Charles Babbage Institute

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The Charles Babbage Institute is a research center at the University of Minnesota specializing in the history of information technology, particularly the history of digital computing, programming/software, and computer networking since 1935. The institute is named for Charles Babbage, the nineteenth-century English inventor of the programmable computer. [1] The Institute is located in Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota Libraries in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

University of Minnesota public research university in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses are approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) apart, and the St. Paul campus is actually in neighboring Falcon Heights. It is the oldest and largest campus within the University of Minnesota system and has the sixth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 50,943 students in 2018-19. The university is the flagship institution of the University of Minnesota system, and is organized into 19 colleges and schools, with sister campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester.

Information technology (IT) is the use of computers to store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data, or information, often in the context of a business or other enterprise. IT is considered to be a subset of information and communications technology (ICT). An information technology system is generally an information system, a communications system or, more specifically speaking, a computer system – including all hardware, software and peripheral equipment – operated by a limited group of users.

Charles Babbage English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer

Charles Babbage was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.



In addition to holding important historical archives, in paper and electronic form, its staff of historians and archivists conduct and publish historical and archival research that promotes the study of the history of information technology internationally. [2] CBI also encourages research in the area and related topics (such as archival methods); to do this, it offers graduate fellowships [3] and travel grants, [4] organizes conferences and workshops, and participates in public programming. It also serves as an international clearinghouse of resources for the history of information technology.

Also valuable for researchers are its extensive collection of oral history interviews, more than 400 in total. Oral histories with important early figures in the field have been conducted by CBI staff and collaborating colleagues. [5] Owing to the poorly documented state of many early computer developments, these oral histories are immensely valuable documents. One author called the set of CBI oral histories "a priceless resource for any historian of computing." [6] Most of CBI's oral histories are transcribed and available online. [7]

Oral history collection of information about something recorded through interviews

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. These interviews are conducted with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. Oral history strives to obtain information from different perspectives and most of these cannot be found in written sources. Oral history also refers to information gathered in this manner and to a written work based on such data, often preserved in archives and large libraries. Knowledge presented by Oral History (OH) is unique in that it shares the tacit perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of the interviewee in its primary form.

The archival collection also contains manuscripts; records of professional associations; corporate records (including the Burroughs corporate records and the Control Data corporate records, among many others); trade publications; periodicals; manuals and product literature for older systems, photographic material (stills and moving), and a variety of other rare reference materials.

Manuscript document written by hand

A manuscript was, traditionally, any document that is written by hand -- or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten -- as opposed to being mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in book form, scrolls or in codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately embossed initial letters or full-page illustrations. A document should be at least 75 years old to be considered a manuscript.

A professional association seeks to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession and the public interest. In the United States, such an association is typically a nonprofit organization for tax purposes.

Burroughs Corporation company

The Burroughs Corporation was a major American manufacturer of business equipment. The company was founded in 1886 as the American Arithmometer Company, and after the 1986 merger with Sperry UNIVAC was renamed Unisys. The company's history paralleled many of the major developments in computing. At its start, it produced mechanical adding machines, and later moved into programmable ledgers and then computers. It was one of the largest producers of mainframe computers in the world, also producing related equipment including typewriters and printers.

It is now a center at the University of Minnesota, and is located on its Twin Cities, Minneapolis campus, where it is housed in the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the West Bank.

Elmer L. Andersen Businessman and politician

Elmer Lee Andersen was an American businessman, philanthropist, and the 30th Governor of Minnesota, serving a single term from January 2, 1961, to March 25, 1963, as a Republican.

Archival papers and oral histories

The CBI has collections of archival papers and oral histories from many notable figures in computing:

Gene Amdahl American physicist

Gene Myron Amdahl was an American computer architect and high-tech entrepreneur, chiefly known for his work on mainframe computers at IBM and later his own companies, especially Amdahl Corporation. He formulated Amdahl's law, which states a fundamental limitation of parallel computing.

Isaac L. Auerbach was an early advocate and pioneer of computing technologies, holder of 15 patents, founding president of the International Federation for Information Processing (1960–1965), a member of the National Academy of Science, an executive at the Burroughs Corporation and a developer of first computers at Sperry Univac. International Federation for Information Processing established Isaac L. Auerbach Award in his name.

Rebecca "Becky" Gurley Bace (1955–2017) was an American computer security expert and pioneer in intrusion detection. She spent 12 years at the US National Security Agency where she created the Computer Misuse and Anomaly Detection (CMAD) research program. She was known as the "den mother of computer security". She was also influential in the early stages of intelligence community venture capital and was a major player in Silicon Valley investments in cyber security technology.


CBI was founded in 1978 by Erwin Tomash and associates as the International Charles Babbage Society, and initially operated in Palo Alto, California.

In 1979, the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS) became a principal sponsor of the Society, which was renamed the Charles Babbage Institute.

In 1980, the Institute moved to the University of Minnesota, which contracted with the principals of the Charles Babbage Institute to sponsor and house the Institute. In 1989, CBI became an organized research unit of the University.

See also

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  1. William Aspray, "Leadership in Computing History: Arthur Norberg and the Charles Babbage Institute." IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 29(4) (October–December 2007): 16–26.
  2. "CBI Staff Publication List" (PDF). Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  3. "CBI Research Program: Tomash Fellowship". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  4. "CBI Research Program: Norberg Travel Fund". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  5. "Oral history interviews". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  6. M. Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal (2001): quote p. 483.
  7. Oral histories, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.