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SUMMARY IN ENGLISH
A summary in English about the project and the content on this website.
The early days of computing in Sweden
Did you know that Sweden was the fourth country in the world to build a computer? For a short time, we even had the world’s fastest computer. Other interesting facts are that many of the first programmers in Sweden were women; the world’s first ATM was Swedish; one of the world’s first known computer-generated films made in Sweden and one of the world’s first computers for mass analysis of blood samples was Swedish.
Part of the Swedish IT industry was born in the waiting room of the premises’ housing our first computer. This radio tube-based mammoth often broke down, so that those who ordered processing time had to sit and wait for hours. During the waiting time, many of them brain stormed together, became associates and started successful Swedish IT companies.
These are but a few of all the fascinating facts from the early days of computing in Sweden.
The project From Mathematical Machines to IT
In a unique and extensive project, the Swedish IT history between 1950 and 1980 has been documented and compiled. Never before has the evolution of a Swedish industry been so thoroughly covered. The result is a massive amount of sources from 30 years of technical development and its application.
There are many exciting stories hidden in the birth of the Swedish IT industry. The sources are a gold mine for researchers, journalists, educators, writers and all others interested in modern technology.
All the material may be freely used for research, to be refined and presented in articles, papers, reports, documentaries, educational material, etc.
The organizations behind the project are The Swedish Computing Society (Dataföreningen I Sverige, DFS), The Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, KTH) and The National Museum of Science and Technology (Tekniska museet, TM).
The project is also summarized in the report [http://kth.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:290642](Documenting the Use of Computers in Swedish Society Between 1950 and 1980th).
The project history
The idea of documenting the Swedish IT history was born in 2002 in a DFS network for IT veterans. The members of this network soon realized the urgency of the matter. In ten years, many of the pioneers of the Swedish IT history, with their unique memories, may have passed away.
The idea eventually grew into a coherent and structured initiative by DFS. In January 2004 the society contacted both the Department of Technology and Science History at KTH and the TM. This became the start of a four-year collaboration and joint venture. The project was named From Mathematical Machines to IT.
KTH and TM added research methodology, project management and museum management. During the project, over 700 people have been involved; the majority via DFS’s many collegial networks.
The main activities in the project have been to create, collect, preserve and make available source material. The implementation was divided into two phases: initiation and consolidation.
During the initiation, between 2004 and 2006, the project structure and methodologies were established. Furthermore, the first focus groups were started and a handful of interviews and witness seminars were made.
During the consolidation phase, which lasted from January 2007-December 2008, all the 16 focus groups were organized. To be able to collect and process the sources in each focus area, 16 staff research secretaries were recruited.
At the end of 2008 the work of all 16 focus groups were completed. Overall, the result was 18 overview reports, 47 witness seminars, 166 interviews, 190 autobiographies and 21 final reports.
The material was then transferred to TM. Many of the witness seminars were transcribed, edited and printed in the KTH report series Trita-HST, available on DiVA (www.diva-portal.org) The interviews and final reports are available on the TM website (www.tekniskamuseet.se).
From Mathematical Machines to IT has been financed by Riksbankens jubileumsfond, Stiftelsen Marcus och Amalia Wallenbergs minnesfond and Statens kulturråd.
Additional contributors have been Folksam, Handelsbanken, KK-stiftelsen, Lantmäteriet, Länsförsäkringar, Nordea, SEB, Skandia, Skatteverket, Swedbank, Sven Tyréns stiftelse, Vinnova, Volvo IT and Vägverket.
The project budget was SEK 12 million.
To manage a project with so many people involved presented a challenge that required a well defined and functional structure.
Under the leadership of a steering board, the main project work has been carried out in 16 focus groups, a research secretariat and a management group. The academic standard was guaranteed by an academic advisory board.
The steering board is still active and headed by Rolf Berndtson, a former chairman of DFS. The other members of the board are Arne Kaijser, professor at KTH, Helene Sjunnesson, TM, Gunnar L. Johansson, former CEO of Volvo, Per Olofsson, former CEO of IBM Sverige, Inger Gran, director at DFS, Anne-Marie Fransson, IT&Telekomföretagen (industry organization), Peter Du Rietz, TM, Per Lundin, KTH, and Per Olof Persson, consultant and secretary of the steering group.
Up until 2008-04-30 the board also included Anne Louise Kemdal, former museum director of TM.
In order to capture the Swedish IT history from a user perspective, 16 areas by industry and technology was identified. These areas provide the structure for collecting, evaluating and archiving the sources.
For each group, there is a final report available on the TM website.
- Libraries and Museums
- User organizations
- Finance (banking and insurance)
- IT Industry
- Public administration
- System development
- Early computers
Another challenge for the project was to find the right methodology for the capturing and archiving.
Documentation of the history of IT often focuses on inventors and innovations, which do not reflect the full spectrum of IT as a generic technology. Therefore, in the selection and evaluation of sources the project emphasized the application and usage of IT. The methods used included overviews, interviews, witness seminars and autobiographies.
The first step for each focus group was to write an overview, identifying the requirements for sources. There was a need to find the “white spots on the map”, where oral information from people active during the selected time period was particularly important.
Interviews are an accepted method to capture an oral source. The project conducted more than 160 interviews, which were recorded and transcribed. In addition to the academic review board, the interview structures used benefited greatly from the experiences of U.S. IEEE History Center and the Charles Babbage Institute from their interviews with IT professionals, institutions and companies.
A witness seminar is a special form of collection of oral source material in which several people – witnesses – from a given set of circumstances or events come together to discuss, debate and share conclusions based on their memories. This situation function as a group interview. The method is more effective than individual interviews, since the participants help one another to remember better.
Nearly 50 witness seminars have been conducted in the project. They were recorded with audio and video and then transcribed.
The project has collected more than 190 autobiographies, of which about 130 are available on TM’s website. The collection was done through various appeals to professionals during 2007 in daily and industry papers and broadcast media.
As a complement to the autobiographies, the public was invited to contribute with autobiographies online. In 2007 the project launched a so-called Writer’s web with functions for collecting texts.
Do you want to use the project sources?
How would you like to present the Swedish IT history? What conclusions and lessons do you draw from what happened during this period? Are there people or events that are particularly important to highlight?
The comprehensive and unique material reflects a piece of modern technology history. All of this is now available to anyone wishing to research, interpret or process.
If you are English speaking and want help to get access to the sources, please contact Peter Du Rietz at TM.