And finally…

I was delighted to note that Donna Harman has contributed a paper entitled Information Retrieval: the early years to the Now Publishing Foundations and Trends in Information Retrieval It is easy to focus on the future and not appreciate the long history of the development of information retrieval. Many of the core elements of any search engine go back several decades even if they have been subsequently tweaked. A few years ago Mark Sanderson and W Bruce Croft published a short paper on The History of Information Retrieval Research, a paper so short that they forgot to put a date on it!

For many years I have relied on The History of Online Information Services 1963-1976 by Charles Bourne and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. This was published by MIT Press in 2003 and runs to almost 500 pages. Although ostensibly the history of online remote access services the authors provide a wealth of detail on the pioneers of both the mathematics and technology of information retrieval. A couple of years ago I published a series of blog posts on the history of enterprise search which ended up taking far more time to research than I anticipated as the documentation of the history is very sparse indeed.

There is also a set of three slide decks on the history of IR by Ronald Eugene Wyllys, Emeritus Professor at The School of Information – The University of Texas at Austin. I should also mention the paper that C.J.van Reisbergen gave to SIGIR 2002 entitled Landmarks in information retrieval: the message out of the bottle, but the paper in the proceedings is a summary. There is a set of the slides in various places around the web including

However to get a real sense of history I still enjoy reading my copy of Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval by Gerard Salton and Michael J. McGill, published in 1983 by McGraw-Hill, primarily because of the detail presented of the ground-breaking SMART and SIRE systems. For me that is when IR came of age. The rest, as they say, is history.

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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