History Column

Your Engineering Heritage: Multimedia History

By IEEE History Center Staff

We live in the Information Age, with the World Wide Web permeating almost every aspect of society from commerce to dating. The sciences and technologies that underpin the Web were developed to a large extent by IEEE members. One of IEEE’s strategic goals is that the public increasingly value the role of IEEE and technical professionals in enhancing the quality of life for humanity. One of the key pieces of the IEEE History Center’s mission is to apply this public outreach not just to the cutting edge technologies of today, but to all the technologies that have led to the modern era. And — ironically, in the face of the perception by some of history as residing in dusty museums — the History Center has decided that we can use cutting-edge IEEE technologies to help convey the excitement and importance of IEEE’s technical history. Three of our recent program developments illustrate this point.

Move Over, YouTube

On 27 September 2007, IEEE announced the launch of IEEE.tv — an Internet-based “television network” that features targeted programming on technology and engineering produced by IEEE members. Having earlier appointed a volunteer IEEE.tv Advisory Group to provide strategic oversight and guidance for product development, IEEE brought on board as its IEEE.tv producer Noël Bryson, who brought a wealth of experience from her work for the AIME, PBS, and other prestigious organizations.

IEEE.tv, a collaborative effort of IEEE volunteers, members and staff, features a wide variety of programming options including hot topics in technology, conference highlights and interviews with industry experts. User features include “flash” video format, a list of “most viewed” and “recently added” videos, and different options for RSS feeds, enabling Internet syndication. Additional features available only to IEEE members include downloadable videos and personalization options, as well as a members-only section of programs. Currently there are more than twenty programs available for viewing in the “Public Access” area, and nineteen in the “Member Basic” area.

IEEE.tv programs are categorized into six different series: Conference Highlights; Meet the Authors; Careers & Technology; Specials; IEEE Products; and — now — History! The History Center is collaborating with IEEE.tv to bring to the public interesting programming on the history of IEEE-associated technologies and the people who made them happen. In February 2008, after a great team effort by Bryson and History Center Archival & Web Services Manager Mary Ann Hoffman, the first history documentary was added to IEEE.tv — “Oral History: Jerry Minter.”

Jerry B. Minter is an IEEE Life Fellow who has made key contributions in a number of fields and holds 26 patents. By creating an oral history interview with Jerry that was conducted by History Center Staff Director Michael Geselowitz and videotaped, the History Center is able to still preserve the entire interview in its oral history collection while producing a highlight documentary for IEEE.tv. In the program Minter, who was born in 1913, discusses many aspects of his long and still active career. He came to radios at an early age — in 1922, he saw an early crystal set, and by high school he was already helping to install and service radio sets. He studied for one year at North Texas Agricultural College in Arlington, and then went to MIT where he graduated in 1934 with a degree in electrical engineering. In the interview, Jerry describes how one of his signal generators was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack and the resulting controversy over mechanical versus human failure. He also talks about the formation of the North Jersey Subsection, its early history, and the later merger of AIEE and IRE into the IEEE. Throughout the interview, Minter discusses the difficulties of military work and the problem of classified information, particularly during World War II. Minter also shares details about his experiences with Governor Charles Edison, son of Thomas Edison, and the stories Charles told him about his father and Henry Ford.

The second program, based on a video-taped interview by History Center Senior Research Historian Frederik Nebeker of Earl Bakken, inventor of the wearable pacemaker and founder of Medtronic, was released on 27 March 2008. The next program is currently being planned to be based on an interview with Charles Rader, a signal processing pioneer who was involved in analyzing the audio tapes of the Kennedy assassination. IEEE.tv, including the history programs, can be viewed at www.ieee.org/ieeetv.


“Think Globally, Act Locally”

The IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing program recognizes significant achievements in the history of IEEE’s fields. It honors the achievement by placing a plaque at a site that is appropriate and accessible to the public. However, being accessible does not mean that the public will find the plaque. A new Web-based tool enhances local appreciation of a global IEEE program.

It is common now when traveling to say “I’ll just look it up on MapQuest” (or Google Maps or another similar site). The brand-new enhancement to the IEEE Milestones Program Web page offers visitors maps and satellite views of Milestone sites. The goal is to encourage people to visit IEEE Milestone plaque locations. In addition to providing viewers with addresses and maps, satellite images are available. Being able to view the milestone sites from above, especially visually-dramatic ones such as the Mount Fuji Radar and the NAIC/Arecibo Radiotelescope, should add extra interest to the Milestones Program. An increase of visitors to those sites also will increase the visibility of IEEE around the world.

This project was a collaboration between the History Center, represented by Research Coordinator Robert Colburn, and IEEE Member and Geographic Activities, represented by Eugene Khusid, in an exercise to learn how combinations of IEEE data and other sources can be used to create an integrated tool that enhances IEEE’s Web presence. The new map/satellite page can be found at: site: https://milestonemaps.ieee.org.

Wiki Madness

In its most recent move, the History Center has undertaken to build the IEEE Global History Network (GHN). Combining IEEE’s history resources with the capabilities of the Web for collaboration, the GHN will provide the premier global network of the history of electrotechnology. The site will encourage and enable participation in IEEE’s historical mission by promoting collaboration among individuals and organizations worldwide, especially the 365,000 IEEE members in 160 countries and the organizational units that represent them. The project will be a cooperative effort between the History Center, represented by Outreach Historian John Vardalas, and IEEE Information Technology department, represented by Thomas Smith, and is part of a broader IT project to develop collaborative workspaces throughout IEEE. It will initially be funded by an IEEE new initiative grant.

Specifically, the GHN will combine existing IEEE historical materials, including the public pages of the IEEE Virtual Museum, with a wiki environment. Of course, Wikipedia has changed the shape of the World Wide Web. The GHN will be both narrower in content than Wikipedia — it will focus on the history of IEEE, its members, and their professions and technologies — and broader in the form of the content, with more ways of collaborating, more multimedia capability and so forth. Through the wiki environment, IEEE members and members of selected partner organizations will have broad access to develop and collaborate on content, giving IEEE members increased value and enjoyment and a sense of participation in preserving their own history. At the same time, the GHN will provide historians and other scholars increased access to primary source materials of technology developments, while the general public will be able to read stories highlighting the importance of engineering history. The initial launch of the GHN is planned for September 2008 at IEEE Sections Congress.


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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