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Ben Shneiderman papers

 Collection 0284-UA

Ben Shneiderman is a professor in the computer science department at the University of Maryland, College Park. During his career at the university (1976- ), he founded the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (1982), conducted research, taught courses, and contributed to the development of human-computer interaction. The papers largely chronicle Shneiderman's involvement in the discipline of human-computer interaction and contain much correspondence between professionals in the field. Also included in the collection are final versions and drafts of articles, conference materials, consulting and grant records, personal correspondence, course materials, and newspaper clippings.


  • 1968-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1968-2004

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

This collection contains some restricted material, please check the series and folder listings for additional information.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


105 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Papers of Ben Shneiderman consist of the working papers, correspondence, manuscripts, and other related materials of Shneiderman, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland. The materials in this collection span his entire career, beginning in 1968 with his graduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and continuing until 2000. They illustrate his work and the emergence of the discipline of human-computer interaction.

The majority of the collection consists of correspondence between Ben Shneiderman and other professionals in his field. The struggle to embrace user interface design as a technical topic and address the human side of technology is reflected in these papers. The papers also include drafts and final versions of articles; conference materials; consulting and grant records; personal correspondence; course materials; photographs; software and other electronic records; and clippings from newspapers and magazines.


Ben Shneiderman was born on August 21, 1947 to Samuel and Eileen Shneiderman. His parents were Polish-born journalists who immigrated to New York from Paris in 1940 with their two-year-old daughter, Helen. While growing up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Shneiderman enjoyed stamp collecting, photography, building electronics projects, and playing baseball. During summers spent in the country on a chicken farm, which the Shneidermans owned jointly with four other families, he became familiar with agricultural chores like gathering eggs and plowing fields.

Shneiderman attended neighborhood public schools through junior high school, where his science projects (a solar furnace, a fuel cell, and a thermionic electricity generator) won prizes. Shneiderman attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science and later the City College of New York (CCNY) from 1964 to 1968. He struggled with physics and math courses, but was enthralled by the new field of computing. Charles Kreitzberg, a fellow student who worked at the computer center, became Shneiderman's life-long collaborator and personal friend.

Shneiderman's resistance to specialization reflects the influence of Marshall McLuhan's philosophies on his outlook - the idea that the message is greatly impacted by the delivery system. In addition to studying computer science, Shneiderman took psychology courses and served as the yearbook photo editor at CCNY for three years. His uncle, the world-famous photographer David Seymour ("Chim"), influenced him towards photojournalism. In the end, computing won out over photography as a career, but Shneiderman remains a serious amateur photographer and occasionally publishes and exhibits his work.

At graduation from the City College of New York, Shneiderman received a fellowship for graduate work at Carnegie-Mellon University but was unable to attend. He spent three years at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Farmingdale (Long Island, New York), teaching Data Processing as a form of national service in lieu of serving in the armed services during the Vietnam War era. In 1969, he was able to travel the world and spend six weeks in an internship at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. Four years later, his work on a graph-theoretic model for optimization of database file structures earned him the first Ph.D. in Computer Science at the State University of New York's new Stony Brook campus. At SUNY Stony Brook, Shneiderman collaborated with fellow graduate student Isaac Nassi to create the now widely used structured flowcharts (Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams).

In early 1973, Shneiderman married Nancy Helman. That summer, the couple moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where Shneiderman became Assistant Professor in the Indiana University Computer Science Department. Their first daughter, Sara, was born in January 1975.

By 1976, Shneiderman's work was moving towards experimental psychology, and he accepted a position in the Department of Information Systems Management in the University of Maryland's College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. The program was short-lived, and, in 1979, Shneiderman became a member of the Department of Computer Science. A second daughter, Anna, was born that year.

Shneiderman founded the Software Psychology Society in 1976 to bring together researchers who shared similar interests. This group developed the 1982 conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The success of this conference contributed to the formation of the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) Special Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI), which remains the main professional organization in this field.

Also in 1982, Shneiderman founded the interdisciplinary Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) at the University of Maryland. He developed the notion of "direct manipulation," which clarified the design principles and benefits of the emerging graphical user interfaces. This idea led directly to the invention of the "embedded menu" or "hot link" that became a key contribution to usability of the web.

Ben Shneiderman has written over 200 articles and published several books, including Elements of FORTRAN Style: Techniques for Effective Programming (with Charles Kreitzberg, 1972); Software Psychology: Human Factors in Computer and Information Systems (1980); Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction (1987); and Hypertext Hands-On! An Introduction to a New Way of Organizing and Accessing Information (with Greg Kearsley, 1989). He has also edited numerous articles and several books, including Directions in Human/Computer Interaction (1982) and Sparks of Innovation in Human-Computer Interaction (1993).

Throughout his career, Shneiderman has participated in research projects in the field of human-computer interaction, focusing primarily on the user interface, or, how information is presented on a computer screen. The "hot link" that forms the basis for today's web browsing was developed for a prototype electronic encyclopedia (TIES) for the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Education Center, which was eventually opened in Washington, D.C. in 1993. More recently, Shneiderman's research has focused on topics such as "Tree-Maps," compact visualization of directory tree structures, in response to the common problem of a filled hard disk.

Shneiderman is currently a tenured professor at the University of Maryland. In June 2001 he married Jenny Preece, who is Chair of the Department of Information Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His first marriage ended in 1993. He continues to work towards making human-computer interaction an accepted part of the computer science field. In recent years, he has received recognition for his work, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Guelph, Canada, a profile in Scientific American, Fellowships in two scientific societies, and the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award. In June 2000, Shneiderman relinquished the directorship of the HCIL, enabling him to pursue other projects.


The collection is organized as ten series:

Series 1
Chronological Files
Series 2
Series 3
Series 4
Museum of Jewish Heritage/Holocaust Memorial Museum and Education Center
Series 5
Series 6
Series 7
Electronic Records
Series 8
Designing the User Interface
Series 9
Leonardo's Laptop
Series 10
Audiovisual Materials

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Ben Shneiderman donated the majority of his papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in 1998. Subsequent donations arrived in 1999, 2001, and 2007.

Existence and Location of Copies

Some materials in series 10, audiovisual materials, have been reformatted. Access to the digital files are available via this finding aid. Reformatting of this material was made possible by a gift from Ben Shneiderman.

Related Material

Professor Ben Shneiderman continues to donate personal papers to the University of Maryland Libraries. Accession 2001-76 contains eleven boxes of publications in the computer science field, collected by Shneiderman over the years. A detailed listing is available. In addition to papers housed in the Archives and Manuscripts Department, Shneiderman has gathered approximately 8,000 photographs documenting over 200 different events in the computer science field since 1973. Plans are underway to index the photographs and digitize them. A portion of the photographs, highlighting attendance over the years at CHI and related conferences; will appear on an ACM SIGCHI website in 2002. The originals photographs are still in Shneiderman's possession.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory began to create video reports of short demonstrations of HCIL prototypes. Copies of the videos are available in Nonprint Media at the University of Maryland Libraries. The Open Video Project has digitized many of the videos, and they are now available online at Between 1987 and 1997, Shneiderman was involved in the production of several broadcasts of presentations on user interface strategies. These videos are available by contacting the University of Maryland's Instructional Television System.

For Ben Shneiderman's primary photograph collection, please visit MyLifePix: Professional Event Photos by Ben Shneiderman, an online photograph database containing 12,000 digitized images indexed by person, date, and location.

Information about Ben Shneiderman's current projects may be found online at

Ben Schneiderman's parents, Samuel L. Shneiderman and Eileen Shneiderman, donated a collection of 395 Yiddish books to McKeldin Library in 1996. These books range from fiction to journalism, from poetry to memoirs, from evocations of the shtetl (small town) to analyses of contemporary Israeli foreign policy. More information about this collection can be found on the colleciton website.

Processing Information

When the University of Maryland Libraries acquired Shneiderman's papers, an attempt was made to maintain the original order he imposed throughout the course of his career. The general correspondence files were separated from the main chronological system. Series III (Hyperties) and Series IV (Museum of Jewish Heritage/Holocaust Memorial Museum and Education Center) had already been separated from the main chronological series. Despite their close relation to each other in terms of subject matter and research, these documents were maintained as is in two separate series.

During the processing of the collection, each folder heading was entered into a Microsoft Access database. Because of the size of the collection and the chronological arrangement, general headings were assigned to each folder, enabling several different lists to be generated, as needed. Categories include Colloquia, Conferences, Consulting, Correspondence, Courses, Editing, General, Indiana University, Information Processing and Management (IPM), Legal, Library of Congress, National Cash Register Corporation (NCR), National Science Foundation, Presentations, Professional Organizations, Publications, Research, Reviews, SUNY Farmingdale, SUNY Stonybrook, and the University of Maryland. These headings, enclosed in square brackets, follow each folder title in the box inventory for Series I: Chronological Files.

The files came to the University of Maryland Libraries organized in loose chronological order. A standard scheme was devised to ensure that all the files followed the same general chronological methodology. Undated materials were kept as close to their original date order as possible when attempts to determine the date were unsuccessful. Remaining dates were arranged from least specific to most detailed (for example, date ranges come before folders dated with individual years and precise dates. A model for the chronological organization is described below.

  1. Undated [undated]
  2. Year - Xyear [1969-1979]
  3. Month, Year - Xmonth, Xyear [November, 1969 - October, 1970]
  4. Year [1969]
  5. Month, Year [November, 1969]

Folded materials were flattened. Overhead transparencies and newspaper clippings were photocopied on acid free paper. Staples and metal clips were removed and replaced with plastic clips. All materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes.

Additional materials were integrated into the collection in 2007. Two new series were added: Series VIII: Designing the User Interface, and Series IX: Leonardo's Laptop.

Guide to the Ben Shneiderman papers
Processed by Sarah Heim and Jennie A. Levine, December 2001. Revised by Valerie Vanden Bossche in April 2007.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
The processing of this collection was sponsored by a generous donation from Dr. Ben Shneiderman.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742