<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

>> search this blog


>> SRI (Stanford Research Institute), Manlo Park


from wikipedia
"In 1970, the Stanford Research Institute formally separated from Stanford University and, in 1977, became known as SRI International. The separation was a belated response to Vietnam war protesters at Stanford University who believed that SRI's DARPA-funded work was essentially making the university part of the military-industrial complex."

a bit of SRI-history, also from wikipedia:

In the 1950s, SRI worked under the direction of the Bank of America to develop ERMA (Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting), and magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) which as of 2007 is still the industry standard in automated check processing.[citation needed] The ERMA project was led by computer scientist Jerre Noe, who was at the time SRI's Assistant Director of Engineering.


Doug Engelbart was the primary force behind the design and development of the oN-Line System, or NLS. He founded SRI's Augmentation Research Center (ARC), and his team there developed the original versions of many modern computer-human interface elements. These included: bit-mapped displays, collaboration software, hypertext, and precursors to the graphical user interface including the computer mouse. As a pioneer of human-computer interaction, Engelbart is arguably SRI's most notable alumnus. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000.

In 1964, Bill English, then chief engineer at the ARC, built the first prototype of a computer mouse from Engelbart's design. Originally they intended to call it a "turtle," but when a mouse ran across their workbench they changed their minds[citation needed].

In the 1960s, liquid crystal display (LCD) technology was developed at RCA Laboratories, which is now the Sarnoff Corporation, a wholly owned SRI subsidiary.

From 1966 through 1972, SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center developed the first mobile robot to reason about its actions. Named "Shakey", the robot had a television camera, a triangulating range finder, and bump sensors. Shakey the Robot used software for perception, world-modeling, and acting. The Artificial Intelligence Center marked its 40th anniversary in 2006.

Hewitt Crane and his colleagues developed the world's first all-magnetic digital computer,[4], based upon extensions to magnetic core memories. The technology was licensed to AMP, who then used the technology to build specialized computers for controlling tracks in the New York City subway and on railroad switching yards.

In 1969, ARPANET, the world's first electronic computer network, was established on October 29 between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Douglas Engelbart's lab at SRI. Interface Message Processors at both sites served as the backbone of the first Internet.[5]

In addition to SRI and UCLA, UCSB and the University of Utah were part of the original four network nodes. By December 5, 1969, the entire 4-node network was connected."

>> Xerox PARC

from their website:


At a Chicago tradeshow, Xerox unveils the 8010 STAR Information System. PARC's Alto personal workstation is the foundation for this product. The 8010's features include all of the Alto's capabilities plus multilingual software, the Mesa programming language, and interim file servers. The system allows users to create complex documents by combining computing, text editing and graphics, and to access file servers and printers around the world through simple point-and-click actions, a functionality that has yet to be matched by today's computing systems.


Optimem is spun out to commercialize non-erasable magneto-optical storage device technologies originally developed to enable high-speed access of information for the Alto. Optimem later becomes Cipher Data Products.

The Xerox 8000 network system, which allows the assembly of an integrated office network in which users can electronically create, process, file, print and distribute information, is released. The system uses PARC's Cedar file system and Interim File System (IFS), Ethernet and electronic mail technologies.

The Xerox 5700 laser printer system is released. The printer combines, into one unit, copying capability with several PARC innovations: acousto-optic modulation, word processing, electronic mail, and remote computer printing via Ethernet.

The Interpress page description language (PDL), that allows workstations to communicate with multiple printers, is completed.

Xerox, Intel and Digital Equipment Corporation jointly issue a formal specification for Ethernet, making it publicly available for a nominal licensing fee. Ethernet will become the global standard for interconnecting computers on local-area networks.

Software copyright for the Smalltalk-80 object-oriented programming language is filed. It is one of only three software copyrights existing at the time. The language is licensed to universities and commercial institutions. Smalltalk is the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integrated documents, and cut & paste editor. Smalltalk will later be commercialized when Xerox spins out ParcPlace Systems.


Linguistic technology to enable spell checkers, a Thesaurus and reverse dictionary applications is developed. It will be employed in the future Xerox Memorywriter typewriters and 8010 STAR Information System

Xerox's Office Products Division announces that all future Xerox products will communicate through Ethernet.

Nearly 1,000 Alto personal workstations have been built and are in use throughout Xerox, linked by Ethernet local area networks (LANs) and gateways. Another 500 are in use in universities and government offices.

Late 1970s

The Network Architecture IFS "interim file server" code is completed. Along with the development of Ethernet, Alto and research prototypes of networking protocols for distributed computing, this leads to the development of XNS, Xerox's robust, leading-edge networking protocol. This technology will be incorporated in the future Xerox 8010 STAR Information System.


A "worm" program, the term used for a computer program that searches out other computer hosts, then copies itself and self destructs after a programmed interval, is invented by two PARC researchers.

The Dorado, a high-performance personal computer, and Notetaker, a suitcase-sized machine that will become the forerunner of portable computers, are completed.


The Xerox 5400, the first Xerox copier/duplicator with a built-in diagnostic microcomputer, is released. The machine connects to the Ethernet to enable computer-to-computer communications using protocols invented at PARC.

The Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System, the first xerographic laser printer product, is released. The 9700, a direct descendent from the original PARC "EARS" printer which pioneered in laser scanning optics, character generation electronics, and page-formatting software, is the first product on the market to be enabled by PARC research. Electronic printing enables seamlessly transferring digital documents into the paper domain, and changes the entire notion of documents and document processing. Xerox's laser xerographic printing business will reach $1billion per year by 1986.

A PARC Lab Manager and her colleague begin drafting the "Introduction to VLSI Systems" textbook. The book is written and typeset on PARC's desktop publishing system. Very large scale integration (VLSI) integrated circuit design will provide greater computing power in more compact machines, lead to a new generation of computer-aided design (CAD) tools and reduced design time, and make dramatic improvements in system functions.


Personal distributed computing, client/server architecture, and laser printing is commercialized in Alto personal workstation probes at the White House and universities.

The Dover-Alto software character generation laser raster output scanner (ROS) prototype printer is developed. Electronic printing on laser printers will provide a means of seamlessly transferring digital documents into the paper domain.


PARC's current site at 3333 Coyote Hill Road in Palo Alto, California is completed in February at a size of 100,000 square feet; the doors officially open on March 1.

Engineers demonstrate a graphical user interface for a personal computer, including icons and the first use of pop-up menus. This interface will be incorporated in future Xerox workstations and greatly influence the development of Windows and Macintosh interfaces.


The first distributed feedback (solid state) laser using gallium arsenide (GaAs), a material of considerable electronic interest, is demonstrated. This work will later result in a joint venture between Xerox and Spectra Physics to manufacture high-power solid-state lasers.

A software document architecture that enables device-dependent aspects of imaging to be cleanly separated from generic imaging operations is designed. This printer-independent interface leads to Page Description Languages (PDLs) that enable the construction of documents from higher-level sources. They are the intermediaries between tools for creating documents and devices for displaying them. Press, the first PDL, is developed by PARC scientists and greatly influenced the design of Interpress and Postscript.

The Bravo word-processing program is completed, and work on Gypsy, the first bitmap What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) cut & paste editor, begins. Bravo and Gypsy programs together represent the world's first user-friendly computer word-processing system.

BITBlt, an algorithm that enables programmers to manipulate images very rapidly without using special hardware, is invented. The computer command enables the quick manipulation of the pixels of an image and will make possible the development of such computer interfaces as overlapping screen windows and pop-up menus.


Ground breaking for PARC's current site at 3333 Coyote Hill Road in Palo Alto, California begins in August.

The Superpaint frame buffer records and stores its first video image: its inventor holding a sign that reads "It works, sort of." The frame buffer enables faster processing of memory intensive animation and graphics for the anticipated advanced graphical user interface of the Alto. A decade later, Xerox and its inventor will win an Emmy award for the technology.

The first laser printer, called EARS (for Ethernet-Alto research character generator scanning laser output terminal) is in service, printing documents at 1 page/second at 384 spots per inch (spi). It will be the foundation for the Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System and Xerox's printing business.

A patent memo describing a new networking system uses the term "Ethernet" for the first time. A few months later, an entry about Ethernet in a researcher's lab notebook reads: "It works!" This new protocol for multiple computers communicating over a single cable will spawn a series of sophisticated networking protocols enabling distributed computing and re-architecting of the internal computer-to-computer communication within Xerox copiers and duplicators. Ethernet will become a global standard for interconnecting computers on local-area networks.

The Alto personal computer becomes operational. As it evolves, the Alto will feature the world's first What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor, a commercial mouse for input, a graphical user interface (GUI), and bit-mapped display, and will offer menus and icons, link to a local area network and store files simultaneously. The Alto will provide the foundation for Xerox's STAR 8010 Information System.

Client/server architecture is invented. This development makes the paradigm shift of moving the computer industry away from the hierarchical world of centralized mainframes - that download to dumb terminals - towards more distributed access to information resources.

Personal distributed computing is invented. PARC's vision of computers as tools that could help people work together will change the course of the computer industry and lead to new ways of organizing interactions to support both individual and collaborative work.


Full electronic character generation is demonstrated with laser raster output scanner (ROS) xerography. Electronic printing on laser printers will provide a means of seamlessly transferring digital documents into the paper domain.

The first version of Smalltalk is deployed. Smalltalk is the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integrated documents, and cut & paste editor. The concept that objects are described and addressed individually, and can be linked together with other objects without having to rewrite an entire program, will revolutionize the software industry. Smalltalk will later heavily influence C++ and Java programming systems.


The concept of modulating a laser to create an electronic image on a copier's drum becomes reality when the world's first laser computer printer demonstrates artificially generated laser raster output scanner (ROS) xerography at 500 spots per inch (spi). This will become the basis of Xerox's xerographic printing business that will later generate $1 billion per year.


Xerox Corporation gathers together a team of world-class researchers in information sciences and physical sciences and gives them the mission to create "the architecture of information." The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) officially opens its doors at 3180 Porter Drive in Palo Alto, California on July 1, 1970.

>> virtual reality

1962 - Morton Heilig, "Sensorama" and Experience Theatre --> head mounted display, senses, data glove

1970 - Ivan Sutherland, "Ultimate Display" --> head mounted display; essay "The Ultimate Display" written in 1965

1985 - Scott Fisher, "Telepresence" --> data glove, head mounted display, 3d headphones; telepresence: the projection of the self into a digital environment

1992 - Dan Sandin, Tom deFanti, "CAVE" --> 3d immersive environment, head mounted display, data glove, wand

>> Morton Heilig, "Sensorama", 1962

from "Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality"

In the 1950's it occurred to cinematographer Morton Heilig that all the sensory splendor of life could be simulated with "reality machines." He proposed that an artist's expressive powers would be enhanced by a scientific understanding of the senses and perception. His premise was simple but striking for its time: if an artist controlled the multi-sensory stimulation of the audience, he could provide them with the illusion and sensation of first-person experience, of actually "being there."

Inspired by short-lived curiosities such as Cinerama and 3D movies, it occurred to Heilig that a logical extension of cinema would be to immerse the audience in a fabricated world that engaged all the senses. He believed that by expanding cinema to involve not only sight and sound, but also taste, touch, and smell, the traditional fourth wall of film and theater would dissolve, transporting the audience into a habitable, virtual world. He called this cinema of the future "experience theater", constructing a quirky, nickelodeon-style arcade machine in 1962 he aptly dubbed Sensorama, that catapulted viewers into multi-sensory excursions through the streets of Brooklyn, as well as other adventures in surrogate travel.

The Experience Theater is a version of the Sensorama Simulator but for a larger audience. It was patented in 1969 under patent # 3,469,837. It is a motion picture theater with a large semi-spherical screen, showing 3-D motion pictures, with peripheral imagery, directional sound, aromas, wind, temperature variations and body tilting of the seat. The audience is seated in the focus point in arena seating.

--> virtual reality
--> armchair travel

>> timeline of art & technology


the website of "Multimedia: From Wagner to Multimedia"
is acompanied by a book-publication, which can be ordered here: http://www.artmuseum.net/w2vr/Book.html
i just looked for it on amazon, there are only used copies on sale and they cost around 21$

>> John Whitney

1949: To speed up filming which used frame-by-frame shooting and optical printer procedures John Whitney discovered the process of covering a luminous surface with more or less dense oil and tracing images on it using a stylus or finger which was in turn fimed by a camera in real time.

1966: Permutations was the first film that John Whitney considered to be a complete work which used kaleidoscope movements with color added using an optical printer.

>> Norman McLaren

"It is more important what happens in between each frame than what happens on each frame"

"not the art of drawings that move, but rather the art of movements that are drawn"

Norman McLaren painted lengthwise on film instead of frame by frame. His first film using this method was Fiddle-de-Dee.which won an Academy award.

1971: Norman McLaren releases the film Synchromy in which the same images that produced the sound on the sound track had been painted on the visual film.

--> note in Century's ppt
--> inspiration to Ron Baecker's handdrawn animation program GENESYS
--> inspiration for Alan Kay, who wanted to create 3d animation
--> inspiration for NRC developments in computer animation

>> tx-0 and tx-2


tx-0 was the test-computer for the tx-2.
lincoln labs tx-computers worked with quite expensive high-speed transistors. they also had CRTs, which is among the important novelties of these computers.

tx-2 was the computer model, that the sage-system was built on.

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.