Behind the Scenes

Angelica Catillejos

The Archival History of Computing Project began in November 2018 with a cohort of MIT undergraduate students under the mentorship of the Digital Humanities program at MIT. With 150 years of archival history, the MIT Libraries' Distinctive Collections played a crucial role in our project by allowing us to utilize their documents and scan them, as well as providing staff support from Distinctive Collections and subject liaison librarians.

Overall, our project was divided into five stages. During the first stage, we worked with the documents directly: studying them, scanning them, and simultaneously, working on the metadata that described them: box number, folder number, folder name, author, title, data, type, start page, last page, recipients, carbon-copied recipients, the organizations that the people in this document were a part of, and notes. In the second stage, we both developed the underlying Django database for the site and also a better understanding of the history of computation. This allowed us to proceed to stage three, where we focused on attaining a better glimpse of the history of computation by reading articles, doing research, and comparing with our own documents. We also outlined our goals for what we wanted our users to experience, learn, and gain from our project. Even with this large database, we found that it was still difficult to highlight the crucial role of women in the history of computation because they worked in the background and generally were not highlighted in the documents. (Did you know that 30 to 50 percent of computer programmers during the 1960s were women? We took this challenge and embedded it into our goal.) We wanted to give credit to every person who contributed to the history of computation — a field so dominant today. During the third stage, we were also focused on the backend and frontend of the website, developing a user interface and coding our platform. In the fourth stage, we used our website to analyze our information in order to write stories, make Javascript simulations of the IBM 704, and to create data visualizations. The fifth and final stage, was the completion of our mission by deploying the site publicly and linking to our open-source code.