Paul Allen's Personal Museum
- I removed the original poster's name from the SIGCIS mailing list,
but I thought I would forward this comment to midatlanticretro with my comment.
The author is careful to avoid criticism of Paul Allen directly, or
to lump him in with other billionaires (what other billionaires
collect vintage computers?), but he's still implying that the
academic community is in the end the best place for the kinds of
computer artifacts collected by Mr. Allen. But then there is the
money thing....if it was not for Paul Allen's money (or Jay Leno's
money in the car collecting sphere), would the items now being
*restored* be receiving the same level of care at at
University? Other than the CHM and Babbage? How many SIGCIS members
can actually operate a DEC computer not to mention restore
one? There's an underlying elitism. Technology historians try so
hard to separate themselves from the actual devices, it's kind of
funny. They must diligently defend and declare computer/tech history
as "just another history" in order to cover up their technical
shortcomings. Just pointing it out.
>An interesting story at
>It states that Paul Allen has commissioned a kilt-wearing grizzly graduate
>student to roam the globe tracking down rare machines of a physical size
>impractical for lesser collectors, such as a PDP-7 and IBM 70XX series
>machines. They're being restored for a personal museum. I hadn't heard of
>Ian King, but apparently he's a computing veteran working on an historical
>Ph.D. in the University of Washington Information School. The museum is
>online at http://www.pdpplanet.com/.
>The more machines that get preserved the better, and it certainly does more
>good for history than most billionaire hobbies. Perhaps this will evolve
>into a sustainably endowed public museum, or the machines will eventually be
>Yet when I see something like this is does make me ponder the widening
>disconnect between the growing community of scholars working on many aspects
>of the history of computing with minimal financial support and the
>comparatively huge amounts of money being spent/given by billionaires to
>support preservation with no involvement from Ph.D. historians. Maybe it's
>inevitable that the interests of the two groups would evolve in different
>directions. It's also true that academic priorities may have moved further
>than necessary from micro-level practice and materiality over the past few
>This might be one of the topics for discussion at the forthcoming SIGCIS
>workshop, where I'm pleased to say that the panelists include people from
>the Smithsonian, Henry Ford Museum, Charles Babbage Institute, and Computer
>History Museum as well as academics from a variety of disciplines.
- --- In email@example.com, B Degnan <billdeg@...> wrote:
> Technology historians try soBill makes a kind of point that I kind of agree with. A more general point I'd make that Bill may agree with, is that there's a number of "disconnects" between academic historians and researchers of technology, and technologists who have their own collections, and museums of technology. In dealing with such folks, I find it very useful to know where their priorities are.
> hard to separate themselves from the actual devices, it's kind of
> funny. They must diligently defend and declare computer/tech history
> as "just another history" in order to cover up their technical
> shortcomings. Just pointing it out.
One disconnect is between using the collection (please touch) and just showing it - (please don't touch). Another is the deep knowledge of the technology, as Bill pointed out. Another is "institutional" - museums have to fuss about buildings and funding and varying degrees of support from their communities (either local or academic); individuals support their own collections; academics have to produce "publishable" results in some discipline.
I see such disconnects among the machine tool, tractor, and old-engine (steam, hit-n-miss, brand-name, etc.) collectors, dealers, and non-profit organizations. They are more numerous than corresponding computer groups, and decades older. But we have more in common with them than you might think.
And there's always a "disconnect" between rich and not-rich. And few people want to upset the rich by questioning their motives or dedication. (shrug) Having monied interests is good and bad.
I appreciate Bill calling these issues to attention.