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First-Hand:History of the GHN

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Contributed by: Dr. Richard Gowen

The Primier Global Network for the History of Electrotechnology

It was my privilege to serve as the Chair of the IEEE History Committee in 2007-2008 and guide the development of the IEEE Global History Network. This project involved members of the IEEE History Committee, leaders of several IEEE boards and committees, IEEE staff and contractors. Additionally, I have the honor of serving as the President of the IEEE Foundation with oversight responsibility for the fiscal operations of the IEEE History Committee. The GHN wiki was developed over a seven month period through the extraordinary efforts on the GHN Project Team. I have witnessed the cooperation and dedication that have made the IEEE GHN a reality and use this opportunity to recognize and thank the individuals that had a major part in making this a successful project.


The Global History Network (GHN) evolved in response to the efforts of the IEEE History Committee to orient the IEEE history activities to better serve the interests of the public in the history of the development of electronology. The committee sought to convey the experiences of the thousands of individuals that have make the inventions and innovations in the industries that are the source of our continued revolutions in the applications of the electrical oriented sciences.


As the Centennial President of the IEEE, it was interesting to learn of the circumstances in 1884 that brought a group of the leaders of the emerging electrical power and communication industries to form an organization, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers together (AIEE). Those leaders included Alexander Bell and Thomas Edison recognized the value of providing the capability for the individuals engaged in the invention of the new electrical technologies to share their experiences through meetings, conferences, and publications. I am pleased to note that the successor organization, the IEEE continues to provide the ability for the exchange of technical experiences that support the innovation in the industries that provide the products and services that continue to change the world.


The discussions of the 2007 IEEE History Committee began to focus on the use of web based products to provide information about the development of electronology. The IEEE history website recognized the achievements of individuals, companies, and organizations through the milestone, oral histories, and special events. The IEEE History Center had developed a Virtual Museum to describe the fundamental aspects of several popular products. However, many in the leadership of the IEEE expressed concern that the history website did not provide for adequate communication of the role of individuals in the development of technologies nor did the site provide for the public recognition of the many rapidly emerging changes in technology.


A member of the 2007 IEEE History Committee, Dr. Moshe Kam, advocated the development of a wiki based website to expand the capability to share information with the public. The committee discussed the potential advantages of the open access of the wiki technology and the possible confusion of history materials with the ability for open editing. The committee contracted with Ms Joanne Von Voorhis of Target-Marketing to provide information about the use of a wiki to replace the existing history website.


The concept of the GHN emerged through the IEEE History Committee discussions of the Van Voorhis report as a means to share with the public the experiences of the individuals in development of the industries and products represented in the activities of the IEEE. In December 2007, I met with the leaders of the IEEE Japan Council to discuss the potential of a wiki based GHN to become the premier global service to support the sharing of the first-hand experiences of the developers of electronology. We discussed the potential for the participation of the many individuals with the diverse talents necessary to produce the products and services enjoyed by the public. The capability of the wiki to support the interaction of the public with those who share their first-hand experiences opens a new approach to the study of history.


We designed the IEEE GHN to document the experiences of the thousands of individuals who participated in the development of the technologies that are the core purpose of the IEEE to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. As the participation in the GHN grows, I believe it will provide the testimony to the success of the vision of the 1884 innovators who understood the importance of individuals with technical excellence in the development of the industries that would produce and market the innovative products and services that continue to change the quality of life for peoples across the world.


The GHN is dedicated to the free and open exchange of the information that describes the vision, creativity, invention, and innovation of individuals. The first-hand experiences of these individuals have enabled the growth of industries and organizations that produce the products and services that have become common-place across much of the world.


In February 2008, the IEEE History Committee endorsed the creation of the wiki based GHN. In March 2008, members of the committee, staff of the IEEE History Center, and wiki specialists began the development of the GHN. Dr. John Vardalas, an Outreach Historian of the IEEE History Center, became the GHN Project leader. A project oversight committee of members of the IEEE History Committee and staff, chaired by Dr. Moshe Kam, and including IEEE Past President Emerson Pugh, Director of the IEEE History Center Dr. Michael Geselowitz, Executive Director of the IEEE Foundation Ms Fern Katronetsky, and IEEE Centennial President, Chair of the IEEE History Committee and President of the IEEE Foundation Richard Gowen provided guidance for the detailed development of the capabilities of the GHN.

The operation of the IEEE GHN is supported by the IEEE and the IEEE Foundation. The GHN oversight committee received financial support for the development of GHN through the IEEE New Initiatives Committee chaired by the IEEE 2008 President-Elect John Vig. Additional development and continuing operation support is provided through the IEEE Foundation


The GHN was made available on September 3, 2008 for the preparation of first-hand experiences and the inclusion of the technological histories of organizations, companies, and products. The GHN will also include access to IEEE Milestones, Oral Histories and other IEEE history materials. On September 14, 2008 the over 3000 participants in the 2008 Sections Congress, along with leaders of the IEEE Board of Directors and leaders of the major IEEE operational boards will be invited to inaugurate the GHN by sharing their first-hand experiences in the development of the electrotechnologies that continue to improve the quality of life throughout the world.