Communications History: The Members Are the History
Every day, history is being made in our communications field by ComSoc members and others. Some is incremental, while other is monumental. To recognize past accomplishments and to set the stage for future advancements, ComSoc has established the Communications History standing committee. In this President’s Page, I am pleased to introduce Dr. Doug Zuckerman, the ComSoc Communications History Committee Chair, to share with us the standing committee’s activities.
Dr. Doug Zuckerman, an IEEE Life Fellow, is on the IEEE Future Directions and Industry Engagement Committees. He was IEEE Communications Society President and IEEE Board Director. His BS, MS and PhD degrees are from Columbia University (USA). His earlier work at Bell Labs (and successors) heavily influenced network management standards and implementation.
Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the IEEE Communications Society, which was its platinum jubilee year. This is a singular bit of history, yet could we imagine if we had lost track? What if all the major milestones in communications and in ComSoc had also been either lost or forgotten? Capturing, curating and making easily available this rich history is essential to building and maintaining our professional community. It also helps set a foundation for the future. Thankfully, ComSoc has a standing committee on Communications History.
From the Society’s Bylaws, “This Committee is responsible for identifying, placing in electronic archives, and raising public awareness through all appropriate means of the most important facts, people, and achievements of communications history, as well as telecommunications milestones in general.”
Examples of its activities include solicitation of articles on Communication History for our magazines, organizing communications history sessions at conferences, and commemorating significant anniversaries of the IEEE Communications Society. In 2012, the 60th anniversary of our Society, the Committee organized the updating, expansion and re-issue of the History of Communications book published for our 50th anniversary in 2002, and the production of a 25-minute recollections video in which many former Presidents of IEEE ComSoc recounted their experiences in the communications field and in IEEE ComSoc. In 2022, the 70th anniversary was celebrated at IEEE GLOBECOM 2022 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with a special history panel (a “Panel of Presidents”) dedicated to icons who had passed away during the year.
Due to the wide range of activities envisioned for this committee, the committee has about a dozen members with the following roster:
Chair | Doug Zuckerman (2022–2024)
Vice Chair | Kit August (2023–2025)
2022–2024 | Douglas Zuckerman (Chair)
2022–2023 | Stephen Weinstein
2023–2025 | Kit August (Vice Chair)
2023 | Scott Atkinson, Celia Desmond, Rose Hu, Mathini Sellathurai, Curtis Siller, Martha Steenstrup, Mehmet Ulema, Tim Weil, Sarah Kate Wilson
Staff | Cynthis Sikora
This team has former ComSoc presidents, past Communications Magazine EiC’s, a past History Committee chair, several Life Members, and founders of some of the earliest ComSoc flagship conferences as well as organizers of more recent ones.
The History Committee has been focusing on the following initiatives:
- Communications History Book — Add events since 60th anniversary edition (also feeds into Interactive Communications History).
- Interactive Communications History — Contribute to this project which has been funded by ComSoc’s Board of Governors.
- IEEE Milestones — Identify and guide proposals for new communications milestones.
- Conference History — Start with GLOBECOM/ICC history — including interviews.
- Presence at IEEE GLOBECOM and ICC — Organize and moderate history panels and have exhibit hall presence.
- History Column in IEEE Communications Magazine — Do column, reprints, old ComMag synopses, Global Communications News (GCN) articles.
- Update Web Presence — Participate in ComSoc-wide website update activity relevant to history activities.
- Virtual Museum — Provide an AR/VR museum experience.
- Memorialiations — Establish and maintain a process for memorializing recently deceased colleagues, e.g., through ComSoc’s “In Memoriums” page and Society News articles.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — Recognize “Women in Communications History.”
In 2022, there was a special activity focused around ComSoc’s Platinum Jubilee. Also, during the past couple years, articles appeared in Communications Magazine honoring the memories of Bob Lucky, Donald Schilling and Des Taylor. May they rest in peace.
Capturing, Curating and Making Easily Available
Capturing, curating and making our history easily available is a daunting, almost boundless, challenge. IEEE itself has an IEEE History Committee with full time staff and has been supporting some of our activities, including hosting an important communications history site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_Communications_Society. Discussions are ongoing on how our Society’s and IEEE’s history committees may continue collaborating on mutually beneficial activities.
An area where we can especially use help is in generating history articles for Communications Magazine’s History Column. Several interesting articles have appeared, including the first of a three-part series on the history of ham radio. The Communications Magazine has also introduced monthly one-page synopses of the tables of contents, typically from “this month, 25 and 50 years ago.” Also, the ComMag EiC has solicited best papers for reprint (with possible historic updates) from issues during their term as EiC. Going forward, we should expect to see even more history content appearing in ComMag.
ComSoc Chapter History
History also has a geographic perspective. Many IEEE sections and regions have history committees, and these typically include content of relevance to communications. An example that comes to mind is that of the NJ Coast Section. This is the section that had been the host to important fundamental research and development entities in the communications field, e.g., Bell Labs and Fort Monmouth. AT&T also hosts a museum within this section. Also of note is the horn antenna at Crawford Hill that captured emissions from the Big Bang. An example of a section history is at https://ethw.org/IEEE_New_Jersey_Coast_Section_History. Note, its historian is also an active member of the ComSoc History Committee.
ComSoc Conference Presence
As already mentioned, we organized a “Panel of Presidents” for GLOBECOM 2022 in Rio de Janeiro this past December. In addition, we were part of the ComSoc exhibition booth. The History Committee also participated with ComSoc’s Board of Governors in identifying other anniversary activities.
Above, the Conference History initiative mentioned starting with GLOBECOM and ICC (flagships) to capture their history. This is well underway for our two flagship events. Our important portfolio conferences are also encouraged to capture their history. Memories fade, so now is the time to do it.
For example, how many people will remember when the first NOMS took place, where it was, who was on the organizing committee, and what topics were important at the time? The preliminary call for papers appeared in the November 1987 issue of IEEE Communications Magazine, when Fred Andrews was ComSoc President (and a strong supporter of NOMS). The first NOMS took place in February 1988 in New Orleans, was heavily supported by AT&T Bell Labs (especially Eric Sumner) and Bellcore (especially Fred Andrews), had the theme, “Productivity Through Operations,” was standing room only (registrations were screened and many were turned away), and generated an unmentionably huge surplus. Also, its conference record was “visuals plus accompanying text” (done by “cut and paste” on paper during this pre-PPT era). The attendees were almost entirely from industry. Bruce Kieburtz was General Chair, Ed Glenner was Vice General Chair, and Ken Lutz and Doug Zuckerman were the Technical Program Committee Chairs. From the call, it is interesting to note the variety of topics that were important to the network operations and management community and industry at that time.
We all have personal memories of our professional careers. How many remember or even heard of AT&T Long Lines’ WT4 Millimeter Waveguide Transmission System being developed in the early 1970s? Colleagues working on it at Bell Labs told stories of their days on the first Telstar project, which was a “spare no money” effort in response to the launch of Sputnik. The WT4 system had promise until long distance fiber proved practical — and then many moved onto satellites and undersea cable.
How about growing up with vacuum tubes, rotary telephones (on a party line), and the family’s first TV (black and white, with a mechanical tuner)? How many of us used the book by Millman and Halkias that was taught at the cusp of moving from vacuum tubes to transistors and integrated circuits? Do you recall learning and using the Fortran IV programming language, replete with punch cards and a huge IBM 360 computer center (“printouts” were overnight at the “economy” rate)? Lastly, how many recall joining IEEE as a student member based on one’s introductory circuits professor handing out applications and saying, “It’s good to join IEEE?”
In the last century, a popular telecom concept was, “The Network is the Database.” Analogously, one might say, “The Members are the History.” All of us are creating history and storing it in our personal memories. The challenge is in capturing, curating and making that history easily available. The ComSoc History Committee stands ready to help!