History Column

Your Engineering Heritage: Helping Document IEEE’s Legacy

By Nathan Brewer

Launched in late 2008 by the IEEE History Committee and the IEEE History Center, the Global History Network (GHN) was created with the intent of becoming the premier site for the history of technology. Running off of the MediaWiki platform, the same open-source software used by Wikipedia, the GHN serves many purposes. First and foremost, the wiki environment allows for, and encourages IEEE Members and invited guests to share their knowledge and experience with the rest of the world. These shared experiences provide for a wide breadth of primary and secondary source materials which are beneficial to both historical researchers and those who have a general interest in the history of technology. Secondly, the GHN acts as a repository for IEEE’s institutional history, and the GHN currently houses hundreds of IEEE archival documents and histories of all of IEEE’s Organizational Units.

Due to the open nature of the GHN’s wiki platform, there is a wide range of content on the website. The majority of the GHN’s content consists of topic articles, which are designed to be general articles covering various subjects that can be edited by any logged-in user. These range in scope from biographies of famous engineers, to IEEE Section and Society history pages, to articles on important technological developments. Topic articles can be enriched by any form of multimedia content, including pictures, audio and video. Any IEEE Member or invited guest can log in to the Global History Network and not only modify these articles, but also contribute their own.

The GHN also provides a space for First-Hand Histories, which gives engineers a chance to tell their story in their own words. These stories bring a very human element to the history of technology and are among the richest primary sources that are available on the GHN. The IEEE History Center encourages engineers and professionals to contribute their accounts of their career and experiences to the GHN.

Three IEEE History Center programs are housed on the GHN The longest running program is IEEE Oral History program, which has been active since the late 1960s. The GHN contains the transcripts of over 450 oral history interviews with many prominent engineers, scientists, and IEEE volunteers. The oral histories average in length around an hour and a half, but can be as long as twelve hours. Relying on the experiences and memories of the interviewees, these oral histories provide a very in-depth and unique insight into the engineering profession. Included in many of the oral history interviews are sound clips of the interviews, which give the interviews a much more personal touch.

The IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing Program, active since 1983, provides a platform for IEEE Organizational Units to submit for recognition significant events from their technological history. When approved by the IEEE History Committee and the IEEE Board of Directors, these events are recognized with a bronze plaque at a dedication ceremony hosted by the local Section. To date, over one hundred events have been approved as Milestones. The GHN not only provides the information about these Milestones, including a geographical map of all Milestones dedicated to date, but also includes the infrastructure for IEEE Organizational Units to propose and submit their own Milestones for History Committee approval.

The most recent IEEE Program to be added to the GHN is IEEE STARS (Significant Technological Achievement Recognition Selections), which aims to be definitive peer-reviewed topic articles on the history of major developments in electrical and computer science technology. Established in 2009, these articles are written for a general audience and meant to contain authoritative information on a significant technological achievement. Over 130 candidates have been identified for suggested STARS, which will be populated over time as the program progresses.

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Finally, the Archives section of the GHN contains numerous paper and multimedia documents. These documents are not limited to institutional records from the IEEE Archives in Piscataway, NJ, but also include personal papers from many prominent engineers up to the 1950s. In addition, posted are scanned books dealing with the history of technology, and digitized historical videos. IEEE Sections, Regions and Societies are encouraged to digitize and post their archives on the Global History Network.

As the GHN is a wiki-based platform, the History Center is actively looking for new member-generated content. Any IEEE Member can make contributions to the topic articles and First-Hand Histories, and every contribution, no matter how small, enhances the GHN. You, as an IEEE member, are part of group memory of the accomplishments of our organization, our profession and our technologies. So, if you have an interest in contributing to, or in just browsing the current content on your Global History Network, please visit the website at https://ethw.org/. Members can log in with their IEEE Web account, and non-members who are experts in the field can request a guest account for editing access.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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