ACM History Committee
2010 Progress Report on Project "Staging the ACM Chess Championships"


2010 Progress Report on Project "Staging the ACM Chess Championships"
Bernard Geogheganals (2009 ACM History Fellow)

Since the initial grant I've made strong progress both in conducting research and disseminating my findings. In preparation for a visit to the archival papers held in Canada in the hands of Monty Newborn, I've been examining the history of chess playing machines and competitions prior to the ACM championships. As part of this work I've undertaken an extensive literature review of reports on such exhibitions (most of which, as it happens, are found in "secondary" sources such as newspaper accounts, personal memoirs, etc, because this is not entirely "standard" scientific work). As part of this work, and with the support from the ACM, I visited the Huntington Library in California two months ago, where the papers of John Pierce are stored. Pierce supervised Claude Shannon's early studies on computing chess in the early 1950s, which "set the stage" so to speak for the later championships (Shannon developed the first program for designing a computer to play chess). In addition to going through those personal papers to find out more about the early germination of this research, I also had a chance to examine the Library's 19th century original manuscripts concerning early exhibitions of the celebrated "Maezel's Chess Player."

With this background material prepared, my final step of research will be to visit Newborn's papers. He has agreed to receive me, and when I can make a dedicated trip to Canada (probably this winter) I will finally get to see his papers. If I understood him correctly, he believes there is great value of the papers he has collected, and I am not sure he is ready to donate them to an archive. I should have a better idea of his intentions for these papers when I visit him this winter, but in any case, should it be that these papers remain in private hands or are not immediately donated to a public archive, that should make this research all that much more important: that is, I can provide a summary of papers which are not otherwise at the public's disposal. For this reason in particular, the ACM fellowship is providing a valuable contribution to the historiography of computing.

I presented initial findings on this research last week at a conference entitled "Fading Figures" at Northwestern University, and I will present more on this research next week at l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (for a journée des Études conference), and then the following week at the Museum for Communication in Berlin, German. This last talk will be the opening of an exhibition of automata built by Claude Shannon, where other historians as well as some computer scientists will speak. I take some personal pride therefore that I have not only been able to begin sharing this research, but that I have had within a fairly short period the opportunity to present findings in three different national contexts. At each talk I have made a point of thanking the ACM for its support.