New Wiki Documents the History of Engineering

The site is chock full of biographies, historical facts, and interviews from IEEE and six other societies

6 April 2015

The IEEE Global History Network is, in fact, history. Content from the IEEE History Center’s website was migrated in January and combined with articles produced by six other technical societies to become the new Engineering and Technology History Wiki (ETHW).

To produce the new wiki, the History Center is collaborating with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgic, and Petroleum Engineers; the American Society of Civil Engineers; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the Society of Petroleum Engineers; and the Society of Women Engineers. One member of each society sits on a governing council, which determines what new content will go on the site.

The ETHW is funded by the United Engineering Foundation (UEF), which provides grants for engineering outreach and education programs. The wiki includes several thousand articles, more than 600 oral histories (interviews with pioneers in the field), 200 firsthand histories, thousands of archival documents, and hundreds of hours of audio and video content. All of it can be found under the site’s “Go” tab.

MANY VOICES, ONE WIKI

The ETHW was two years in the making, according to Michael Geselowitz, the History Center’s senior director. The collaboration first took shape in February 2013 at a workshop at IEEE’s Operations Center in Piscataway, N.J., which was organized by IEEE and the UEF.

“This meeting produced a remarkable consensus: that all the engineering groups should get together to create one site on the history of engineering,” says Geselowitz. “This would be a powerful tool to advance public awareness of the vital role of engineers and engineering in human history.”

The IEEE Global History Network was limited because its focus was the history of electrical engineering and fields related to IEEE’s interests. The ETHW, however, aims to capture the history of all disciplines of engineering. “This broader scope allows the History Center to better serve its mission of reaching the public by reaching many more potential readers,” says Geselowitz.

NEW CONTENT

The wiki allows members of the participating organizations to submit material in more than a dozen categories, including bioengineering, engineering and society, health and safety, mechanical engineering, and transportation. The Society of Women Engineers has already contributed 59 oral histories and is planning to post roughly 35 more.

One of its oral histories, for example, explores the life and career of Yvonne Brill, recipient of the 2011 U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Brill began her career in the early 1940s as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, in Santa Monica, Calif., and left in 1946 to become a research analyst on rocket propellant systems for Rand Corp., a military R&D facility, also in Santa Monica. She went on to positions as an engineer or manager at a variety of organizations, and became an aerospace consultant, as well. She also served on the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and several U.S. National Research Study Council committees. She died in 2013. The interview explores her family history, her management experience at major tech companies, and her involvement with SWE.

The ETHW also includes numerous articles written by pioneers in their fields. One of these, by IEEE Life Member Robert R. Phillips, describes his work with an iconic singer and actor. In “Bing Crosby and the Recording Revolution,” Phillips writes about developing the first practical video recorder so that Crosby could record his TV shows on magnetic tape, as he was doing with his radio programs.

Another feature is the Innovation Map, an interactive world map that pinpoints the locations of IEEE Milestones as well as places designated as Landmarks by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Similar to Milestones, Landmarks recognize historically significant engineering projects and sites around the globe.

The ETHW governing council hopes other engineering societies will join it and contribute content to the wiki. The UEF is granting additional funds to help the council promote the wiki and recruit more societies to collaborate on the project.

The IEEE History Center is funded by donations to the IEEE Foundation.

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