IT History Society Blog

AFIPS, and a Trip Down Memory Lane

April 6th, 2009 by Paul Ceruzzi

It started as an off-hand comment by someone at the office: too much junk was piling up; can you go through your stuff & see if you can’t get rid of anything you don’t need?  Sure. I am a big fan of de-clutter. In fact, over the past few years I must have bought at least three books on “how to declutter your life”!  Sort of like trying to lose weight by buying another diet book, instead of eating less.

its-all-too-much-sm

Anyway, I had boxes of proceedings of the Joint Computer Conferences sponsored by AFIPS: the American Federation of Information Processing Societies. My DC colleague Tim Bergin gave them to me, after I had just spent countless hours scouring the local DC libraries for copies–no single library had a complete set. But once I had finished my book on the history of computing, I turned to other topics, and the massive proceedings sat, unused, in boxes cluttering up the office.

After some inquiries, and after being turned down by a number of places that I thought would want them, I found a home, in a university library. But my troubles were only beginning: as I began packing them up, I made the mistake of opening up volumes at random, and losing myself in the contents. There was Herb Grosch, the original “wild duck,” pontificating poetically on AFIPS’s 25th anniversary. Or Heinz Zemanek on the early history of computers in Europe. Or the seminal papers describing the ARPANET.

herb-grosch

I had to stop. The boxes are going into the mail.

AFIPS “died of euthanasia” on December 31, 1990, having outlived its usefulness. Its conference proceedings had less and less of importance as the years went by, and its annual computer conference simply grew too big to be manageable. But before its death it accomplished much — including above all, providing financial support for the history of computing, especially the Annals, which it founded and supported for the first eight years of that journal’s existence. As Eric Weiss said at the “funeral”: “We shall not see its like again.”

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