CHKB: a knowledge base for computer science historians (not only)

CHKB (Computing History Knowledge Base) is a HMR software project.
It's not the rebuilding of an old computer, but an application for scholars and keepers involved in History of Computing

CHKB is an application intended to bring in one single knowledge base all information on computing machinery kept in public Museums and private collections. It is a proposal of census and unique catalogation directed at Museums' managers and collectors. It is a sharing and support tool for researchers, curators of exhibits, computer science history enthusiasts and, in general, to every person interested to science and technology history.

CHKB presents content at different detail levels, so that the public can experience Computer Science History in all its richness. CHKB aims to satisfy the more demanding enthusiasts and to intrigue who approaches the topic for the first time.
In this terms, the research on which CHKB is based was presented at the IV National Conference of the Italian Association for Digital Umanities. The general idea, declined as a viable international project, was proposed at International Communities of Invention and Innovation, the 2016 conference of WG 0.7 IFIP.

A prototype implementation of CHKB is supported by Department of Information Engineering of the Pisa University and was intended to give the Museum of Computing Machinery a tool for both cataloguing and give visibility to the collection.

Historic information, media e bitsaving

CHKB, in addition to functionalities for management of an historical collection, maintains a knowledge base, that is a structured schema which goes beyond the "flat" approach of traditional museum catalogues. CHKB preserves all the complexity of relations that characterize the domain: exemplars, models, software, documentation, producing companies, events and remarkable people.

Every piece of each collection is associated to its historic context, its available digital contents, media (documents, pictures and movies), and, of course, its software and its documentation. CHKB is also a preservation tool for the other half of Computer Science History that, otherwise, risks to be lost in old formats obsolescence and storage media decay.

Information in the knowledge base are managed through an edit and review workflow supported by the application and aimed to guaranteeing scientific accuracy and reliability of the CHKB contents.

Catalogation standards

CHKB and its cataloguing schema also want to contribute to the development of current standards, in particular the ICCD STS e PST schemas (ICCD is the Italian central institute for cataloguing and documentation). On one side, CHKB will provide functionality for exporting cataloguing records in MBAC (Italian Ministry of cultural heritage) standard formats. On the other hand, CHKB schemas for managing historical and technological knowledge can be adapted to other domains contributing to the development of cataloguing standards related to the history of science and technology.

Flexibility and Configuration

CHKB is designed to satisfy different Museums and private collectors necessities, both in the personalization of pieces collocation records and in the private keeping of information about collection and digital contents on which copyright could still be applicable.

Scientific culture spreading

CHKB allows to surf the knowledge base on the web. Its search and free navigation functionalities are mainly thought as tools for researchers and enthusiasts. For the general public itineraries are provided. They can be used to represent a virtual visit to a Museum collection or exhibit. More interesting is "traversing" different collections to build thematic paths for educational purposes.


A prototype implementation of CHKB is in development as part of theses and stages for degrees in Information Engineering and Information Science. The people who contributed to the current CHKB prototype were, in appearance order, A. Biagini with a Msc thesis, D.Verducci, D. Aimini, R. Serra and E. Meloni.
Current contents are inspired to real collections (credits to involved Museums), but they only have demonstration purposes.


Giovanni A. Cignoni, Giuseppe Lettieri.