September 11, 2011


Michael Stern Hart dies at 64; e-book pioneer (Elaine Woo, 9/09/11, Los Angeles Times)

Michael Stern Hart, a burly rebel whose vision of a literate society led him to pioneer the electronic book decades before the spread of the Internet, has died. He was 64.

The founder of the online library Project Gutenberg, Hart had been in poor health and was found Tuesday at his Urbana, Ill., home, said Project Gutenberg Chief Executive Gregory B. Newby. An autopsy is underway to determine the cause of death.

Hart was a freshman at the University of Illinois in 1971 when he was granted free access to the campus' enormous mainframe computer. He was uncertain how to use the valuable computer time until inspiration struck in the form of a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence that had been stuffed in his grocery bag as part of a Fourth of July promotion.

He keyed the historic text into the computer system, which linked 100 users at elite institutions such as Harvard, UCLA and the Department of Defense. It was downloaded by six members of this pre-Internet network, which was encouragement enough for Hart to continue.

He transmitted the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Forty years later, Project Gutenberg, named after the inventor of the Gutenberg printing press, is one of the oldest online collections of literature, offering more than 33,000 free books in 60 languages. The vast majority are public domain, and all are digitized by volunteers scattered around the globe.

Every revolution in communications serves to further extend Western ideas and homogenize the globe around them.

Posted by at September 11, 2011 7:04 AM

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