I am sitting in a small room deep in the basement squinting at an old microfiche reader as I try to rescue some old data from the wrath of time. The room is packed with file cabinets, microfiche racks, and moving boxes, all holding maybe the last 50 or 60 years of our engineering history. And I am looking around wondering if I am going to be the last one to look at this stuff. Or even know that it is here.

Then I wonder if they need to know about it. Part if the job of engineering is to establish policies, specifications, lessons learned, and guidance documents that capture the essence of the engineering history for future engineers. If I’ve done my job right over these years those future engineers shouldn’t have to come visit the raw data here in the vault.

I give myself a little self-assessment as I listen to the reader mangle the old thermal paper. I’ve written policy, papers, a textbook, and a number of computer tools, all of which contain at least a part of all this data. But is it enough to keep the next generation from repeating work and mistakes? I think maybe no.

I’d like to blame it on the corporate mentality of tossing everything out after five years and not giving us the time or support to retain our corporate history, but, while true, that would be counter-productive. They don’t care and it isn’t worth the effort to try to tilt at that windmill

Instead we engineers who care about the future need to make sure we preserve what we know for the next generation. How best to do this is still in question. I tend to do it through professional societies but maybe Web 2.0 is the better model.

What do you think? How do we bring and keep the musty history of engineering into the now and the future?


1 thought on “History”

  1. David,
    Every so often I rediscover your fine website. I have to say that I have battled this same issue, we are quick to throw away our history, folks like you and I who take the time to learn it and make use of it are becoming more and more rare. Its sad for society and our institutions but actually in a way pretty good for me. People have learned the value of my being able to reach back in time and provide them things and it has provided me en-tray into a number of projects that I would otherwise have been left out of. It also tends in my opinion to make me a much better engineer than I otherwise would be because I can learn from others thinking and yes sometimes their mistakes. That said, I’ve been trying to think of how to convince the right folks at my work of the importance of our archives so that they might spend some money on making them more accessible, if you have any suggestions please share them with me.


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