Milestone-Proposal:Special Citation: Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF)
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This proposal has been submitted for review.
To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No
Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes
Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes
Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes
Was it of at least regional importance? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes
Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes
Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes
Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:
1996 - present
Title of the proposed milestone:
Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, 1996
Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
One of the largest computer museums in the world, the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum presents 5000 years of computing history from the emergence of numbers and lettering circa 3000 B.C.E. to the modern digital age. Through presentations, workshops, seminars, and exhibitions, it has provided a broad audience with the insights and perspectives required to navigate a world that is increasingly shaped by digital technology.
In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):
Unit: Germany Section
Senior Officer Name: Jan Haase
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:
Unit: Germany Section
Senior Officer Name: Jan Haase
IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):
IEEE Section: Germany Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Jan Haase
Proposer name: Germany Section - Milestone Program: Dr. Joachim Wiest
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public
Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):
Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, Fürstenallee 7, D-33102 Paderborn, Germany - 51.731558244577585, 8.736557518575754
Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.
Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The plaque should be mounted directly in the public lobby of the museum itself.
Are the original buildings extant?
Yes, the building is former Headquarter of the German computer company Nixdorf Computer AG
Details of the plaque mounting:
On the wall in the public lobby
How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?
The plaque will be secured by wall mount. The lobby is a public area which can be entered free of charge. The building is secure.
Who is the present owner of the site(s)?
HNF Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum GmbH
What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?
The Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF) is one of the largest computer museums in the world. Every year over 100.000 visitors come to Paderborn to learn about the history of computers in the permanent exhibition that spans 6.000 m² (around 65.000 ft²) and contains 2.500 objects.
The museum is located in a building that has a historic significance itself: The former headquarter of the “Nixdorf Computer AG” (NCAG), which once was one of the largest computer companies in Europe. The initial collection was donated by Heinz Nixdorf, who was convinced that computers were a tool for mankind to build a better future. He therefore envisioned the museum as a place for a broad public to learn about the history of this technology.
In addition to the permanent exhibition, the museum also has a complete floor for special exhibitions that focus on different topics like “Hello Universe! The experience of space travel” (2020), “Digging Deep - Hidden treasures from the museum’s warehouse” (2018), “IT began with Ada. Women in computer history” (2015), “Codes and Clowns. Claude Shannon - Juggler of science” (2009 – 2010), “Computer.Sport” (2009), “Computer.Medicine” (2006 - 2007) or “Computer.brain” (2001 – 2002).
The actual exhibition is only one of the many ways that the museum teaches its visitors about computers. It is called “MuseumsForum” because the building also has 7 seminar rooms and a large auditorium (386 seats) in which a wide variety of events and conferences take place. The museum is supposed to be a place where people learn and discuss historic and contemporary technologies, their potentials and risks for society. From the opening of the museum in 1996 until the end of 2020 the museum hosted 20.980 events in total. For children and pupils, the museum offers a wide range of courses and regularly hosts science competitions.
Apart from the educational aspect, the mission of the museum is also to retrieve and preserve the knowledge of how historic computers worked and how they were used. To this end, the museum follows a strategy that combines a large archive (300 m², 3200 ft²), a library with 14.000 books, reconstruction projects and the collection of oral histories.
In the community there is an ongoing discussion to what extent old computers should be kept operational or whether they should be sealed away for preservation. The HNF tries to balance the different aspects of conservation and takes an active part in the discussion with partners worldwide. For the reconstruction of an ENIAC accumulator panel the museum won the 2016 Tony Sale Award. It is currently working on a functional replica of Claude Shannon's mouse in a maze machine (“Thesus”) and a tube based replica of Heinz Nixdorf’s first electronic accumulator (“Elektronensaldierer”).
What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?
From the first idea of a computer museum in 1977 it took 19 years until the museum was finally opened. After the death of Heinz Nixdorf in 1986 the future of the project was uncertain. Thanks to the continued effort of Willi Lenz and the Nixdorf foundation the decision to establish a computer museum in Paderborn was taken in 1990.
The Berlin architects (AGM) and a scientific and technical working group in Paderborn started intensive work on the concept as of mid-1993 under the lead of managing director Norbert Ryska. A total of 100 experts from around the world were involved in the consultations, while work on the envisaged topics was entrusted to twelve local scientists. Meanwhile, a dozen interior designers, designers and multimedia programmers are involved in the project at AGM in Berlin. Simultaneous work on 60 exhibition areas called for ongoing complex coordination and planning between scientists, designers, technicians and structural engineers.
On 24 October 1996, the HNF was officially opened by Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
What features set this work apart from similar achievements?
The museum in its size and broad engagement in computer history is a unique place that attracts visitors and historians from around the world. It does not only focus on the exhibition of historic artifacts, but plays an active role as it organized two international conferences on history of computing in 1998 and 2000:
- Hashagen, Ulf; Keil-Slawik, Reinhard; Norberg, Arthur L. (Eds.): History of Computing: Software Issues. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer 2002
The museum is also in close contact with other museums in Germany and worldwide and has fruitful collaborations and exchanges of ideas. One example of such a collaboration are the “Cypher Events” that were conducted between the HNF and the british National Museum of Computing (TNMoC) in Bletchley Park. During the first event in 2007, a secret message was encrypted using an original Lorenz SZ42 machine from WWII and sent from Paderborn to Bletchley Park using Morse code. There, the encrypted message was fed to the Colossus rebuild which then cracked the code. This event was repeated 10 years later, but this time the message was encrypted using an Enigma and decrypted using the Turing-Welchman Bombe (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPWrf2TQdE8).
Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.
Facts and figures about the museum:
List of previous special exhibitions:
Tony Sale Award:
Article about the museum’s approach to conservation and education:
- J. Blobel and J. Viehoff, “The New Public Engagement in Computer Museums and in the History of Computing Machines”, Proc. Making IT Work, p. 81-90, May 2017, https://www.computerconservationsociety.org/miw/Proc%20MIW%202017.pdf
Virtual tour through the museum:
Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to email@example.com. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.
Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).