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Archivist Assists ‘Hidden Figures’ Movie Production with IBM Artifacts

It’s easy to stow old belongings in an attic or on a shelf, leave them to collect dust and forget about them. But thanks to Jamie Martin, IBM Corporate Archives manager in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., this doesn’t happen. She and her team track IBM’s history and heritage through the countless paper records, photographs and items the company has accumulated over the past 100 years.

Recently, Martin assisted in the production of the movie “Hidden Figures,” which featured authentic IBM artifacts from the Corporate Archives. “It was a huge project for us; we worked with 20th Century Fox to provide documentation and images of the IBM 7090 computer that was used at NASA during that time period. The original manuals were especially helpful for understanding the process of operating this computer, comprehending the messages and codes, or looking at the schematics of the IBM 7090 so they could recreate it for the film.”

Martin notes that every artifact, photo, film and document has a story behind it. “Somewhere that story needs to be told. I love being able to just delve into that, uncover those stories and help people understand how they can use them.”

This career requires phenomenal organizational skills, patience and passion—qualities Martin has in abundance. She has a master of library and information science degree, and continuously attends education courses at the Society of American Archivists to keep up to date with methods of storing and organizing information. She also specializes in digital archives, which is particularly useful for IBM.

“People think of archives as the old paper, the old photo or the box of treasures,” Martin says. “But a lot of what we have now is in a digital format. It’s not in a box; it’s on a server, or it’s on someone’s computer, and so it’s critical for me to understand not only how to work with the information of today, but also make sure that it’s going to be here 20 years from now.”

Martin is constantly coming across unexpected items, but she’s recently stumbled upon something particularly staggering. “We found some original hand-written equations for the original calculations for Fortran, the programming language that has been hidden away for who knows how long.”

Martin makes sure the connection between past and present is kept alive and well at IBM. After all, what better way to look toward a company’s future innovations, than to look at the way it has transformed in the past? With archivists like Martin, IBM’s heritage will remain intact for years to come.