I Heard About the Arrival of the Computer: Hans Rutimann and Julianne Nyhan


This oral history interview was conducted between Hans Rutimann and Julianne Nyhan via Skype on 15 November 2012. Rutimann was provided with the core questions in advance of the interview. Here he recalls that his first encounter with computing was at the Modern Languages Association (MLA), c.1968/9. Following a minor scandal at the organisation, which resulted in the dismissal of staff connected with the newly arrived IBM 360/20, Rutimann was persuaded to take on some of their duties. After training with IBM in operating and programming he set about transferring the membership list (about 30,000 contact details) from an addressograph machine to punched cards. After the computer’s early use to support such administrative tasks the MLA began investigating the feasibility of making the research tool called the MLA International Bibliography (information about accessing the present-day version of the bibliography is available here: https://www.mla.org/bib_electronic) remotely accessible. Rutimann worked with Lockheed to achieve this. It was in Lockheed’s information retrieval lab that the system known as Dialog, an online information retrieval system was developed (see Summit 1967). He vividly recalls how he travelled the 3000 miles to San Francisco to deliver the magnetic tape to Lockheed so that they could make the database available online. He “jumped for joy” when, once back in New York, the data was available to him via the newly acquired terminal of the MLA. While making clear that his roles in MLA, Mellon and the Engineering Information Foundation have primarily been enabling ones (and to this we can add advocacy, strategy and foresight) he also recalls the strong influence that Joseph Raben had on him and mentions some of the projects and conferences that he found particularly memorable.


Hans Rutimann

Hans Rutimann is the Senior Advisor to the Scholarly Information and Information Technology Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and President of the Engineering Information Foundation (EIF).

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