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STIM's Online Archives

In their presentation for the '98 SHOT Meeting, David Kirsch and James Sparrow, two STIM primary investigators, pointed out that historians of recent science and technology are increasingly confronted with capturing and representing an ever widening array of different types of historical materials. These include diverse media such as e-mail, software, data tapes, video and simulations. Historians not only face a quantitative extension of research material but additional technical problems. What to do with electronic texts written with a software not available anymore? How to preserve a collection of electronic texts so that they are usable in 50 years from now?

These issues get even more complicated when applied to a 'messy' environment like the World Wide Web. Not only do STIM participants have to think about how to convert paper-based into digital documents. They must also consider how to structure, connect and make available several hundreds of threaded e-mail messages, electronically submitted 'documents', and digitized historical material.

Since STIM's primary investigators use the World Wide Web as a tool to gather data and interact with their target community the term 'archive' takes on an additional meaning. The intent of threaded e-mail discussions and on-line surveys is to lend a voice to the historical subjects - the participants of the events being researched who are still alive. They are provided with an opportunity to make their voice heard, to offer their point of view or perspective, to tell their stories, and to submit their 'archival' material. These on-line contributions become the 'stuff of history', the basis for writing the history of these events. A visitor going to any of the five STIM web sites will find not only interesting, 'traditional' archival documents such as governments reports, research papers, scholarly and newspaper articles but also first-person narratives from those who were part of the events researched here.
The challenge for the project teams lies in integrating the different sources and making them accessible to the scholarly and general audience. The following pages show how some STIM web sites approached that challenge.

 

On-line Bibliographies of Key Publications:
Orientation for Participants and Visitors

The Big Dig: CA/T History Documents and Scheme Z Chronology

Scheme Z was the name of the original plan for the bridges that were to carry the new Central Artery highway over the Charles River and connect it with surrounding roads. The plan was widely opposed after its public unveiling around 1989 and state officials set in motion a process to come up with a new design that would satisfy its many critics. The Big Dig-web site has this dispute as its central topic.
To orient visitors and participants Sara Wermiel created two chronologies which exclusively exist on her web site:
* chronology of Scheme Z, the contested crossing over the Charles River as part of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project
*chronology of CA/T History Documents

The combination of a timeline with key events and key documents serves as an orientation for Wermiel's target community as well as for the interested visitors. What is called 'Archive' on the 'Big Dig'-site contains the transcribed summaries of interviews with several participants as well as on-line contributions. Those contributions although not made on-line are valuable comments on the highly disputed Scheme Z.

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Making PCR: Foundational PCR Papers

This web site is based on Paul Rabinow's ethnographic study of the people and events leading to the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction or PCR. The archival part of Making PCR consists of a list of key publications on PCR, a rich resource for researchers, faculty and students to explore this invention further. This bibliography is of service to the scholarly community, by assembling articles and research papers published in different journals and publications.

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From Static Documents to Dynamic Archive:
Integrating Electronic Material

The MouseSite: Douglas Engelbart's papers from Stanford's Special Collections

The 'MouseSite' explores the field of human-computer interaction and one of its most important pioneers, Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse.

The 'Archive'-page of the MouseSite consists of digitized material from the Engelbart Papers at Stanford Special Collections enhanced by secondary work and several interviews with Douglas Engelbart. It contains research papers, articles, grant proposals, memos, and personal notes written by Douglas Engelbart while working at the Stanford Research Institute from the late 50s to the early 70s. Although the whole Engelbart Collection consists of more than 100 boxes Tim Lenoir selected documents from the first 17 boxes. The digitized selection of this archival material can be accessed via a traditional archival finding aid and a annotated table of contents. The on-line finding aid is the digital version of Stanford Special Collections' finding aid to the Engelbart Papers and lists the contents of the boxes. Therefore researchers can find out instantly which additional documents they are interested in.

All on-line submissions and biographical data on those who worked with Douglas Engelbart will become part the MouseSite-Archive. The unique possibility lies in combining Engelbart's writings on his vision of using computer technology to augment the human intellect with commentary and additional illuminating material from those who worked with him. Furthermore, the biographical database allows the tracking and tracing of Engelbart's ideas via the employment-biography of his co-workers taking what they learned from Engelbart and colleagues to other companies and research organizations.

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The Blackout-History Project: A Web of 'Histories'

This web site explores the role of failure in the evolution of a mature technology and the social foundations of a large technological system at the point of consumption.
Similar to the 'Big Dig'-web site James Sparrow introduces his project via a timeline , an overview of relevant developments from the 1960 to 1980. His on-line archive is an extensive compilation of popular writings on the events, scholarly analysis on the technical, psychological and political aspects of the two power failures, and archival documents (e.g., government documents). The combined approach of providing a temporal framework via the chronological description of the events and the topical context via the archive aims at stimulating the memory of those visitors who experienced the New York Blackouts and contributing their testimonies, stories, and comments.

Sparrow's web site represents the most advanced attempt to integrate archival documents with on-line submissions. Scholarly work, the on-line data collection (i.e., the feedback from site-visitors), and the archival sources are all accessible by relational database query. Any search will retrieve multiple layers of documents. For instance, a query on 'riots' might return a map of New York City indicating the riot-areas, first-person accounts from rioteers, police-officers, by-standers, or 'victims', newspaper articles, and a sociological analysis of urban upheavels.

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