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Putting digital collections to work

Edward A. Feigenbaum, circa 1970s

With the University Archives making more and more collections available online, I'd like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the novel ways in which these materials are being used by researchers. What follows is a recent report from Ed Feigenbaum, Kumagai Professor of Computer Science Emeritus, about how his papers in particular are yielding interesting connections: 

1. UC Professor Emeritus Harry Huskey, age 97, probably the oldest living great early computer pioneer, recently received the Computer History Museum's highest award.  When I was teaching at UC Berkeley 1960-64, I collaborated with Huskey on the first ARPA contract ever awarded to UC Berkeley, he doing time-sharing computer hardware, I doing AI. As an "historical gift" to Huskey at the award presentation dinner, I gave Huskey a copy of the cover page of the proposal that he and I prepared to win that contract. (Of course, the entire proposal is in the archive).  He was grateful and very moved by that piece of his history. Actually, there would be no one else in the world today who knows about this confluence in very early ARPA history, involving Huskey (a computer builder), and me (doing AI).

2. In searching through the Huskey/Feigenbaum material, I came across a memo to Principal Investigators (of which, as I said, Huskey and I both were) from J.C.R. Licklider, the legendary founder of the ARPA Information Processing Techniques Office--an office that later became famous for the visionary work that it conceived and/or supported. Licklider had a networking vision, which he called the Galactic Network (that later got realized as all the digital networks we use now). What I found was my copy of Licklider's famous memo.

3. A few weeks ago, CSD Professor Terry Winograd announced his retirement, and gave his "retirement lecture." I was CSD Chairman during his early years at Stanford, and in fact was key in hiring him as an Assistant Professor. As an "historical gift" to Winograd and the assembled Stanford/Silicon Valley audience, I read a document from my archive--a letter that I wrote as Chairman to Dean Halsey Royden on behalf of the CSD, nominating Winograd for the (1977, I think) Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, a letter describing his contribution in the most "glowing" terms. Attendees (and Terry) have expressed their gratitude for that piece of history.

4. Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Fagan, M.D., Ph.D., recently retired from long service as a scientist and educator in Stanford's Bioinformatics Program.  His retirement party was a large "virtual" gathering of people all over the country, coming together for celebratory presentations over the Internet.  Larry was my own Ph.D. student so I had a significant collection of records about his early career, especially since he collaborated on two significant Expert System projects of mine (one of which became his Ph.D. Thesis). Among the many documents in my search of Fagan materials was a 1984 letter I wrote to NIH supporting (again, in the most "glowing" terms) Fagan's proposal for a Distinguished New Investigator Award.  I sent this to Larry and it became part of the big celebration of his work.

5. The search for Fagan material also turned up the first technical report by a team of doctors and medical engineers from Pacific Medical Center,  collaborating with my group on two projects. One of those became the subject of Fagan's thesis.  I subsequently recruited John Kunz, one of the medical engineers, to be a Ph.D. student in CS, working with me.  He is currently a luminary in the Stanford School of Engineering, as Director of CIFE, the Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering. John was quite amazed to see this report surface from his past--his first involvement with AI research.

6. I had a ninety minute telephone interview by Ksenia Tatarchenko, a Princeton Ph.D. student working on a thesis concerned with  the work in the Soviet Union that the Soviets called "Cybernetics" (and Americans called CS and IT). In particular, Ksenia's work concerned the life and contribution of the late Academician A. Yershov, a person with whom I had much contact when he and I were both young professors. From 1960 to 1965, I was one of the USA's most knowledgeable people about Soviet Cybernetics, so my archive contains considerable material relevant to that topic and to Yershov. Ksenia and I browsed through the digital collection "together" as she asked many questions and gathered up pdf files to use in her research.

This is particularly interesting because there was a similar need of a Princeton Ph.D. thesis student about ten years ago (involving my DENDRAL research with Professors Lederberg and Djerassi). The student had to come to Stanford for an extended visit; browse through many boxes of my paper archives; and then sit with me for many hours in the Special Collections room interviewing me (under the watchful gaze of a security person, not just a surveillance camera).

All of these add to the several other unusually successful earlier events, such as my quest on behalf of the AAAI (AI's professional society) for historical material that formed the backbone of the "History" panel material at their conference event celebrating the 25th AAAI National Conference. Here too, there was surprise that the material to answer questions that the AAAI had posed actually existed and was readily available.  And the same happened when I demonstrated the archive to Dean Plummer (without a planned scenario). In a short time we were able to access some key documents in the history of the Center for  Integrated Systems (including meeting minutes that reported that Stanford was just finishing up with the hiring of a new Associate Professor, James Plummer, to help staff the new Center).

Let me finish with a quote from Trustee Dr. Bernard Peuto at the April Board meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Computer History Museum. (Bernard was former Sun Microsystems VP and General Manager, among his many other achievements.)  He was arguing for an expanded presence of the Computer History Museum in cyberspace. He said: "If it's not on the Internet, it doesn't exist."

Thanks Ed for your report. These are exactly the reasons why we are working so hard to make our collections available online.

For more information and access to Ed's papers go to To see all of our collections available online go to: