The Computer History Museum (CHM) announced today its new Software History Center, a major initiative to encourage global research in software’s evolution and foster dialogue about its future implications. The center is a vital component of the Museum’s $20 million software initiative, which also includes the major exhibition “Make Software: Change the World!” and acclaimed education program Broadcom Presents DesignCodeBuild. Through exhibitions, educational programs, collecting and, with the new center, historical research, the software initiative leverages and enriches the Museum’s extensive collections to understand and tell the story of software, the powerful ways it has shaped society, and to preserve this history for posterity. The center will explore the history of software, including its profound social implications, by collecting archival materials and preserving code, and especially by revealing stories of people – software users and makers – to uncover the business, intellectual, social and cultural histories of software. Oral histories and “software-in-action” demonstrations are key to this people-centered approach and are aligned with the Museum’s commitment to explore the sweeping transformations brought about through computing.
“No people, no code. The story of software is the story of the people who make it, who use it and who are shaped by it,” said John C. Hollar, the Museum’s president and chief executive officer. “Through the Software History Center, CHM is exploring these people-centered stories and preserving software history. In important ways, software history is the story of how people have put computing to work.”
The director of the Software History Center is David C. Brock, a historian of technology and an author of several books, including histories of Moore’s Law and Fairchild Semiconductor, and a biography of Gordon Moore. Brock has conducted over a hundred oral histories, curated history of technology exhibitions, and served as a writer and executive producer for several recent documentary shorts and television documentaries, including “Moore’s Law at 50,” “Scientists You Must Know,” “Gordon Moore,” and “Arnold O. Beckman.” He studied philosophy, sociology, and history of science and technology at Brown, Edinburgh, and Princeton respectively.
The center’s team includes curators Hansen Hsu and Al Kossow. Hsu is a former Apple software engineer and a historian and sociologist of technology with a focus on personal computing and object-oriented programming. Hsu has degrees in E.E.C.S. from Berkeley and history from Stony Brook. He received his Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Cornell, with a dissertation on the culture and values of the third-party Apple developer community.
Al Kossow is the Robert N. Miner Software Curator of the Computer History Museum, responsible for the growth and preservation of the Museum’s software collection. A 30-year veteran of the computer industry, Kossow created bitsavers.org, one of the world’s largest online archives of historical software and computing documentation.
The Software History Center is already actively collecting software and archival materials, conducting oral histories, working on the preservation and conservation of code, publishing blog posts, making scholarly presentations on the center’s work, and engaging with audiences through community events and academic conferences. Early highlights from the center’s initiatives include:
The Software History Center has conducted and collected oral histories with prominent figures from the software history such as Ivan Sutherland, computer graphics and virtual reality pioneer; Dennis Austin and Tom Rudkin, principal developers of PowerPoint; Larry Tesler, creator of “cut and paste” and key contributor to user interface at Apple; Dick Kramlich, co-founder of New Enterprise Associates and prominent software venture investor; and Avie Tevanian, key developer of the Mach kernel, and lead software technologist for NeXT and Apple.
CHM is one of the few cultural institutions in the world actively collection software for permanent preservation. The center has a rare collection of source code holdings, some of which include Photoshop 1.0, Microsoft Word for Windows Version 1.1a, Apple II DOS, and MacPaint version 1.3 and QuickDraw source code. This source code is accessible via the Museum’s blog, with interpretation from our curators, and is preserved in the Museum’s digital repository.
The center is already well represented on the Museum’s blog, @CHM, with in-depth posts that are enhanced by imagery of artifacts and videos of software demonstrations and oral histories. Examples include “Slide Logic: The Emergence of Presentation Software and Prehistory of PowerPoint,” “The Deep History of Your Apps: Steve Jobs, NeXTSTEP, and Early Object-Oriented Programming,” and “NeXT: Steve Job’s dot.com IPO that Never Happened.”
The center is also engaging with diverse communities through public events, workshops, and symposia. In March 2017, the Software History Center will host a significant conference of computing historians, Command Lines, with a special focus on software. The center’s curatorial team is also presenting their work at scholarly conferences such as the Society for the History of Technology and the Society for the Social Studies of Science.
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history as the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images.
The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours, and an award-winning education program. The Museum’s signature exhibitions are “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” described by USA Today as “the Valley’s answer to the Smithsonian,” and “Make Software: Change the World!” Other current exhibits include the “IBM 1401 Demo Lab,” “PDP-1 Demo Lab,” and “Where To? A History of Autonomous Vehicles.”