A guided tour of the INFORMS history website

INFORMS committee creates website devoted to the history of operations research and profiles of influential individuals.

By Mark Eisner

Figure 1: Get started by clicking on the “History and Traditions” link.

Figure 1: Get started by clicking on the “History and Traditions” link.

The INFORMS History and Traditions Committee has created a website devoted to the history of operations research (O.R.). In undertaking its work, the committee decided to take advantage of information already available in print and on the Web rather than start with a clean slate. Making the available information accessible through a website quickly expands its impact and helps identify missing pieces that we hope to acquire.

This article provides a guided tour of the new website. The site provides multiple perspectives on the history of O.R. through individual biographical profiles, institutional histories, histories of O.R. methodologies and application areas and other material. It is intended for the use of O.R. practitioners, current and prospective students and professional historians alike.

Figure 1: Get started by clicking on the “History and Traditions” link.

Figure 2: Exploring the biographical profiles.

To get started, open your browser to www.informs.org and begin this brief guided tour, which has the dual objective of introducing readers to the scope and organization of material on the site and of encouraging the creation and collection of additional materials. You do not need to log on to informs.org in order to access most of the materials on the site.

Access the subsite devoted to history by clicking on the “About” link at the top of any INFORMS web page. The menu on the left of the resulting page includes a link to History and Traditions (Figure 1) – click on it for a brief overview, including a “What’s New” section that will be updated from time to time as materials are added to the site.

Biographical Profiles

From the menu on the left of the “History and Traditions” page, you can access an extensive set of biographical profiles (Figure 2). These biographical profiles are the central elements on the website. The next stop on our tour is to go to the F-H section listed at the top of the “Biographical Profiles” page and select Alan J. Hoffman.

Scrolling down on Hoffman’s profile page you will find:

  • a brief biography and a link to another biography of Hoffman (in his case, this is to a Wikipedia page. In the case of others, such as George Dantzig, there is also a link to a chapter in the book “Profiles in Operations Research,” edited by Arjang Assad and Saul Gass and published in 2011 by Springer, that for a limited time is accessible to logged-in INFORMS members);
  • Hoffman’s education (including a link to his entry on the Mathematics Genealogy website);
  • the various academic and non-academic institutions with which Hoffman has been associated;
  • the O.R. methodologies on which Hoffman has worked;
  • an oral history interview video with Hoffman (with transcription) recorded in 2001 by Irv Lustig;
  • links to his resume and a memoir;
  • a list of awards Hoffman has received; and
  • citations for a selected set of Hoffman’s publications.
Figure 3: The personal papers of many individuals have been archived.

Figure 3: The personal papers of many individuals have been archived.

Eventually the profile pages will also include images that the committee plans to collect from the INFORMS community and elsewhere.

Biographical profiles have been prepared for INFORMS Fellows, winners of major INFORMS prizes, members of national academies and others who were born before the end of World War II, when the scope of operations research began to extensively expand from its primarily military origins.

If you have any changes to propose to any biographical profile page (including your own), contact history@informs.org.

Personal Archives

The menu on the left of every page guides you to a list of individuals whose personal papers have been deposited in an archive, typically at a university library. Click on the “Personal Archives” link (Figure 3) to see the current list. For example, Philip Morse’s papers are archived at MIT, and this archive is also cited on Morse’s biographical profile page.

The History and Traditions committee encourages the deposit of personal papers with such an archival library, especially by those represented on the biographical profiles list. Many university libraries have provisions to accept deposits, and the committee awards small grants to assist in the preparation of materials for shipment once a library has agreed to accept them.

Figure 4: Non-Academic links such as the one for IBM guides you to individuals associated with the institution.

Figure 4: Non-Academic links such as the one for IBM guides you to individuals associated with the institution.

For those individuals who do not have a strong connection to a library that would accept their papers, the committee can assist in arranging the donation to a research library devoted to the history of American enterprise. Contact history@informs.org if you have a biographical profile page and are interested in arranging for the donation of your papers.

Personal Memoirs

Similarly, a number of individuals (including Phillip Morse) have written memoirs and autobiographies. Follow the “Personal Memoirs” link on the left side menu to see a list. These publications are also cited on the biographical profile page for the individual.

The committee encourages the creation of personal memoirs, and the committee may be able to assist in publishing them in an INFORMS publication. As with Personal Archives, contact history@informs.org if you are interested in preparing such a memoir.

Historic Institutions

Many academic and non-academic institutions were involved early in the history of operations research. Click on the “Non-Academic Institutions” link on the left-hand menu to bring up a list of non-academic institutions. This list and the list of “Academic Institutions” were gleaned from early ORSA and TIMS publications that included recruiting ads, academic program descriptions and the like. The Non-Academic institutions list guides you in turn to individuals associated with the institutions. Click on the IBM link (Figure 4) to see a list of individuals, including Alan Hoffman, who are associated with IBM. Clicking on any name on the list brings you to the biographical profile page for that individual. Similarly, clicking on IBM on the biographical page for Hoffman and others associated with IBM brings you to this list of IBM individuals.

Figure 5: Clicking on “Applications Areas” produces a list of areas where O.R. has historically been applied.

Figure 5: Clicking on “Applications Areas” produces a list of areas where O.R. has historically been applied.

Next, go to the Academic Institutions list and click on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology link to get a list of individuals associated with MIT. Note that the page also includes citations of historical publications about O.R. at MIT. Similarly, links to AT&T Bell Labs and RAND Corporation from the Non-Academic Institutions list provide citations for histories of O.R. at these institutions.

The History and Traditions committee strongly encourages the creation of such institutional histories and can assist in publishing them in an INFORMS publication. Contact history@informs.org if you are interested in producing such a history or know of a history that should be cited and/or linked from the website.

Methodologies and Application Areas

Similarly, you can click “O.R. Application Areas” or “O.R. Methodologies” (Figure 5) to see lists of historical areas where O.R. has been applied or of methodologies that support these applications. For each such application area or methodology, clicking on its name brings up a list of associated individuals, as well as citations of publications about the history of the area. On our tour, click on “Military O.R.” on the “O.R. Application Areas” list to bring up a list of individuals associated with military operations research, as well as citations of articles about the history of military O.R. Click on the “Mathematical Programming” link on the O.R. Methodology page to bring up a list of individuals and citations of publications about the history of mathematical programming.

The lists of application areas and methodologies were culled from various sources, notably from the “Subject Classification Scheme for the OR/MS Index,” in some cases consolidating multiple related topics into one to keep the lists relatively short.

The committee strongly encourages the creation of histories of application areas and methodologies and can assist in publishing them in an INFORMS publication. Contact history@informs.org if you are interested in helping us.

Oral Histories

A major thrust of the committee’s work is the collection and creation of oral history interviews in the form of videos, audio recordings and transcripts. Click on the “Oral Histories” link (Figure 6) on the left side menu to bring up a list of available interviews. Many interviews were already available when the committee began to create the website. These are cited on the list as well as within the biographical profile page of the interviewee.

Figure 6: Collecting and creating oral history interviews in the form of videos, audio recordings and transcripts is a major effort.

Figure 6: Collecting and creating oral history interviews in the form of videos, audio recordings and transcripts is a major effort.

The committee has also undertaken to obtain new interviews and to repurpose some that were on a now-defunct website about optimization. These INFORMS oral histories, listed at the top of the Oral Histories page, are presented on the website in a format that makes them especially accessible.

Click on the link to Alan Hoffman’s oral history to jump directly to the section of his biographical profile page where the video appears. Start the video and observe that as it proceeds, a transcript unrolls beneath it. This transcript is searchable – entering a term or phrase in the search box below the video yields a timeline with marks wherever the words are spoken in the video, and clicking on any of these marks causes the video and transcript to jump to the search term. Moreover, alongside the video there is a list of chapters. Clicking on a chapter number such as Chapter 8 fast-forwards the video to Hoffman’s comments on explaining optimization (or not). There is also a downloadable file containing the entire transcript.

The committee is working to obtain additional interview videos for individuals with biographical profiles, with several more videos in progress and more to be captured at the November 2015 INFORMS meeting in Philadelphia and in the years to come. Let us know if you are interested in doing an interview as subject or interviewer.

Other Information

Our guided tour is nearly over, but you can follow the other links on the menu to discover other materials that are collected on the website. For example, how many Nobel Prize winners would you guess are among our profiled individuals? Which individuals have served as presidents of ORSA, TIMS and/or INFORMS and are therefore featured in the Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery, which was created in 2002 under the auspices of the History and Traditions Committee, updated in 2010 under the direction of then-committee chair Paul Gray, and remains part of the history website? What published resources are available about O.R. in the United States and other countries? What books and other publications synthesize and analyze aspects of our history? What were the significant events on the “An Annotated Timeline of Operations Research” by Saul Gass and Arjang Assad (Springer 2004)? Answers to all of these questions can be found on the website, and more answers will be added in the future.

The current website is just the beginning of the creation of a resource for students, historians and all those interested in the continued evolution of our exciting profession. I hope you have enjoyed your tour and that you will keep exploring the website as it evolves and will consider contacting history@informs.org to propose additional contributions to the website or to volunteer to participate in this effort.

Mark Eisner (me35@cornell.edu), chair of the INFORMS History and Traditions Committee, has a part-time retirement position as communications associate, School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, Cornell University. A former director of the School’s Master of Engineering program, Eisner first joined the Cornell faculty in 1970 as an assistant professor before spending many years in information technology management with ExxonMobil.