Valley oriented list, and it attracted more practitioners than historians…. In both cases the emphasis was on composing text messages to that were succinct, factual, and well-reasoned. The Spartan nature of Listserv led to a “rediscovery” of the ancient art of rhetoric, which, alas, did not survive the transition to the Web.

Ceruzzi took over as SIG chair in 1993 and retained the position for more than a decade. However on several occasions he was not able to attend the meeting, and so delegated chairing the session itself to other such as Bob Seidel and Atsushi Akera. Ceruzzi has a note from SHOT founder Mel Kranzberg, dated Sept. 27, 1993, telling him that he was impressed to see that the group had 68 members “… and I was even more impressed to see how many people from outside the USA are included. But I was most impressed to see how many people are involved whose special field is not directly information or computer science – for that demonstrates that SHOT is doing a good job in getting together people from related fields and thereby broadening their outlook and understanding of the interconnections of what were once viewed as separate fields.” SIGCIS continues that tradition to this day, including among its members many computer scientists, museum people, amateur scholars, and faculty within schools of business, communication, and information. During this era the SIG continued primarily as a mechanism for informal discussion and the sponsorship of conference sessions for many of SHOT’s annual meetings. Ceruzzi writes (email to Thomas Haigh May 27, 2009):

For me, the high point of the SIG meetings was at Charlottesville, in 1995. JAN Lee, who was the Editor of the Annals at the time, drove down from Blacksburg, and Jean Sammet drove from DC. Atsushi, Bill, Anne Fitzpatrick, Bob Seidel, and others were also there. Also there were lots of younger scholars, who could not believe that Jean was actually there – it was as if Leonardo Da Vinci suddenly showed up at an art historians’ s conference. I think it was sort of the last time when you felt that you knew the entire field, and that they could all be contained in one room. That was not really true, of course, but it felt that way.

Its name was rather fluid. A new name, “the Computer History and Information Processing SIG (CHIPS)” was announced in 1996 http://www.cbi.umn.edu/about/nsl/v18n4.pdf and appeared in the SHOT Conference Program for its 1997 meeting. Its present name, which appears subtly different from those used in the 1980s and 1990s, is the version used on official SHOT conference programs since at least 2002.

Developments Since 2005

Thomas Haigh succeeded Paul Ceruzzi as SIGCIS chair at the 2005 meeting held in Minneapolis. Since then the SIG has harnessed the energy of a large volunteer community to develop a range of new initiatives.

  • February 2005. The first message is sent to the new CompHist email list (hosted at UWM), soon adopted as the official SIGCIS email distribution list.
  • July 2005. An online directory of computer historians and research interests is established.
  • November 2005. 2005. As incoming chair, Thomas Haigh hosts the first informal SIGCIS dinner at the Annual meeting, restoring some of the leisurely informal interaction lost as the SIG’s official meetings grew to around 50 people.
  • November 2005. A set of new volunteer offices are created within the SIG, constituting the Executive Committee. Joline Zepcevski becomes the SIG’s first Secretary.
  • March 2006. Creation of a network of International Vice Chairs to represent the SIG outside North America and act as information gateways to integrate the global history of computing community. These include James Sumner for the UK and Chigusa Kita for Japan.
  • November 2006. The Internet domain sigcis.org is registered for use by the SIG.
  • November 2006. For the first time an annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science includes SIGCIS-organized panels (as well as a SIGCIS dinner and a SIGCIS executive committee meeting).
  • March 2007. SIGCIS organizes three panels for the Fiftieth Anniversary SHOT meeting. All are accepted, contributing to a record showing for history of computing at the conference.
  • May 2007. For the first time an annual meeting of the Business History Conference includes a SIGCIS-organized panel (as well as a SIGCIS dinner).
  • October 2007. The SIG’s website goes live at www.sigcis.org, powered by the Drupal content management system. This includes a new version of the online member directory, in which SIG members can manage updates to their own entries. Also the “Key Resources in the History of Computing” resource guide formerly hosted on Thomas Haigh’s personal website. Brent Jesiek leads the project and arranges for hosting at Virginia Tech.
  • October 2007. The SIG’s annual lunch meeting includes a highly successful experimental feature: an auction of donated spare copies of books in the history of computing. As auctioneer Mike Mahoney shows a light touch and drives up prices while keeping the audience laughing. Exactly $360 is raised, an auspicious number in our field.
  • November 2007. The first SIGCIS subgroup, the Focus Group on Banking Automation, is created. The group has its own SIGCIS email list and uses the SIG website to host research materials and announcements.
  • February 2008. The CompHist email list is replaced by a new Members email list hosted at sigcis.org.
  • June 2008. A new section, Member Contributions, is added to the SIG website. This serves the purpose of a technical report series.
  • July 2008. The SIGCIS online Syllabus Repository project is announced by Joseph November. The project links to and hosts a selection of syllabi and other course materials for the history of computing.
  • October 2008. The first Michael S. Mahoney/MIT Press graduate student travel award is made by SIGCIS to Honghong Tinn during the 2008 Annual Meeting in Lisbon.
  • October 2008. At the annual meeting, Thomas Haigh and Tom Misa publicly announce the establishment of the Computer History Museum Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding book in the history of computing. Misa chaired the ad-hoc steering committee responsible for recommending a suitable format and set of procedures for the prize. Its other members were William Aspray, Paul Ceruzzi, and Michael Mahoney. The prize is funded with a major commitment from an anonymous donor.
  • November 2008. Prompted by a generous pledge from Ann Johnson, SIGCIS launches the Mahoney Fund to accumulate capital in support of its growing operations.
  • February 2009. SIGCIS Secretary Jeffrey Tang distributes the formal call for nominations for the first Computer History Museum prize. Over the next month each member of the initial panel of judges (Tom Misa, Jen Light, and Paul Ceruzzi) receives more than a dozen books from which to make their selection.
  • May 2009. SIGCIS issues a Call for Papers for its first annual post-conference workshop. The one day event honors has the theme “Mike Mahoney and the Histories of Computing(s).” The organizing committee includes Joseph November (Program Committee Chair), Jeffrey Tang (Local Arrangements) and Brent Jesiek (Internet Infrastructure) as well as Thomas Haigh as SIG chair.
  • October 2009. The first Computer History Museum Prize is presented to Christophe Lécuyer for his book _Making Silicon Valley_. This is the centerpiece of the SIGCIS lunch during the SHOT annual meeting in Pittsbugh, which sets two new record: 53 people prergistered and $1,117 raised between the book auction and donations placed in the money cup as it circulated the tables.
  • October 2009. The first SIGCIS post conference workshop, on "Mike Mahoney and the Histories of Computing" takes place. Around 50 people attend the plenary session, to hear appreciations of Mike's life and work my Bill Aspray, Gerard Alberts, and Thomas Haigh. Six full sessions take place in two streams during the rest of the day.