Since the mid 19th Century there has been a realisation that cultural history can easily be lost. Recently, there have been fresh recognition of the importance of intangible culture. In addition to its own history, it is clear that HCI has a role in developing the techniques and tools to collect and cherish the histories of communities across the world. Our past helps us understand who we are and to address future challenges.
Within a discipline such as HCI, it is easy to think that heritage is a topic to support and study, but to forget that history applies equally to us as contributors and participants in the field. Following the deaths of major pioneers of human–computer interaction and, as others retire or downsize, many personal archives of material are being lost. In a post-web world of cloud storage and instant digital access it may seem that the situation would be better, but while writing this proposal one of the organisers realised that the BCS archive of Interfaces was no longer accessible!
This process of occlusion is surprising, given HCIs considerable contribution not just within computing, but in the very fabric of contemporary economic and social life. If the interface between people and computers was arguably an esoteric topic of research it is now a topic that is continually revisited in the mainstream media. Everything from contemporary modes of commerce, politics, consumption and even the ethical challenges that face us, are to some degree shaped by a world that has shifted paradigm from the mechanical to the digital.
HCI is not only a theoretical strand within this change but has and continues to shape it. Its influence is uneven, sometimes hidden, but unmistakable wherever humanistic values are voiced in discussions of technology (e.g. to our knowledge, the first recognition of the potential for ethnic and gender bias in machine learning systems was highlighted by the HCI community in the 1990s). At a practical level, it is also visible, highly relevant and widely adopted in industry. Voguish practices, such as design thinking, human-centred design and the creative economy itself are constituted as much if not more from HCI as they are from traditional design. The UKs Design Council has been instrumental in promulgating the influence of its community within business to this effect.
The local context of UK HCI is a vital part of this picture: Brian Shackel’s 1959 article “Ergonomics for a Computer” was the first journal paper in the world in HCI; we had many other thought leaders like Chris Evans, Brian Gaines, and others — we are now starting to lose the second-generation people who collaborated with them. The British HCI conference was one of the main early international conferences that shaped the field. There are also important lessons for us too, for example, the Alvey Programme is responsible for the relative strength of HCI in the UK, but this was driven by industrial priorities, before HCI was widely acknowledged by academia.
In this workshop we will start a process to ensure the preservation of the history of HCI and also, by examining our own cultural preservation, understand the tools and infrastructure necessary to benefit cultural heritage more broadly. Although in some ways focused on the past, one core lesson of history is that it is easy to forget the lessons of history, by understanding the past we create the seed bed for better and more informed future interactions.