History Center Unveils Articles on Tech Developments

New STARS portal offers articles about the history of tech breakthroughs and milestones

7 July 2010

The IEEE History Center has launched a new online collection of invited peer-reviewed articles that explain the history of major developments in electrical and computer science and technology. Known as the Significant Technological Achievement Recognition Selections, or STARS, the articles are about developments at least 10 years old.

The articles are located in the STARS Portal, which is part of the Global History Network. The GHN is a wiki-based site with articles covering the history of technology, firsthand experiences of IEEE members and others involved with the development of technology, descriptions of the historic breakthroughs known as IEEE Milestones, oral histories of engineers and scientists, as well as the new STARS articles.

Three STARS articles have been posted so far. They deal with the development of underwater cables, motion pictures, and punched-card equipment. The article on underwater cables traces three eras of their development. It begins in the 1850s with telegraphy over single-conductor copper wire, moves to the 1950s with telephony through coaxial cables with repeaters, and continues into the 1980s with data transmission through optical fibers.

The account of motion picture development begins with the 1834 invention of the zoetrope, a movie precursor that gave the impression of continuous motion when the viewer watched a rapidly changing series of still images. The article spans motion picture technology up until 1995 when Toy Story, the first full-length movie created entirely on a computer, was released.

And the article on punch-card equipment, the first automated means for entering, compiling and analyzing statistical information, covers the technology’s more than 70 years of development. Herman Hollerith invented the machinery to record and process information on punched cards and to process data from the 1890 U.S. Census. The punched-card machinery business went on to evolve into the modern computer industry; punched cards were used for storing and entering programs and data for the first few decades of the computer industry’s existence.

Anyone can suggest a technology for STARS recognition, provided they have a GHN account, which also entitles the holder to comment on articles in the GHN. They do so by clicking on the Suggest a Candidate link. What makes for a good STARS candidate? Each achievement must have had a worldwide impact, and can consist of related events taking place in more than one place over a period of time. 

An editorial board of more than a dozen technology history experts chosen by the IEEE History Committee vets the suggestions, and the ones they approve are added to the STARS Candidates section. Currently there are more than 120 candidates in search of authors, organized into technologies such as electric energy, communications, health technology, media, and workplace technologies. They deal with topics such as the ATM, digital camera, electric battery, and integrated circuit.

Those wishing to author a STARS article can begin by clicking the Write a Proposal link and filling out a form that asks for the scope of the article they envision and their expertise. The editorial board and the History Committee review the proposals and invite the most qualified people to write articles.

Once an article is accepted for publication, it’s posted for about four weeks in STARS Articles Under Review for others to comment on factual accuracy and to suggest corrections and additions. Once the article is final, it is moved to the STARS section.

Three articles currently in the STARS Under Review section are waiting for critiques. One covers differential analyzers, electronic black boxes used to solve equations relating to complex physical situations. Another is about the cardiac pacemaker, and a third is about inventing the computer.

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